Fogarty's two wheels to the fore

Andy Martin visits Brands Hatch to find a new breed of motorcyclist celebrating the twin victories of a thoroughly modern world champion
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The Independent Online
No one in their right mind should have been wearing tight leather trousers yesterday. But the thousands of overheated spectators who turned up at Brands Hatch to cheer Carl Fogarty to a double victory in the World Superbike races were doing more than paying homage to the domination of a British racer over the rest of the world. They were also celebrating the rise of a new breed of sports biker.

In one respect the Superbike races were a classic exercise in machismo. Even the logo of the Superbike championship had been cunningly reconfigured to look, from a distance, not like SBK95 but - omitting the uprights of the B and K - more like SEX95. Brands Hatch is one of the last refuges of unashamed playboy fantasies.

All bikers hark back to a nobler age, rougher, tougher, riskier, more chivalric and patriarchal in which men are men and bikes are women, purpose- built for riding. And there is a sense of solidarity among bike fans absent at car races.

At Silverstone the crowd is just a cross section of our car-owning culture but at Brands Hatch there is a sacred bond of the bike. All these knights in shining helmets despise car drivers. Two wheels good, four wheels bad. "If you're going to ride a couch," read one T-shirt, "why not just stay home?" The rugged nonconformist individualism of The Wild Ones and Easy Rider lives on in the mind.

There was a widespread suspicion that "Foggy" had not got the coverage he deserved, considering he is world champion, and was a victim of a car- driving conspiracy favouring Damon Hill. The Fogarty official merchandise stall was doing a roaring trade in classic biker iconography where motifs of sex and death predominate with a strong heavy metal flavour. Naked women encoiled by serpents and grinning skulls sit alongside Foggy mugs and even Foggy lacy knickers in red and black.

But there is a split within the ranks, symbolised by Foggy himself. It was only after he took off his Shark helmet after his victory that I realised he is secretly a mod in rocker's clothing. Slightly built, clean-shaven, short-haired, more jockey than biker, he would have fitted on a Lambretta no problem.

A few more traditional bikers could be found at Brands Hatch - beefy, bearded, beer-bellied, hair slicked back with Castrol, but they were a rarity. The Superbike rider is a mod in leathers. He is also middle class and well to do. "Most of these guys are professionals," as Simon, of Pagan Promotions, pointed out. "With the new Ducatis retailing at over pounds 10,000, they have to be. And they are the only ones who can afford the medical treatment when they come off."

His sell-out T-shirt bore the motif: "I Live With Fear Every Day, But Sometimes She Lets Me Race". But the reality is that the racer is a consumer. The classic biker is a dying breed, found only at nostalgic reunions. Simon reckons he has never even seen a fight at Brands Hatch. "It's a party atmosphere - they are easy to get on with, they've got a good sense of humour, and they are easy to sell to."

I did find a Ducati 916 [Foggy's bike] for a bargain pounds 9.99. It was in the Model Shop. Keith complained that the market for classic bikes - the Nortons, Triumphs and BSAs - had gone right through the floor. "I have to sell them at pounds 19. People get cynical but the materials are more expensive. But now it's all Superbikes, that's where the market is. All the kids want is a Honda FireBlade now."

The surge in popularity of 900cc Honda FireBlades dates back to the end of last year when a bloke was nicked for doing between 165 and 175mph on one, thus earning Honda a front-page splash in Motor Cycle News.

"It's tragic. All people are interested in is horsepower and mph. The Japs can't even make bikes."

And the Italians? "Well, they're better than the Japs."

I began to understand why it was that when I invited my dad - a biker from way back - to come to Brands Hatch on his Velocette, he turned me down flat. "Superbikes!" he sneered. "They're not real bikes. They're plastic bikes. You can't see the chrome. And they don't make the right noise."

Results, Sporting Digest, page 21