HOW WET CAN YOU GET?

WhichBike? – May 1982

Image: Hunt Emerson

Returning to a favourite theme of mine which though just as relevant today,  would also be pilloried by what passes for the current biking establishment, and I seriously doubt whether any magazine editor would now risk publishing such subversive, irresponsible suggestions – even if they might personally embrace them. That said, my reactions these days aren’t quite what they used to be so the years of riding dangerously are all but behind me… though not entirely.

Despite the impervious calm of my facade and the steely resolve of my inner self, I cannot help but occasionally succumb to a sigh of disappointment. How much longer, I ask myself, can I remain a lone beacon of common sense and unblemished virtue, beaming out into a world gone apeshit? 

I have tried, Lord knows I’ve tried, to bring a little reason to the pit of vipers you and I know as the world of motorcycling, but Hugh Palin still refuses to stand down and let my sturdy hand rest on the Motorcycle Association’s tiller of destiny (Palin, ex-boss of Norton Villiers was its then president – MW)still Mitsui Machinery Sales (Original UK Yamaha importers – MW) deny me a stipend to finance the valuable work I’ve done for them out on the ragged, uncharted fringes of product research during the past twelve, somewhat erratic years, (a word applied, rather unkindly I think, to my riding style)… and still I wait in vain for importers’ invitations to join a lot of other tired and emotional hacks wobbling round the sun-kissed race tracks of the world on cunningly tuned examples of their newest models (if only to endow these occasions with an aura of quiet authority)… and still I have not been offered the editorship of The Biker, the most respected organ in motorcycle publishing: everybody else has, why not me?. (This was launched with much fanfare by the mighty IPC org, which was crap and faded fast – MW)

So it sometimes seems as though the pioneering ­– some might even say missionary-work that I do is all for naught. I was grimly reminded of this when perusing a clutch of Which Bike? back issues the other day, and happened upon my column in the November ’79 edition. ‘The Death Of The Fast Rider’, as it was called, and in my usual gently humorous fashion (I find it preserves the health of my kneecaps if I keep the barbs a little on the blunt side) I bemoaned the lack of spirited young blades with whom I could dice with death on the Queen’s highways.

Having now more or less repatriated myself with the mother country, I am rather miffed that my rallying cry to ostentatious behaviour on two wheels has been largely ignored during my year’s absence. Even on that ill-tuned runt of a BMW you may have read my ‘test’ of in the last issue, I failed to draw any brightly leathered GS750 or KZl000 pilots into combat for an impromptu traffic lights grand prix, a race they’d have absolutely no trouble winning. What were they scared off for gawdsakes… an R45?! 

I can’t really accept that the bikers of Britain have all turned into a bunch of nancy boys, and my only conclusion remains that their pacifist attitudes evidences a lack of know-how. rather than a lack of willingness. This is a suspicion confirmed every time I peek round the door of a bike repair shop

and eyeball row after row of smacked-up superbikes, all of them virtually brand new. Indeed, although few would admit it, especially those few who make whacking great profits importing them, the real reason why learners are being prevented from riding anything bigger than a Dinky toy is that most riders simply can’t handle all that power. 

So rather than limply mourn the dearth of derring-do, I’ve decided that I should actually apply myself to redressing the balance and offer the benefit of my – well let’s not be modest about it – my enormous skill and experience of balls-out riding. I’m therefore unveiling the Williams Elementary Traffic System (or WETS), which one might say is directed at people to whom the self-same abbreviation applies. One might also assume that the WETS is the rather more macho companion to the ambiguously titled little morsel that appeared in the last issue, ‘How To Stop Falling Off’. 

The first thing that WETS teaches you is that you don’t have to own a bloody great UJM to get the job done well. I have seen chaps pulling perfectly respectable wheelies up Camden High Street on GT250s, for example. However, since WETS-work involves high-speed, stop-start riding it’s clear that good brakes, spirited mid– and low–range torque and fair-to-decent handling are all mandatory. Kawasaki’s GPz550 and Honda’s CB650 obviously spring to mind, but my personal predilection is for something a little funkier… something those despatch riders will bitterly remember when you dump all over them on the Westway… something to put the fear of the devil into Bob and Doris as you force them into an uncontrollable wiggle on the Gold Wing en route to Brighton. Yes gentlemen, we’re talking Kawasaki triples, and the bigger and smokier the better!

