THE LAST RITES AND WRONGS

WhichBike? – May 1985

This was written immediately prior to turning WhichBike? – for a while the market leading ‘bike rag when I launched it in 1977 but since in steady decline – into the rather grandly titled MotorCycle International in 1985. Decidedly tongue-in-cheek it lampooned the whole schmear of self-important specialist journalism that was rampant at the time, which included of course, my own. I had fun with it though, as I hope you’ll see.

ENOUGH WITH THE MISTY-EYED NOSTALGIA! This may be the last issue of WhichBike? and although I wrassled the little bastard puking and whining into the world (and went through a similar routine with several of its subsequent editors), I’m not sorry to see it go. Neither am I smitten with sorrow at the departure of ‘Running Out Of Road’, a love hate indulgence I’ve fandangoed with for over a decade now. Truth is, I’ve had enough of the pretence, and although ‘truth’ is another word I’ve had a love/hate relationship with and for a lot longer than ten years, it’s about time I finally bared my soul to the world.

I do not want to stare the Grim Reaper in the face again. I take no comfort in the fact that cartwheeling through the air as £4000-worth of prime two-wheeled technology buries itself in the front wing of a Toyota Cressida qualifies me as macho-man of the month when I hobble down to the Duck & Ferret and trade tales of gore on the highway. And, most particularly of all, I am fed up with spending ten minutes decking myself out in the most ridiculous looking garb this side of a Space Shuttle pilot every time I plan to venture across town to argue with my bank manager, and 20 minutes dripping all over his carpet afterwards.

This does, I suppose, mean that I am slipping out of my responsibilities as a rough, tough motorcycle journo, a poet of the highway and all that garf. It means that come a whiff of damp on the mid-morning air as I breakfast on my usual lightly-boiled quails’ eggs, I will be searching for the keys to the Mercedes, rather than the Moto-Guzzi. It also means that instead of a rapidly declining pool of available females interested in braving the elements and unwinding 16 layers of extremely unattractive weather-wear before they can entice me with their frilly lingerie, I can take my pick of the numerous slinky sirens who sidle up to any chap in his mid-thirties who shakes a Martini at them, provided he’s walked into the El Sophistico Cocktail Lounge wearing Gucci loafers and an expansive, mysterious smile… rather than scuffed, baggy-at-the-knee leathers plastered all over with duct tape and Judas Priest patches.

Cartoon: Hunt Emerson

It is this ego-crazed narcissism that lies behind our – or rather – let’s be honest about this megalomania –  decision to lay WhichBike? to rest. And wlth it of course. Running Out Of Road.

RooR has actually been extinguished several times before, usually at the behest of editors embarrassed by public outcry, threatened by legal rumblings or simply unable to comprehend what I’m on about. And having been on both sides of the editorial slab, I can appreciate if not actually applaud their decisions. But the peculiar nature of column writing bears some explanation, especially at this time of great national sorrow. Like most people, well most people with massive egos, journalists invariably think that they know everything about everything. Responsibility for this impertinence lies in the fact of their constant exposure to ‘experts’ and ‘celebrities’ in their particular theatre of operations.

Unfortunately journalists erroneously assume that some of the expertise or talent of those they kneel at the throne of, gathering crumbs of wisdom, actually rubs off on them, thereby imbuing them with a licence to pontificate. And when you come across a journalist who operates in more than one arena, their sense of self-importance increases dramatically. So that with someone like moi who is a master of numerous literary cadres (motorcycling, cinema, aerospace, rockaboogie and international pornography to name but a few), the ‘pompous asshole factor’ assumes unbearable proportions. Unfortunately. it‘s that very affliction that compels multilateral wordsmiths to apply their overstated talents to column writing, basically on the assumption that since we know an awful lot about an awful lot, it is our gift to the world that we can gibber on randomly about them on a regular basis and never be short of material.

This self-deception, as well as being a flat-out lie, is also an iniquitous harbinger of bad journalism, which in turn undermines what few items of any import that might sneak through the columnist’s invariable slew of opinionated gibberish. In my own case, for every thoughtful exposé of injustice or inconsistency in the biking world, I must have composed five ill-considered, bile-ridden screeds of gonzo pap. Okay, so I’m mad enough to admit it, but I am also daft enough to explain that I actually like jumping aboard a stream of consciousness and letting the typewriter run away with it.

And there we have the final paradox. RooR may not be responsible, (or even readable) journalism, but it’s what I’m happiest doing. And the strain of trying to resolve these extremes is what lies behind editorial pronouncements, past and present, to kill the little bugger. But before we do this, for what I promise really will be the last time, I’d briefly like to answer a question I’ve been dodging virtually ever since I got involved with the whole sordid business of off-the-wall column writing, namely, are any of the experiences I’ve related actually true?

