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This and that…

March 12, 2012


Pwllheli, Wales – Back from a few days away and I saw motorcyclists out riding today…

That’s the first sign of spring in England – forget the swallows returning from their wintering grounds in Namibia and South Africa!

In Brussels the white heat of motorcycle politics continues. The good old IMCO Committee has thrown out the findings of the much talked up, by the riders groups, impact assessment into the cost effectiveness of the mandatory fitting of Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) to new scooters and motorcycles, from 51cc to 125cc (A1 category vehicles).  Yes its official if you bolt on a load of extra gear to a scooter its going to cost more to buy and maintain but don’t worry as we are doing a “Nelson”.

As IMCO had already voted to mandate ABS on A1 vehicles it’s not really surprising that the impact assessment has been binned, after all European Union (EU) politics is nothing if not contradictory. Embarrassing to IMCO? Possible as UK-based consultancy London Economics, who produced the assessment, also concluded that  the costs of installing On Board Diagnostics and speeding up the timetable for the introduction of emission limits outweighed the benefits.

Next up an impact assessment into the impact that all these assessments are having on EU tax payers pockets. Err dream on!

Still its all keeping “the bikers friend” IMCO Rapporteur Wim van de Camp busy as he shuttles around trying to find a compromise between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. With the European Commission acting as advisor this dialogue is known in Euro speak as a trilogue discussion. AKA trying to paper up the cracks in what has become dodge and unwanted legislation which, if BBR’s Brussels contacts are correct, may well end up in the Euro bin when we finally get to the European Parliament Plenary. Still its all made for a nice “get em out on the streets” campaign by the riders “rights” groups.

From the white heat of Brussels to the sausage sizzle of Westminster. Last week saw another holding of the annual Motorcycle Lobby Day at the Houses of Parliament. It would be an easy matter to criticise this event with under fifty riders meeting their Members of Parliament (MPs) and less than thirty MPs attending a reception organised by the All Party Parliamentary Motorcycle Group.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Mike “the bike” Penning graced proceedings with his presence offering the “usual” comments on the importance  of motorcycling and an undertaking to bring the motorcycle test review to a constructive conclusion. This is apparently Penning speak for introducing both the requirements of the Third Driving Licence Directive and a revised fully on road test in January 2013.

According to BRR’s reception attendee there was considerable chat in the margins concerning the European Type Approval Regulations. UK MP’s have little if any influence in Brussels but it seems that Penning is making efforts to mitigate the EU Commission proposals.

As I said “easy to criticise” but I won’t in fact do so. Well done to The Rider’s Are Voters (RAV) partners who organised the event. As the press hand out stated: “UK Government needs to do more to maximise the opportunities that motorcycling can bring to transport policy, environmental policy, the economy and business.” Its just a pity that only 4% of MP’s turned up to listen to that message.

Now the good news. It seems that UK Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) legend Neil F Liversidge is intent on rejoining the riders rights action. His return as a MAG Director has been flagged up. Former MAG National Chairman Neil has been out in cold for too long. Ousted by the MAG “old guard” in 2002 Neil is considered by some an arrogant twat. In reality he has brain that can remember the tiniest detail, an ability to think up counter arguments instantly and as Chairman of MAG was constantly thinking of ways to improve MAG and the riders political “lot”.

The “Withnail and I” of the UK motorcycle lobby Nich Brown, MAG General Secretary, and Paddy Tyson, MAG Campaigns Manager, better watch out Neil is about!  What will Uncle Monty think?

Enjoy your early spring riding.


© Back Roads Rider 2012



Fundamentally safe…

February 27, 2012

Blackburn, England – Its official cycling in the United Kingdom is fundamentally safe…

Well that’s according to Dr Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) for Cambridge and Joint Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling, as he opened last weeks parliamentary debate on cycling.

Building on The Times newspaper “Cities Fit For Cyclists” campaign this much hyped event was in fact a debate by backbench MP’s held in Westminster Hall. Debate implies two sides discussing an issue with an intention of one side prevailing over the other. However in this debate we were presented with the vision of 77 MP’s taking turns to eulogise on how wonderful cycling is, it was all plus and no minus.

Indeed the debate was best summed up by none other than Roger “the bat” Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director of the Cycle Tour Club, who said: “Following the hugely positive show of cross-party parliamentary support, the Government now has a clear mandate to get on with promoting ‘more as well as safer cycling’. It should seize the moment and draw up a co-ordinated action plan to create safe conditions for cycling, and to encourage more people to enjoy its benefits for our health, our quality of life and our wallets.”

But there’s something fundamentally wrong here, isn’t there? In a society that chooses to firmly regulated all other transport modes cycling is completely unregulated.

