THE RIGHT TO RIDE… DANGEROUSLY

Bike – October 1975

This was written whilst recovering from only my second – and amazingly, my last – road accident which I covered with untypical reticence, possibly because it happened on the ride home from a small but rather wonderful rock festival run by the hippie entrepreneurs behind what became known the infamous Operation Julie, whose chemical largesse I was possibly still under the influence of at the time

As someone who is currently hobbling around with the aid of a walking stick, perhaps I’m not the best person to address you on the subject of high speed motorcycling. In fact I’m so full of painkillers at the moment that I’m not the best person to address you on anything that requires even a modicum of coherency.

However, the minimal demands of gonzo journalism being what they are, l have just been pointed in the direction of a typewriter and the reading public will doubtless thrill to the printed word which eventually transpires. Just as well they don’ t pay me for this stuff.

Anyway it was in my mind before I smacked up my leg against the side of
that goddam Datsun that I would pass a few comments about the joys, and otherwise of fuII-tiIt road-riding. It’s been my fortune in the past few weeks to spend a lot of time piloting fast motorcycles through our green and pleasant land, In fact I guess I’d been averaging about five hundred miles or so a week. Some of this was aboard Davick’s BeneIIi Sei demonstrator and the rest of it behind the threshing handlebars of my XS-2 – but don’t expect any sharp comments about these two very different boIides ’cause you’ve had a bellyful of them in recent issues, ain’cha? No, what I want to discuss is the low state of the driving art in this country and the effects it had on yrs. truly.

‘Course you gotta remember that this was high summer and the Austin Maxi and caravan brigade were out in force, especially In Wales where a lot of this lunacy took place. I suppose that old Doc Gilbert (the then Transport Minister – MW) would hardly warm to the idea of legislating these crawling bozos off the road, but to my mind they’re far more dangerous than any sixteen year-old on a road-going TZ250.


Well anyway the predominance of caravan-induced traffic jams in Wales this summer really was a hazard to a biker’s mental health. On some of the twistier roads a tailback of twenty or more vehicles could often be seen lying tamely in the wake of a slow moving marshmallow on wheels. After several bouts of not very skilful coffin cheating I developed a nifty way of zapping past tiresome wagon-trains as they crawled round the Z-bends: headlamp on, finger on the horn, Iowish gear and lots of engine noise. They either think it’s a rozzer or a lunatic and most of them are so dozy that they pull well into the kerb (if such there be) and/or grind to a halt – by which time you’re past with a grin and, if you choose, an anti-social display of digits.

The trouble is that one gets a bit blasé about using such devices to maintain a respectable average speed. After a while you find yourself flashing headlamps and sitting on the horn as you zap through even the sleepiest Welsh village at 90mph and all this at midnight. In fact an acquaintance of mine with more experience of this sort of outlandish riding (and the scars to prove it) advises those really serious about such things to wash a tube of Pro-Plus (or something less legal) down with a couple of high powered lagers before embarking on one’s trip, but I would never condone such practices. Oh no.

Stimulants would in fact have done little to exaggerate the already crazed cranium of your scribe after a fortnight’s highway weirdness at the hands of the motoring public. It got so bad after one cross-country trip from Wales to Peterborough (the Cleveland, Ohio, of England), that I started swearing at an innocent young petrol pumper when he raced over to gas up some asshole in an XJ6 who’d given me a bit of trouble earlier on, although I was into the place a good three minutes earlier. It wasn’t quite Sonny Barger stuff but it wasn’t Enid Blyton either, and I realised at that point that rider-mania had got me. Got me over the top, no less.

Rider-mania is quite simply not knowing when to stop. For some redundant and usually quite absurd reason you find yourself astride a motorcycle at 9.30am following a session of alcohol abuse that lasted well into the night. The sun is already beaming a good 75ºF onto the world with a promise of much more to come and you know – you just know – that there’s gonna be madness afoot once you hit the Queen’s highway. And your purpose then becomes to get to wherever in hell you’re going very, very quickly. None of that bullshit about drinking in the scenery or adhering to the inane speed limits, you’re going to get out on that tarmac and Ride with a capital ’R’. Suddenly you feel tight, and ready to go.

And then you find yourself riding at sustained high speeds for hours on end. And the longer the mania grips you, the higher those speeds get and the greater your capacity becomes for cutting up other road users and generally being obnoxious.

On the big Yamaha there was a quite discernible threshold above which all my reason went into the garbage can. (Actually that’s a fairly low threshold even when I’m not on a bike, but no matter). Since I put those ridiculously loud exhaust fitments (the word muffler would be a factual travesty) on the bike I’ve had trouble with the jetting and hunted high and low for oversize needle jets. Finally ace Yam sparesmen, Messrs. Damerells of St. Austell (yes, St. Austell in Cornwall) came up with a pair, and also the elusive gearbox bearing for my DTl (not a main bearing, as erroneously stated two months back to the annoyance of Yarn dealers throughout the world). But until that arrived I had a nasty flat spot around 4500 which made it hard to get above 70mph. Only by dropping a cog and winding it way above five grand before going back into top could I really get to boogie. But once I’d got there it was a pain in the ass to go back down again. Still, it took a week before I had the nerve to stay with the high revs come hell or high water… just had to hang on and tell the judge that all those Hillman Minx drivers religiously pootling along at 50 were to blame.

At this point I should relate how I really came to be a cripple, since it wasn’t actually my fault at all. Ahem, I was taking it very easy around a blind corner I happen to know as a bit of a bummer, when upon reaching its apex I espied a red Datsun slowly doing a U-turn across the entire main road – which was a  clearway incidentally. Very amusing. I went to cut in behind him but he froze when he saw me, thereby leaving me no room to pass. Stamping on the anchors failed to save me from a hefty smack-up courtesy of his rear wing. See you in court, matey.

The point of all this is that the standard of driving on our roads is pretty dire and getting worse all the time. Fuel economy, unrealistically low speed limits and poorly built (and maintained) cars are the basic reasons for the slowness of traffic on our open roads, and such speeds encourage drowsiness, lethargy, lack of concentration and the inability of a helluva lot of motorists to take smart avoiding action (when necessary), or to drive with respect for those who are able to drive or ride fast.

If we are to be beset by circumstances which clearly discourage skilful (as opposed to cautious) road use, then take note that some of us ain’t going to go down without a fight.

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About markswill

For those unaware of my glittering career, I started scribbling for the underground press in 1968 and by complete chance was appointed Music Editor of International Times when I happened to visit their office for the first time in '69 on a day trip down from Birmingham. Naturally I took all of a stoned nanosecond to accept the offer... and it's all been uphill ever since. If you really give a stuff, a full resume of my, er, resume is available on the Career page of my website, www.markwilliamsmedia.co.uk, but for now just be content to know that I'm an opinionated media junkie of a certain age who won't sit still.

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