The answer is, of course, yes. And no. All the stuff about riding in an
irresponsible manner, my enfeebled body a‘swill with various dangerous substances is, of course; complete fabrication… whereas any references I may’ve made to hysterically taunting 18-stone, angeI-dust-crazed Hells Angels are of course true. What saddens me is that readers have concerned themselves with the veracity, or otherwise, of such behaviour at the expense of singularly more important matters, like bringing down the government that imposed helmet laws upon us, or investing massively in the future of the Iron Curtain’s motorcycle industry. (See, you forgot both of those).


So basically, you pays your money and you takes your choice…. and still you ignore the serious, responsible journalist that lies within.

And the second most frequent (and irritating) question I’ve been asked during my glittering career, is what exactly was my most memorable motorcycling experience (that wasn’t totally fabricated). No simple answer to that one, of course, but I think there are several, shall we say ‘incidents’ that qualify for near misses:

Running around Los Angeles on an all-black, beautifully semi-chopped Bonneville with a beautiful, semi-chopped transexual who divided her career between S & M whoring and fronting an art-rock combo… that was possibly one of the more bizarre episodes, especially when I had to go downtown and bail her out of the Slammer for doing 90 in a 30mph zone and the cops tried to arrest me for pimping (must’ve been the cherry red Harley I was riding at the time, a real wet-back chrome palace).

And in the same early ’eighties era, an adrenalin-gushing run up to

Laguna Seca for the Big Race will forever be etched on my mind. My riding companions were all hot-shot ’cycle journos, men to whom braking last and leaning furthest were a matter of serious reputation. We were all packing girlfriends in pillion, me on a CB750F, the rest on a variety of serious business including GSI000s and GPZs and as mile upon mile of the deserted but twisty valley pavement disappeared beneath our wheels, the pace got faster and faster, riders and pillions coalesced into single beings, and skidding rear ends  and lifting front wheels lost their breathtaking danger and became mere details in the ebb and flow of the chase. Now that 300 mile thrash was the stuff that nostalgia is made of – halcyon days that almost compensate for endless winters spent slithering through sodden city traffic jams.

But even closer to home, there have been Great Moments. Like back in the late ‘sixties, when Sunday afternoon sport meant racing from Islington with BSA and Triumph-mounted flat-mates, down to Earls Court tube station, where ticket machines would be utilised to prove who’d got back to base fastest. 22 minutes was the record I think, and nary an endorsement to show for it… ah, sweet mystery of youth.

But perhaps the most ominous tiptoe down memory lane takes me back to my first serious outing aboard my brand new BSA Victor Trail (a real man’s machine, ho-hum). The scene was mid-Wales, and so it was obviously pouring with rain, which equally obviously failed to deter a troupe of us from indulging in an impromptu enduro. Down the mountain-side we chased, onto a narrow gravel track when a cattle grid suddenly loomed large around a bend. Muggins here takes it at an angle, and on the lean, and whoops-a’go-go, it’s time for hand-stands. Result: Monday morning I walk into my first day at a new job, both hands and wrists swathed in plaster, and no typing or ‘biking in prospect for the next few weeks. Nothing too dreadful about that you might think, except that the new job was producing the first issue of something called Bike magazine, which in turn ushered in the whole era of irresponsible journalism and column-ising that I’m now trying to knock on the head.

Well if that little incident didn’t quite teach me the danger of running out of road, the awesome responsibilities of magazine ownership certainly have. As you’ll see next month!

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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.

6 thoughts on “THE LAST RITES AND WRONGS

  1. Mark, the 70’s; you lead me into alcoholism, personal injury and divorce. I’m just trying to think of something negative to say about my biking career. But those were actually the high points. There’s still a bit of road left yet to ride.

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  2. Dear Mark,

    I’ve been reading you and yours since the early 80’s, when I first found BIKE amidst the (ahem) literature in the lavatory of my local BMW establishment… I was there because they were the only ones that would tolerate the presence of my tatty BSA Thunderbolt. I subscribed then because it was the only reliable source of moto info available, it was total entertainment, the writers seemingly crashed every bike lent to them, and the writing was actually grammatically correct. They don’t seem to crash as much these days, but I’ve kept my subscription (online now), and it’s a lovely thing that you still grace the pages of said mag, and now I can even read your blog. Especially as a (once) beautiful semi-chopped… er, well, fully these days… er… I think I’ll just let that go unfinished…

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    • Fully chopped Thunderbolt?! I’d like to see a pic of that – any chance? And thanks for the hugely undue flattery, which of course I lapped up.

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      • Wipe your glasses, dear, and have another go. The Thunderbolt was stock; it’s the (former) owner that’s fully chopped…

        Ta,

        Hammerwoman

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