Mods have gone, but bikers are back with a bank holiday vengeance

A formidable array of celebrities is stepping up in defence of the North York Moors national park and challenging the motorcyclists' deadly races along the B1257, write Nicholas Pyke and David Randall
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Once upon a time, confrontations on a bank holiday were between bikers and scooter riders. But this year, a different clash is in prospect: bikers versus green-wellied celebrities.

Once upon a time, confrontations on a bank holiday were between bikers and scooter riders. But this year, a different clash is in prospect: bikers versus green-wellied celebrities.

The setting is not the beaches of Margate or Brighton but the wild and once peaceful North York Moors. For this area, where many famous names were raised, or to where others now retreat, is being ruined, they say, by the sudden, polluting roars of motorcycles being ridden to their deafening limit by fortysomething thrill-seekers.

On country roads from Caithness to Cornwall and Dorset to Denbigh, these born-again bikers are turning rural routes into deadly racetracks. On the Moors, the B1257 may be known as the road from Helmsley to Stokesley, but to the bikers it's the Yorkshire TT, named after the races on the Isle of Man.

But maybe for not much longer. For a formidable array of names are out for action: cricket legends Fred Trueman and Geoffrey Boycott; actress Zoë Wanamaker; Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart, who has a holiday home in the area; novelist AS Byatt; Alan Titchmarsh; Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary; actor Brian Blessed; Lord (Brian) Rix; ex-Tory leader William Hague; Steve Gibson, the millionaire chairman of Middlesbrough Football Club - all these and more, plus the Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey.

They have hired top-end London PR agency Chelgate to handle the publicity, and are not inclined to take no for an answer. They want more police action, road-side cameras and a speed limit of 50mph. They claim some are racing at speeds up to 180mph, hence the area's appalling accident record.

Last year 28 bikers died on local roads and 180 were seriously injured. Despite accounting for only 2 per cent of the county's traffic, motorcyclists made up one-third of all road deaths. Nationally, 28,000 bikers were killed or injured last year, an increase in fatalities of 36 per cent on the year before.

Yesterday, the celebrity campaigners were not slow to give The Independent on Sunday some famed Yorkshire straight-talking on the subject. Sir Bernard Ingham said: "I don't think the North York Moors national park should be used as a racetrack. I don't suppose that this issue would occur if the police enforced the law but, if they did, I think it would be better for everybody." Fred Trueman, who lives in the Dales, said: "It's messing up a beautiful part of the world. But that's modern life for you..." The racehorse trainer Jimmy FitzGerald admitted: "They frighten the life out of you, making a noise like a jet aeroplane"; and Sir Ben Gill, former head of the National Farmers' Union, who lives in the nearby Vale of York said: "The North York Moors is as quiet as it gets. The noise they make is even more offensive because of the contrast."

The heart of the problem is the B1257. Kilmeny Fane-Saunders, editor of the Radio Times Guide to Films, who lives on the road, which runs through the western side of the national park, said she is fed up with tending to injured bikers who crash outside her house. "There are so many accidents. The emergency services take 20 minutes to arrive and I have had to stand there directing traffic, bringing out blankets and pillows. These men, when they take their helmets off, there's grey hair - if there's any hair at all."

Ken Braithwaite, who chairs a local action group, said: "It's affecting tourism now. It has a savage effect on our quality of life. I have been milliseconds from death too many times. I have had enough. When my wife comes in shaking from another close call, it is time to say stop."

The residents have the support of many local bikers too, who resent the "insane" antics of the born-again minority. Pete Walker, from a nearby branch of the international Motorcycle Action Group, said: "These people have bought a cycle for nothing more than to get their rocks off... The rides in North Yorkshire are absolutely glorious. They're a pleasure to ride at 40-50mph. I don't see the pleasure in riding at 150-180mph."

North Yorkshire is not alone in facing the biker menace. Other black spots include Paisley in Scotland; Cumbria; North Wales (where 18 bikers died last year - the highest ever for the area); Shropshire (speeding bikers have helped make the A534 Nantwich-Wrexham road the second most dangerous in the UK, according to the Automobile Association); and Buckinghamshire (on the A4221 last year two bikers were clocked at 157mph, the fastest ever recorded by British police).

Even the more responsible wing of the biker world runs forums on the internet, such as www.gbbikers.co.uk, which circulate details of "ride-outs" where bikers gather and then set off en masse. They include warnings about the location of speed cameras. And several British-based websites, including www. speedtraps.co.uk, now offer speed- trap detector equipment especially for motorcyclists.

There are also web pages offering guides to which roads offer the most thrills, some with barely disguised relish for speed. The International XX Riders Association site has this description of the joys to be had on the A686 in Cumbria: "This is one serious kick-ass road ... perfect for power slides, kneedragging and straight-line sprints ... a few of the bends are even banked!" It rates the road as 10 out of 10 for "mad bastard cornering".

Into the hands of people who take seriously such juvenilia can now be put bikes whose power almost defies the imagination. The Yamaha YZF-R1, launched this year, boasts 180 brake horse power but weighs just 172kg - the equivalent, according to one review, of a stripped-down Vauxhall Vectra powered by two Formula One engines. It is, he concluded, "faster than a Ferrari for the price of a Fiesta".

Faced with that kind of technology, what chance does a mere national park stand?

Additional reporting by Annabel Fallon

Comments