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
If you enjoyed this, or even if you didn’t, why not sign up to receive email alerts to future blod using the button in the RH column, and by all means comment of this one, as below
I thought you must have died, haven’t heard from you in such a long time.
Always great to read your rantings.
Hello Mark!So glad you are back with fully filled bile ducts and splenetic activity.Since my Buell was stolen a few years ago I was so disheartened I haven’t ridden since and at the age of 75 don’t know whether I ever will again,not so much a reflection on my own modest abilities but a reflection on mixing it with drivers fingering their way through the haptic screen rather than keeping the Mk.1 eyeball on the road.It is(rightly)illegal to use a phone while driving but Tesla and the like demand you operate a sodding computer screen to do the simplest operations which should be tactile rather than haptic.Remember when you wanted more heat you felt for the knob(no,not that one you dirty little boy!)and slid it from Blue to Red? I’ve also given over the operation of my Fuel Altered,the Grim Reaper,to the father and son who crewed for me,hopefully heading into the sixes with their own SBC.I blew up 2 BBCs which consumed a reassuring 8 gals./mile of alcohol,my own consumption is marginally less. So,as I prepare to slip into that gentle good night I will derive as much pleasure as possible from my Morgan+8 and look forward to couth picnics in my Edwardian clinker built motor launch(only dinghy size)on the Thames whilst mourning the loss of what this once great nation used to be. Ramble on,Mark,ramble on….Cheers,Chris.
Welcome back Mark. You have been missed by many.
Thanks Bill and yes, it’s been far too long.
Your column was the very 1st thing I read when I open a newly purchased copy of bike, such a shame you don’t have the same platform but hey, it’ll simplify expose the poor standards of journalistic efforts I’m forced to put up with mow
Thanks Nick, much appreciated
This is great. Made me realize I’m old, since I was once Belstaff wearing idiot biker in winter where it snowed. Heated grips were heaven sent. Real electric gear that once the heating wires wore a bit too much, shorted and got some places really cooking.
I used to have to make a monthly visit to a big book store in Cherry Creek Colorado to get my British bike magazine fix. Fast Bikes and Bike were always on the menu, though it was hit or miss what I got. I miss those days. I’ve not found such news stands locally here by the sea.
This blog will do.
Thanks Richard, much appreciated
A good read, keep ’em coming Mark!
To a lesser maturation of decay the US motorcycle community is also dwindling and getting evermore silly and stupid, and apparently capable of little else. I don’t know if it’s the art of your writing, the tone of your writing, or the truth, but I returned this afternoon after a colonoscopy, and this is the perfect reading material. I needed a good flushing of bile and truth. Thank you, friend!
Well Terry, that’s maybe a bit too much info than I bargained for, but happy to have my rants used as an emetic!
Cheers Mark, a great read as usual and it has the added benefit of spurring me on to join the BMF, if only to see the continuation of the print version of your ever-evolving but reliably opinionated scribbling. Running out of Road?….nah, just Learning to dodge the Potholes!
50 years on and I still get great pleasure re-reading you and LJK jousting in my collection of old Bike mags (which live in the ‘Reading Room’). Love the comment about you railing against the Belstaff Brigade back then. Why not rail against stuff now? The strength of the retro bike scene only goes to prove the often daft direction ‘modern’biking is going. Most bikes look like the guts of an old washing machine bolted to an apology of a frame. Zero aesthetic appeal!