…. how to manage an addiction

A friend of Bg’s runs a small town bike workshop and MOT station up north – you’re typical small independent,  where something can be looked at and even remedied on the spot, without booking in. Remember places like that? This particular establishment (which must remain anonymous, for reasons which will become clear) has a certain amount of added local credibility, since the owner not only rides regularly – he can ride proper fast, and has a club racing background. He owns a couple of sportsbikes. Not for him the trackday only mantra one hears from a certain type of middle aged petrol head: our man knows his roads, chooses his times very carefully – he’ll reccy a known section for all the usual crap and  open up accordingly on the way back. He knows what he’s doing.


Nevertheless, like many of us (including your correspondent), this guy has experienced the displeasure of Her Majesty’s courts, on account of riding related matters. Maybe that’s one reason why he’s careful: as you’ve probably gathered, he’s learned a thing or two. This became obvious when I chatted with him about fast road riding,  a conversation prompted by our new hack’s apparent lust for the autobahn. This was his take.

  • Most people simply can not get their heads around what a good few of us would consider an average ride. When normal people ask me how fast I can go on a ride out, I always lop off at least 40mph and they’re still shocked. And rightly so. It is very hard to justify doing the speeds we’re capable of on a public road, when you think about it from a democratic point of view. It doesn’t matter how safe our speed appears to be – essentially, what we do belongs on the track. I’ve seen some old dear doing maybe 50 on a B road, not that much width, and someone on a ZX10 screams past before cutting back in. It’s a safe move, but to her this missile has just carved her up: we know there was no chance of contact, but she’s in temporary shock. And we all know that not everyone who is fast is necessarily safe. An experienced fast rider on a fast bike will always choose his or her moment, they’ll always be scanning for hazards including unmarked cars and cameras, they’ll be ‘built up conscious’ and respect villages – but that same rider will still be spending a fair percentage of time way over the limit. I know people who have been riding that way for twenty years, and they are less inherently dangerous than a van driver on a mobile going 50 mph slower. But it doesn’t alter the fact that speed limits exist for a reason, even if they err on the conservative side.  Most guys I know accept that at some point there will be a sanction. It’s like an additional, randomly generated tax. You accept it because you ride. If you’ve been riding fast without serious mishap year after year you know you’re not going to stop, it is part of who you are, part of your psychological make up. But looked at by someone who doesn’t have this kind of need, it’s insane.

That’s an interesting exposition, acknowledging the total gulf that exists between legal requirements, the average car driver and a fast road rider. These days virtually any road bike from 400cc up is going to feel on song well north of the national speed limit – and never mind sportsbikes: look at what some modern adventure bikes are capable of. And if you don ‘t have that kind of money, for less than a grand you can pick up something which is very much at home at 120 mph. And counting….

But what was so refreshing was the willingness to accept the other side of the story as arguably holding the moral (and legal) high ground – while at the same time implying that despite that understanding, people who utilise high speed become psychologically habituated to experiencing it.  For those of us who fall into that category, the hit is self justifying. It’s easy to forget that ‘normal’ people would regard it as crazy.

This perceptual division has its roots deeply embedded in the social history of motoring. The activity was originally seen by many as being primarily recreational: you went for a drive for the pleasure (and relative novelty) of driving. Very quickly, these enthusiasts found machines that would enhance that pleasure by dint of performance: the first production car capable of a genuine ton ( the Vauxhall 30-98) hit the streets pre WW1. This was at a time when the national speed limit was 20 mph: speeding has a long history, in symbiosis with the outrage it has always engendered. These days, the overwhelming majority of road miles are clocked up for utilitarian purposes, making it easy for ordinary road users to forget that for some of us, pleasure is can still be the motive, just as it was for some of the pioneers. Performance enthusiasts can therefore cite historical and cultural mitigation, philosophical justification – of an Epicurean kind – and  are arguably afflicted with an addiction. None of which will cut any ice in court. But occasionally reminding ourselves of societal incomprehension is no bad thing: it can help us rein in, and that in itself may help avoid an unwelcome appearance in the dock. There are a couple of practical things which might also help keep your nose clean.

The most obvious item, according to our feedback, is to buy something which will slow you down but still entertain. The current vogue for air-cooled – from custom house to the last air/oil boxers – is partly explained riders trying to find their  fix by other means (than a GSXR 05). An alternative is to source an import or sprightly 400s – a smaller, lighter bike can be a vastly rewarding experience: you can thrash without the threat of imprisonment, maintaining more corner speed that all those fat adventure bikes. And if a change of bike is not a possibility, you could always try buying a classy open face lid – choosing your Davida over your Arai next time you hit the road wont stop you speeding, but it will keep the lid on things……







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