Firstly you’ve got to equip it for serious street racing. You don’t want to brandish your illegality at the Old Bill too strongly, do you? So be wary of bolt-on expansion chambers unless they’re easy on the ears. Consider hi–comp pistons, and hotter carbs if you must, but my own priorities are for slinky clutch action, stiff suspension and gearing that’s low enough to whisk you out of trouble when you’ve got a Cortina-full of angry neanderthals chasing you. 

Nice, sticky Pirellis or Michelins are a comforting, if not essential, adjunct to manic swervery, but loud horns and a quartz headlamp are far more important. The biggest problem, you see, is that most of the jerks on the roads today are really half asleep, even some of .the ones who ride bikes, so it’s advisable to advertise your progress with that immortal warning ‘I’M A-COMIN’ THROUGH’, by keeping your lights on and frequently leaning on the Fiamms. The reverse strategy applies to personal apparel: keep it dark and unobtrusive. You want to be remembered for your elegant riding tactics, not because you look like something out of Dr Who. Besides, if you are unlucky enough to lunch it, you don’t want to scuff your iridescent designer moto-x jeans, do you ducky?

And now for the manoeuvres that are elemental to WETS and the promotion of, um, creative roadcraft. 

A simple ploy to upset the turkeys at the traffic lights is to sit in between two rows of cars, about four or five cars’ lengths back. Just as the lights are about to change to green, you build the revs, ditch the clutch and scream up ahead. This’ll bug the hell out of any bikers who happen to be in line, too. 

Almost as effective is to stay even further back, watch the status of the lights at right angles to yours (assuming there are some, otherwise forget it), and scream up between the cars just as they are about to leave on the green, and then stop! The suddeness of your deceleration just as they’re about to get underway could very well cause a few dented bumpers… so don’t forget to smile. 

A shit-eating grin also comes in handy during the next trick, known as the Psyche-Out. In any given situation where you find yourself chasing the same slot in the traffic, or the same line into a corner, as a fellow motorcyclist it’s important to gain advantage in the most guileful way possible. Giving an impression of being out of control is useful. Prod the rear brake to induce a partial slide, ram down through the gears at high revs and deliberately shake your butt-end, make a lot of noise with your horn(s)… anything to throw his concentration. ‘Course you’ve got to be ready to correct whatever silliness

you’re feigning just as soon as you’ve got the upper hand, and that’s when you turn your head and show the pearlies. 

WETS even has a modern variation of the hoary old ‘tortoise and hare’ number – you know, the one where you spot some berk steaming up behind you in your rearview mirror, all mouth and trousers as it were, so you deliberately slow down, let him pass you, then drop a gear and overtake him with a loud belt on the audible warning device. The new twist requires you to drop a gear before he catches you up, and make it look and sound as though you’re really struggling to stay ahead of him. He will ride smugly by, congratulating himself on the wisdom of purchasing his elephantine Honda Turbo. He’ll also doubtless glance in his mirror to enjoy the look of humiliation on your face, and that’s when you start beeping your horn and pointing at his rear wheel. He slows down in a cold sweat of concern, and I’m sure you can imagine the rest.

Space limitations prevent me from continuing what I trust you’re finding a spiritually uplifting primer in the motorised martial arts. (Speaking of which, a well directed boot on the rear fender is an appropriate punishment for any old sod who gets a bit out of order with you on the road.) I’m sure I can count on at least one fair-minded, responsible body to help me defend my theories from the tirade of hysterical and ill-informed criticism that will almost inevitably follow in the wake of the WETS programme, and that is the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG were a frequent target of mine, espousing as they did some decidedly Dave Spart-ish notions and rallying cries. And if you don’t remember Private Eye’s Dave Spart, then you’re too young to get any of this nonsense – MW). Maybe after endorsing my suggestions, they’ll add a WETS-style jousting tournament to their next sober, well-organised rally in Whitehall. . . well it makes as much sense as anything else they’ve done so far. Or did you always think that MAG were a bunch of WETS?  

If you enjoyed this, or even enjoyed being irritated by it, why not click on the button in the right-hand panel and get more of the same as they come down the pike?

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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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