WhichBike? October 1982

Paraphrasing the Beatles’ song title, this was a fairly coruscating if tongue-in-cheek tilt at the Motorcycle Action Group some of whose members had taken pops at me over the years for what they saw as my mealy-mouthed equivocation in supporting their efforts to champion our collective cause. Truth was that because of behaviours recalled in this column, I felt that the Forces of Darkness could never take MAG entirely seriously and therefore neither could I. Decades later I will however say that whilst MAG became a much cuddlier outfit – all Xmas Toy Runs and summer barbies – motorcycling now needs a really effective, rider-led organisation to represent our constantly threatened interests, and that we sorely lack.

Cartoon by Hunt Emerson

Since their early days when we used get hysterical manifestos advocating protests that only just stopped short of bombing the Houses of Parliament, the Motorcycle Action Group have always aroused my suspicion. The concept of politicised biker organisation working at grassroots level is, of course, an admirable one, but their antics so frequent border on the comic that I find it hard to take MAG seriously.

On more than one occasion I’ve dragged myself out of a hangover and stumbled down the street to Whitehall to one of their demos, (I used to live in nearby Pimlico – MW) nobly intending to offer my support but soon changing my involvement to that of a mere observer when I saw what was going on. Cowering on the pavement with a gaggle of confused and rather frightened tourists, I witnessed a spectacle which could well have been the St. Albans Amateur Dramatic Society‘s production of ‘The Wild Angels’ (A Peter Fonda-led biker gang B-movie that pre-dated Easy Rider – MW)

A motley horde of lashed-up British twins, decrepit old Japanese ‘strokers and a smattering of big, open-mega fours, cruised down towards Trafalgar Square, their riders and passengers whooping with delight and wearing shit-eating grins: anyone would think that they were a bunch of schoolkids who‘d just got away scot-free after raiding the local sweet shop. Such displays of sniggering hubris were occasioned, as you can probably guess, from the fact that they were riding through the nation‘s capital without helmets.

From the loud exhortations of the ruddy-faced, Dennis Howard (who looked like he‘d just rode in bearing despatches from Ypres on a military BSA M20), you could have been forgiven for thinking that this small act of laddish defiance was a mighty blow for freedom and that any minute now the walls of the temple were going to fall and God himself was going to ride out in a Palma sidecar, towed by an immaculate 600cc Panther, with the body of a dead transport minister lying prostrate in his arms.

Since those early demos I’ve steered clear of MAG’s activities, preferring more subtle forms of protest like putting LSD in reservoirs and blowing up post boxes. My prejudices are of course reinforced whenever I read a report like that of MAG’s Croydon demo of August 2nd. Participants in this valiant enterprise were evidently surprised and outraged that the local Old Bill moved in and started booking helmetless riders almost as soon as they hit the road. Keen supporters of individual liberty like Paul Harvey of the Prowlers M/cycle Club even wrote to the ‘papers expressing indignation that after being issued a ticket they had to “stand there and watch the rest of those ‘bikers ride by with their lids on” which apparently “made them sick”. The italics are mine, the warped grip on reality Mr. Harvey‘s. And he was doubtless echoing the sentiments of a lot of other MAG members when he went on to write: “And to the MAG National Committee I say let’s organise a demo through the reps and don’t tell the law. Let them find out when we turn up on the roads.”

A wicked little gremlin inside me prompts me to suggest that Harvey & Co are only scraping the surface: Why not go the whole hog? Arm everybody to the teeth with sawn-off shotguns and military sabres, dose them all up with a lethal mixture of pure speed and shark tranquiliser and ride through Brent Cross Shopping Centre on a Saturday morning, murdering bank clerks and drinking their blood. That would show the buggers you meant business.

But I digress. Much of the legislation suffered by bikers during the past decade may certainly be specious, but blaming the police for enforcing it is a waste of energy: MAG’s efforts should be aimed wholeheartedly at Parliament. Organising a continuous barrage of petitions and letter-writing campaigns to MP’s would eventually have an attritional effect on our elected representatives far greater than any bunch of yobbos riding around lidless. But if the idea of such activities sends a shudder of dismay through the ranks of MAG members who consider letter-writing boring (if not congenitally impossible), then I have the antidote: re-constitute the more aggressive arm of MAG in the guise of Motorcyclists Against Gravel.

The renewed formation of MAG would give bikers a chance to do something really practical for the cause of our freedom and safety, especially in the late summer and autumn. This is the season when county councils in many of Britain‘s rural areas start re-gritting their roads. From recent experience wrestling with a flying dustbin of a full-dress BMW R80 RT, I can assure those of you who are confined to motorways and city streets that loose gravel is a major problem of our time… even more so than the grim portent of a right-hand Sidecar ban (Yes, that actually was a government proposal – MW).

There is nothing more unsettling than tooling gaily along a twisty country lane, even one you thought you knew quite well and finding a wall-to-wall patch of loose gravel appearing without warning. Actually I lie there is something more unsettling than that, and that‘s finding twelve yards of freshly deposited faeces courtesy of the local pony trekkers. And even worse than that is a positively murderous combination of loose gravel and horseshit.

I‘m sitting watching the rain drown any hope of an Indian summer here in the Welsh mountains, and still shaking from my trip back from the Dog & Cess-Pit last night. If I hadn‘t braced myself with seven pints of Ferkins’ Olde Thunderer (a brew so obscure that not even the redoubtable alcoholics on Berk magazine have written it up), I don’t think I could’ve controlled the snarling German beast as it grappled unsuccessfully with the gravel and horse manure. With another two days of serious socialising ahead of me, I fear that there’s little chance of getting the BM back to its importers without a severe case of gravel rash.

So what I’m suggesting is that the born-again MAG should stop frigging about with urban police forces and come on down to the country. Armed with buckets and spades, they could usefully spend their time in healthy surroundings shovelling shit (instead of talking it) and gathering gravel (instead of metaphorically throwing it at the establishment). If they disdain the use of helmets so much, they could pretend that they were at the seaside (although an absence of mods to beat up might disappoint them), and use them to mould sandcastles. Better still, they could sneak up to the local pony-trekking stables and tie their Kangols and Stadiums (Ancient brands of open-face helmets – MW) halfway up the ponytails, thereby providing onboard equestrian potties.

lf Motorcyclists Against Gravel felt that such tasks were demeaning to them, they could still provide a useful service by picketing the local gravel pits, or  lobbying for legislation that required all horse-riders to he followed down the road by a man with a bucket and spade… or if they wanted to get really cute, force horses to wear crash helmets

Anything to keep the crap off the streets.

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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.

2 thoughts on “WHY DON’T THEY DO IT IN THE ROAD?

  1. Your latest put me in mind of a reader’s letter to one of the mags sometime in the ’80s moaning that horse riders were allowed on the roads without tax, MOT or insurance, and they didn’t wear helmets and crapped in the street. The Editor replied along the lines that all of the above applied equally to most of the bikers he knew…

    Happy Days – keep ’em coming!



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