Tim Luckhurst: Bikers aren't bullies - they're just smarter

The Independent's motoring editor, Sean O'Grady, has experienced bad times with motorcycles ("I've had enough of the bullies on bikes", Independent Motoring, 5 April). It started when he tumbled from the pillion while attempting circumnavigation of a garden on a friend's Honda C50 and gets worse every time motorcycle commuters beat him to the lights.

In the morning rush hour, he fears hitting a scooterist and paying a high price in increased insurance premiums (and, presumably, agonising guilt as well). At night, he is tormented by squadrons of sports bike riders jousting on urban roads, as if determined to prove their suitability for a place in British Superbike racing.

It is tempting to point out that the Honda C50 was not designed as an off-road vehicle. A less sensitive soul might observe that low-speed tumbles by pillions can be avoided by holding on properly. If Sean would like to learn pillion technique, I shall willingly convey him from London to Barcelona on my BMW sports tourer.

As for the sports bikes, British cities have been plagued for decades by grinning cretins in cars oafishly decorated with go-faster stripes, wide wheels and risible rear-spoilers. If a few motorcyclists who lack the skill and nerve to test their machines at track days have now joined them in using cities to play out their arrested adolescent fantasies, the reasoned response is jovial contempt.

Motorcyclists who render public roads intimidating deserve no sympathy, but it is time for a sensible discussion about what is intimidating and what is not. Too many car drivers believe motorcycles are tolerable, as long as they are not more practical than cars. They exhibit symptoms of profound resentment when confronted with evidence that the opposite is the case.

I do not ride a motorcycle because I cannot afford a car. I own both, but I abandoned use of the car for urban transport years ago. I shop, and travel to work and to railway stations and airports by motorcycle. When my son and teenage daughter need to be retrieved from sports fields and friends' houses, I go by bike. It always cuts my journey time in half and, at peak times, it saves me still more time. I live in Glasgow, not London. In the capital, I find the advantages of motorcycling still more luminous.

There is one increasing danger. Some car drivers find it unbearable that my vehicle is narrower than theirs. When I cruise to the front of the queue at traffic lights or filter through stationary cars on the motorway, I am routinely asked: "What gives you the right to jump the queue?"

When I filter, some drivers pull as close as they can to the car beside them to block my progress. I understand how frustrating it is to watch a motorcycle travelling safely at 40mph while you are stuck in gridlock, but face it: it is one of the best reasons for riding.

Very few of the scooterists who dart around Sean as he commutes to work every morning are endangering themselves. They are just getting to work faster and more economically than him and enjoying themselves en route. Sadly, having kept his promise to his mother never to ride a motorcycle, he has no idea how brisk and agile these little machines are. They are so clean and fuel-efficient that any environmentally concerned parent who buys a son or daughter a car instead is a hypocrite.

The notion that motorcyclists are bullying car drivers is absurd. We will, as Sean accurately predicts, come off worse in any collision. The real source of hostility to motorcycles is jealousy. Our manoeuvrability and acceleration will always beat a car in town. We rarely pay for parking and we usually arrive first.

There is a way to go before we have the motorcycle culture of Spain, Italy or France, but we are moving in that direction. Don't fall for the myth that motorcyclists are dicing with death every time they ride through cities and need to be slowed down for their own good. Join in - or be late.

timlckhrst@aol.com

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