…. I started riding bikes 30 years ago precisely because back then most people felt the way Jeremy and others do. It’s a natural enough reaction to lash out at something you don’t understand or from which you feel excluded. And motorcycling is, by its very nature, exclusive. You can fit two people on a bike – I’ve seen four or five on them in places across the world where they are the only available and affordable means of transport – but it’s far better with just one. So yes, it’s exclusive. And there is an exclusive language too. It’s not made up only of jumbled numbers and letters signifying different bikes – although there is a shared shorthand of references to bikes past and present that serves the same bonding purpose as the incomprehensible bollocks I hear football fans rattling on about when they are discussing their shared passion. There is another, deeper set of coded communications amongst bikers; nods on the road, a casual tip of the helmeted head to a biker coming the other way on a sunny day or a more considered, respectful sharing of the moment on an icy morning. These communications are borne not out of bar room bragging or bedroom tugging but are rooted in shared experience.
Maybe it’s the comparative exposure of being out on a bike that brings this readiness to communicate with others doing the same. Riding through some cities where traffic is mostly two-wheeled it's impossible to slip into the cocooned mental state that driving a car through exactly the same place would engender. Stop at a junction on a bike and you are there, outside, your face sharing the same day, the same air as the person on the bike next to you. Not to nod, smile or in some way just acknowledge the presence of another breathing, sentient being next to you would be plain weird. But the sitting ‘on it’ not ‘in it’ nature of a bike (as opposed to a car) effects more than communication.
In a car you are exactly that, ‘in’ the car; it surrounds you and your only means of influencing its movements are through limited and crude controls governing speed and direction. The car then, is to the greater degree, the master of you. On a bike the situation is fundamentally changed: the machine is pretty much the same size as you and you are wrapped around it, holding it. Doubtless that will trigger lots of comments about ‘mounting’ and ‘really liking’ our bikes but what it means is that our influence over the bike’s movements is achieved not only through the simple controls but through the much more finely nuanced and expressive range of body movements and weight-shifts. The driver operates the car. The rider and bike are working together in a much more subtle and involving way. On a bike, you and it make your way down the road together.
Saying they all look the same to you is like saying all flowers or birds look the same… And maybe they do... to you.
Yes, motorcycling is dangerous. Statistically much more so than driving a car. Nobody is forcing you to take that danger on, it’s very much left up to you whether you ride or not and if the potential danger is keeping some people away, then so much the better. I’m the last person to appeal to everyone to join and take up biking. I enjoy the exclusivity, the misconceptions and the fear. If just one dentist is scared away from investing in a brand new R1 and a set of matching leathers so they can impress the staff at the surgery before smearing themselves down the pitwall on a track day then so much the better for all concerned. There are already too many smug twats commuting the wilds of Kensington on Dakar-ready BMW R1200GS believing themselves to be the very image of wotsiface and wotsiface going the Long bloody Way Round on telly when in fact they are a middle-aged man who can’t afford a Ferrari but wants something he feels might impress his colleagues. I’ve argued in the past that if you haven’t got your full bike licence by your 17th birthday then you should be banned for life from taking it up. And a little part of me still feels that way. If it isn’t a passion, a hunger that drives you from the moment you are first able to say the word, ‘motorbike’, then it probably isn’t for you and those of us who do it would rather, if it's all the same to you, that you didn’t. This is our thing. Gerroff.