The only mandatory requirement for the machine itself is that it be fitted with an effect brake on each wheel. No lights, no bell, no reflectors are required at point of sale, there is no form of registration or vehicle excise duty required. The rider too has an easy time, there is no minimum age requirement, no minimum eyesight requirement, no requirement relating to blood alcohol levels, no mandatory insurance or training requirement, no requirement to wear a safety helmet or other personal protective equipment.

By all means lets promote cycling it is cheap, healthy, efficient, sustainable, fun and like motorcycling and scootering a sheer joy. But let’s get the fundamentals right first before, as suggested by  Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister Maria Eagle , we spend a £100 million a year on it.

Oh yes and like motorcycling not every cycling crash is someone else’s fault.

Ride safe, have fun.

© Back Roads Rider 2012

Cloud Cuckoo Land ??

February 20, 2012


Kilmarnock, Scotland –  Switzerland not only famous for astounding natural beauty, astonishingly clean cities, wonderfully engineered roads, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, precision watches, Brown Swiss cows with very large bells, army knifes, alphorns and the Large Hadron Collider but also for…

Being more than 700 years old, having 4 national languages, being a federation of 26 independent cantons, all with their own constitution and government.

Ahh yes and being the only country in the world to practice direct democracy, a system giving citizens an incredible amount of participation in the legislation process and granting them a maximum of political self-determination. Swiss voters have the last word on everything, vote on laws, government spending and can launch popular initiatives that are binding on Government via referendums.

In the last few years Swiss voters have had the opportunity to express their views on such things as the banning of minarets on mosques, the deportation of foreigners criminals and an initiative on fair taxation.

Next year if the requirements of an Obligatory Referendum are met, 100,000 citizens (roughly 2.5% of the electorate) must sign a form demanding change, even motorcycling could make it into the Swiss constitution.

It may seem bizarre but Swiss riders rights groups CI Motards, and The Federation of Swiss Motorcyclists (FMS) together with a cohort of politicians are attempting to get biking recognised by the Swiss constitution as a “normal” form of transport.

Bizarre that is until you actually read what the campaigners are proposing is placed into the Swiss constitution:-

That the free choice of transportation is guaranteed.

That fluid, free moving, traffic is legislated. Red lights to be synchronized in all cities to make traffic fluid (green wave principle).

That motorcycle riding is encouraged as an efficient form of transportation.

That Powered Two Wheelers (PTW) – motorcycles, scooters and mopeds are allowed to use bus lanes.

That PTW’s be allowed to filter between lanes of stationary traffic.

That the Swiss Federal Government provides for the creation of urban scooter and motorcycle parking zones.

Cloud Cuckoo Land – meaning a fanciful or ideal realm. Perhaps some may think that the Swiss campaigners attempt at constitutional  amendment is fanciful. However if they succeed Switzerland will indeed be an ideal realm in which to ride.

Meanwhile in the rest of Europe………

© Back Roads Rider 2012

Sustaining sustainability??

February 12, 2012

Tain, Scotland –  Bicycle bicycle bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike, I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like…

Well actually I don’t but the UK Government think I should and are doing their level best to induce me to do so.

Now that the green wing of the Liberal Democrat coalition is getting into its stride the buzz around Westminster is one of main-streaming sustainable development. So after a lull lets welcome back sustainable transport and its ring meister Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport “stormin” Norman Baker.

Trouble is that in Norms little world sustainable transport seems to equal cycling. Hence this week he announced a package of support worth £15 million to fund sustainable cycling projects across the country. I should point out that this funding is on top of financial support for cycling from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments and in addition to the £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which the 426 local authorities in the UK can apply to for funding things like cycling infrastructure, cycle training etc. BTW we should also remember that the last Labour UK government spent around £1 billion on promoting cycling.

Unsurprising then that things that facilitate cycling are springing up like toadstools. Parking racks all over the place, dedicated cycle tracks and routes, repair facilities at railway stations, laws allowing cycling against the flow of traffic in one-way streets, advance stop lines, road re-engineering, cycle hire schemes, subsidised  cycle training, free cycling helmets etc etc etc. Think of something cycling wise and its almost certainly being funded.

Hey but motorcyclists and scooterists are getting a good deal too! Just consider our benefits. 28 of the UK’s 426 local authorities give us access to bus lanes. Only last week we were allowed access to a bus lane about 800 metres long in sunny Bedford. Its reckoned that 4 local authorities are trialling anti skid access covers (man hole covers).

