It’s that time of the year again, where the bike shops begin lining up the latest stock, and we go and eye up the latest bikes, itching to get on some nice warm roads and go on some nice relaxing rides. What could be better than packing a flask of tea, 20 embassy and taking some nice tunes to while away miles of countryside roads, comfy in the plush seat of your R1100 or Blackbird?
Well I’ll tell you, to me – and to lots of riders, particularly within the 17-25 age group (which I happen to fall into at a relatively tender 21) — that’s not what it’s about. In fact, it’s missing the point completely.
Now before you seasoned bikers get your feathers ruffled, I’m not for a minute suggesting that your cross country epics aren’t appealing, it’s simply that to a lot of us, low distance high speed no frills adrenaline chasing is where it’s at.
I’ll tell you what appeals to me: Whipping an RS250 round the local bypass, keeping the needle in that razor-thin powerband, playing on the roundabouts, buzzing artics (overtaking at a much higher speed in close proximity – usually in the same lane), scaring myself stupid and laughing myself silly.
What could be better than a summer filled with screaming exhausts, tacho needles a few hundred RPM from the redline, the occasional beeping car horn and the hair raising corners that seem to rush up on you.
You’d be stupid to think that it’s safe, even more so to think that it’s big or that it’s clever. Rubbish – you’d be stupid to think that it’s anything other than selfish irresponsible and childish thrill seeking. But if you are that stupid, you might just want to be a little more so, and you might just discover how much fun you’re missing.
We live, ladies and gentlemen, tourers and racers alike, in a country that ties us to its apron strings. We are not smart enough to look after ourselves, and every hint of danger is obviated and erased from our lives, lives where happiness — ‘successful living’ — is defined by two cars and a good pension. Two-jags springs to mind.
“This road is unsafe” “This bike crash could have been avoided”. Naïve avatars of our country’s beloved government telling us, scolding us, telling the entire public at large “this happened because you are stupid”. Roads in themselves are not unsafe, rather, each road is a risk with gains and hazards. Some people push further than others. The crash could probably have been avoided, but I daresay the rider had other things on his mind, like having fun.
In my area in the beautiful peak district, we see sweeping curves with “Think” road safety posters that feature a cartoon of a fantastically twisty road with “To die for?” emblazoned across the bottom. My response is usually to shift my weight over to one side of the bike, and then the other, and think “Oh yes!”
In this world where all danger is engineered out of our lives, screaming round fantastic roads – whether you’re on an RS250, an R1, or strapped into an RX7 or Supra is one of the few real serious pleasures left to us that still carries an element of risk. Yes it’s illegal, of course it’s illegal. The law is there to protect us (and occasionally others) from ourselves. But how many other activities let you take your life into your hands? How many sports can you either live or die depending on whether you can keep your mind together? How many people are sitting working boring monotonous jobs, sitting going quietly out of their minds, and then driving home in their company cars, cursing when we thunder by?
For all my boastful disregard for my own concern, I know only too well the cost of getting things wrong. With five crashes and two fractures under my belt already, I’m well aware that even minor slides can be more than a little painful. Close friends haven’t been so lucky, and I’ve seen the effect crashes have on the families of those left behind. But when a close friend wrote both himself and his bike off this time last year, I didn’t stop riding. I sure as hell considered it, but I came out the other side faster, sharper and nuttier than before. I discovered the pleasures of scaring myself stupid. The main lesson I learned last year was that you really do, only live once.
Many people moan about sportsbikes: “oh they’re so uncomfortable”; “who’s going to use that sort of power on the road”; “they’re all the same”; “they’re intimidating – not friendly at all”. Who wants a comfortable sportsbike? Like a supermoto, when you come to the corners you’re going to have your arse off the seat more often than not anyway. Who’s going to use that sort of power on the road? Hello-o-o have you been reading up to this point? Intimidating? How can 140 kg of inanimate object be intimidating? If you know how to control it, it does precisely what you tell it to.
While I am a supporter of MAG, I don’t doubt that riding the way I do is giving the general public the wrong idea about bikes, probably doing MAG more harm than good. And while there is probably a happy prospect for those of you with Deauvilles, BMWs and Varaderos, people who don’t mind sticking to the rules, I don’t feel there is much of a future for sportsbikes on the road. They are too powerful, they’re too loud, they’re too fast, and they’re controlled by idiots like me and my friends.
While legislation gets tighter and tighter, with Automatic Number Plate Recognition looming over the horizon, together with the incredibly boneheaded facile naiveté of that “Vision Zero” crap that bloody Eurocrat was going on about with some enthusiasm while he threw his weight around at some road safety conference or other, and the hamstrung but still very active “Safety” camera partnerships rearing their ugly heads with their roadside anti-joy weapons, bikers like us will soon be legislated out of existence. We’ll soon be banished to the track — until the tracks start closing down.
I don’t want to spend the last years of my life struggling to breathe while my lungs pack in, wheezing and coughing when I walk up a flight of stairs – not for me! Give me a fast bike, a sunny day, and some great roads. If the worst does happen and I end up puncturing the scenery, at least I’ll have spent the last hour of my life happy. I know the consequences of getting it wrong, I know the rewards of getting it right, and I sure as hell know the risks of never trying.
You have people that sit around all day drinking coffee, worrying about Key Performance Indicator reports, about quality monitoring, about customer focus, all the things that are only relevant because they cater to the kind of people that take those things too seriously. Then you get people who go out and get drunk, who play amateur ice hockey, who ride bikes fast, and who do something genuinely real with their lives.
Don’t sit around worrying about work, about pensions, about things you’ll do one day, when you have the money, or the time – get out there and do them! Make the money, make the time! Everything you don’t want to do, everything you’d rather not do, put it out of your mind. Without fun, without danger, your job, your life, re-sets every day. Everything you do in the office, every shoddy soap episode you watch while wishing you were somewhere doing something real is only as real as a sandcastle on the beach – the night comes and it disappears. It’s forgotten.
Think about it. Step out of your little bubbles of safety, get your manic heads on, get on the bike, and give a great big two fingered salute to the road safety partnerships. Give a great big “stuff you” to the traffic police, and show the world how life is meant to be lived – quickly and dangerously. Stick it to the law, to the slow drivers, lane huggers, and the idiots who stick exactly to the speed limits. Scream past them, roar past them, let them know exactly how seriously you take their entire existence, their petty little views on how we should be confined to something less appealing and less dangerous. Go out there and live!
People think of bikers as speedy nutters, part of the “ride it like you stole it” brigade. If you treat me like an idiot, I’ll act like one. Modern bikes are so fast, so light and so incredibly nimble. I’m not going to waste my bike’s capabilities; I’m not going to waste my time on the road. Are you?
Sod work, bugger faxes and screw mortgages. Forget route planning, stop worrying about which pannier you put your toothbrush in, and forget your carefully planned petrol stops. Get on the bike, and get out there. Even if the worst does happen, you will go out with a smile on your face. Even if you crash, all that means in the long run is that you don’t have another pretend day, doing pretend work, worrying about whether you’re going to the chippie or to the Indian for your tea. Everybody dies someday, personally I’d rather do it at the ton, with a screaming bike under me, doing something I love.
So come on lads, put down yer tea and pick up a Tornado. Put down yer map and pick up a Mille. A friend of mine always had a favourite phrase: “I take risks, not to escape life, but to prevent life escaping me.”
This first appeared in issue 106 in July 2006, which means that – assuming that he’s still with us – RS250-Squid will be in his mid thirties by now. TRD always carried a disclaimer saying “The opinions and comments of contributors within this magazine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor” and it would interesting to know how well they line up with the Squid’s view these days?