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Being a meticulously slung–together selection of Mark Williams’ columns in various magazines that should’ve known better from 1971–2020… 50-odd, very odd, inglorious years of controversial views, wild claims and mindless nonsense on matters motorcycling

Author image: Alex Ramsay       Illustration: Hunt Emerson

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I haven’t been attending to these RooR pages for over six months now, partly due to Churchill-ian events, dear boy events, but also because regurgitating past glories – ho-ho-ho – was starting to pall as a waste of your and indeed my time. But this change of heart was prompted by a determination to overcome a debilitating world-weariness invoked by enforced retirement, as much as by recent readers letters to Bike, a magazine that has obviously changed enormously in the five decades since I founded it.

Last things first, lately Bike’s readers have been writing about such contentious subjects as the road pricing in cities (e.g. £5/day in Cambridge), the huge cost and impracticality of electric ‘bikes (e.g. £20k for a 124mph ‘bike with an 80mile range when a faster, petrol one would cost £7–8k), the cost of servicing for ‘bikes that are too complex for the home-spannerman (e.g. £800 for a 6-year-old Africa Twin) and the financial and practical obstacles to becoming and remaining a ‘biker that uncoincidentally  accounts for the ongoing decline in our numbers.

I’m also personally irked by other issues that readers have occasionally aired in Bike and indeed other, lesser magazines, such as the aesthetics of modern ‘bike design which substitutes ‘aggressive’ bodywork and pillion discomfort (if not denial) for purity of line that admittedly is almost impossible with modern emissions-mandated plumbing… although tell that to a professional customiser. I’m also increasingly angry about the state of virtually all but motorway road surfaces, the potholed and seriously degraded nature of which makes for treacherous riding, but which the local councils responsible for their upkeep cannot afford, not least because reduced government funding compels them to devote finite resources to other, more pressing matters like putting the likes of me into care homes and changing all the road signage to 20mph limits in urban areas, and then policing it.

Yes, these are the harrumphs of a miserable old fart bemoaning the march of time and I well recall how what was then motorcycling’s Belstaff-suited old-guard moaned in the existing ‘bike media when Bike came along extolling the virtues of spanky new Jap machines that were, quite literally, overtaking the products of already dying British brands and encouraging loud, bad behaviour on the Queen’s highways.

But what gets me now is that the nature of such dissent has changed, big time. Bike, and even to a greater extent the next rag I founded, WhichBike?, editorially questioned legislation coming down the pike, actually campaigned for change, and occasionally even got it: I well recall how one transport minister, Peter Bottomley – that shows my age – privately admitted as much to me.

Nowadays such media opposition, if such it be, is largely confined to the letters pages – if at all – which is one consequence of rapidly declining print media in this digital age having to not rock boats and concentrate on the upbeat and positive. And yet in this digital age, so-called online ‘bike mags, podcasts and ‘reviews’ are mainly about showing off how clever their authors are. As a result we shrinking band of ‘bikers – down some 12% since 2009, whilst their average age is up from 40 then to 51 now, which includes 48% of us over 60 year-olds who’re plainly dying off. Moreover, we are keeping our bikes for longer – an average of 15.4 years now compared to 11.6 years in 1994, which partially accounts for a steadily decline in new bikes sales, currently down 7.2% year-on-year, which also explains whey their manufacturers are trying to maintain their profits by increasing their prices, and the ‘bike media are chasing ever dwindling advertising budgets.

It’s as if we’re supposed to meekly roll-over and ignore this depressing state of affairs and those of us that are luckily able to afford it just carry blithely on paying ever larger portions of our monthly outgoings to buy, maintain, tart-up and ride bikes in the fewer and fewer areas where we’re able to indulge the freedom ‘biking once epitomised – ULEZ charges anybody? – until we peg it. And that’s because as only 1.2million people hold full ‘bike licences, compared to 41million with car licences – we barely merit political recognition, much less consideration.

But as for the personal ennui mentioned at the top of this tirade, there is one magazine which still, if up to a point, actively campaigns for our ‘bikey rights, and that’s Motorcycle Rider. However it’s the freebie house mag of the British Motorcyclists Federation, it’s only quarterly, written by amateurs and hardly anybody else, especially in the bike trade, reads it. So although the BMF does some good work – recently canvassing its members who unsurprisingly voted overwhelmingly against the planned phasing out of fossil fuelled vehicles – it’s hardly influential.

I will say that Motorcycle Rider does have a damn fine, fearlessly controversial columnist though, and his name is somebody Williams, but nobody in their right minds pays attention to him anymore… So like a few of his close friends, he’ll probably just carry on riding loud, gas-guzzling, old-school motorcycles until he pops his clogs, or the Forces of Darkness take away his licence. And before that happens, he’ll probably start chasing as many sacred cows nowadays as he did a few decades ago, albeit in an occasional, outraged blog.

P.S. You might also just be interested in a non-bikey blog I also posted today at wwww.markswill.wordpress.com

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