Nick wonders why everyone is avoiding him…

14.30 hours, 4/12/11.  The venue: West Bay – a small harbour on the South Coast of England, whose economy these days is more dependent on tourism than fishing and freight. On sunny Sundays, visitor numbers are augmented by bikers using the little port as destination for their weekend ride out – to the extent that a helmet/apparel retailer has opened a branch there. Like many established meets, West Bay has a long history as a biker hang out, with a couple of hundred machines regularly in evidence on summer weekends in the early 80s. In winter numbers inevitably dropped off, but even in rough weather it was one place you were more or less guaranteed to find a hardy few.

Not any more, it seems. Most Brit bikers have been blessed with a fabulous Indian Summer this autumn, with temperatures in the South holding up well into December. Following a quick blast down the coast road on the hack, I took the turn off for the Bay expecting to hook up with a few like minded souls for a cuppa and a spot of breeze shooting. It was 11 degrees C, with patches of clear blue sky out towards the South Western approaches and dry, clear roads.

But… there was not a single bike in evidence. A quick word with the grub kiosk lady confirmed that the whole day had been slow. It wasn’t as if terrible conditions were imminent. So where was everyone? ‘Gagging for cock, the lot of ’em’ was the damning verdict handed down by Clem, a fisherman well used to much more Spartan conditions.

close of a dark day down the bay, 2010

If he’s right – that these days bikers are more easily put off by the weather – it really doesn’t make much sense. Because in terms of equipment, we’ve never been better appointed to handle winter riding, never mind when its 11 degrees. Everything, from the clothing options to tyres, should cope better with adversity than in pervious years. But the nature of biking has changed.

A higher percentage of bikers these days use their machines for recreation only: in the 70s and 80s, more people used their bike as a sole form of transport. And the biker constituency had a younger average age. In other words, we were more used to, and better able to cope with, less than perfect conditions. It may be that the current economic scenario will foster the return of the utilitarian biker; let’s just hope (s)he isn’t too old…

Meanwhile some recreational riders are missing out. No one in their right mind would claim that daily winter riding in the UK is an unremitting joy, but there are plenty of salt free, dry and temperate days on empty highways – no tourists on the coast road today: they wont be back in numbers before Easter. Let’s hope for the sake of the kiosk lady that the same isn’t true of her biker punters…

Leave a Reply