We get to enter the London congestion charging zone for free, but that’s only because the charging system, when installed, could not handle motorcycles. We can use the bus lanes in London which are part of the Transport for London (TfL) Road network. But not the ones in the vast majority of London Boroughs. We had access to the M4 motorway bus lane until it was closed. What’s more we get to cruise around some of the UK’s finest towns and cities searching for secure motorcycle parking that a) is none existent b) badly maintained or c) so jammed with bikes that you can’t park.

The problem is that we are not sustainable transport wise or at least “stormin” Norman Baker thinks, is advised or briefed that we are not.

Consider how the  European Union Council of Ministers of Transport define a sustainable transportation system:

Allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.

Is Affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers a choice of transport mode, and supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development.

Limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generation, and uses non-renewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes, while minimizing the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.

Perhaps I’m biased but the motorcycle and scooter fit quite snugly into that definition.

I’m not sure if “stormin” Norman Baker is spouting hogwash or greenwash but I am certain this is more about a political doctrine than a transport system that includes a fair shout for ALL modes.

Enjoy a sustaining ride.

© Back Roads Rider 2012

Hooning about…

February 4, 2012


Stonehaven, Scotland – Sorry but I simple could not resist this one…

If you do not live or have not visited the Antipodes you may be unaware that Down Under they have term used to describe those who drive a car, or come to that a motorcycle, in a manner that is fast, noisy or dangerous. These anti social types are referred to as hoon’s.

Here in United Kingdom we too have a Huhne in our case its Chris Huhne MP who has quit his Government post as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

There may well be readers who don’t give a monkeys about politics or Huhne’s and have been out and about having a jolly good time on a motorcycle and are not up to speed on Mr Huhne’s alleged antics. For these sensible but uninformed folk I quote from the press release of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had concluded there was “sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against both Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce (Mr Huhn’s ex wife) for perverting the course of justice. The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003, Mr Huhne, having allegedly committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver”.

This is heavy stuff as the maximum sentence for perverting the course of justice is life.

At this point I will avoid the pitfall of trial by social media and make the presumption that Mr Huhne is innocent until proven otherwise. I should also make it clear that Mr Huhne is in no way to be considered a hoon. However what I do know is that the CPS have spent nine months looking into this affair and that it has cost us taxpayers an arm and a leg cash wise.

Still one cannot but be fascinated by Mr Huhn’s judgement. In March 2003 Mr Huhne is allegedly caught speeding in road works on the M11 motorway. As he allegedly already has nine points on his license he allegedly asks someone allegedly “close” to take the three penalty points for him, thus avoiding a ban. In December 2003 Mr Huhne gets caught red-handed by the police using a mobile phone while he is driving. He gets three points and is banned.

I invite you to draw your own conclusions from the last paragraph. My only comment would be that Mr Huhne in clocking up twelve points on his licence seems to have little regard for the appropriate sections of the Road Traffic Act or road safety. But perhaps it was just bad luck!

Mr Huhne is the third Cabinet Minister to resign since the Lib Dem/ Conservative coalition was formed in May 2010.

Lib Dem David Laws resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after 17 days in post over his expenses.

Conservative Liam Fox quit as Defence Secretary in October 2011 after questions were raised about his working relationship with his friend and self-styled adviser Adam Werritty.

So don’t do as I allegedly do, do as I allegedly say.

© Back Roads Rider 2012

When is mandatory not mandatory??

January 28, 2012

Musselburgh, Scotland – Just to make sure that we are all on the same page, in the same ball park and barking up the same tree…

Let me define mandatory. According to my dictionary it means; required or commanded by authority; obligatory. Well is does in England but apparently not in France.

Tis only a few short months ago when an alleged 100,000 French motorcyclists took to the streets in protesting against a number of mandatory requirements that the French Government wished to inflict upon them. There was much talk of human rights, freedom and the usual biker minority rights stuff, particularly when it came to the mandatory wearing of yellow high visibility jackets.

Anyway after the obligatory thrash around the Paris Boulevard Périphérique and the face out with the Gendarmerie Nationale, Police Nationale, CRS or Gendarmerie Mobile everyone shock hands and with honour satisfied went home.

Scroll forward to January 4 2012 and the French Minister of the Interior signing the formal decree making the wearing of an area of ​​150 cm2 retro-reflective material mandatory for riders of motorcycles exceeding 125cc, from January 2013. At this point I could make a smart arse comment about the hopelessness of protest, but I won’t!

Bit of a downer that. But not according to Fédération Française des Motards en Colère (FFMC) the French riders rights group. Apparently having successfully fought against the  plans of the French Government to impose the mandatory wearing of yellow high visibility jackets FFMC see the mandatory wearing of 150cm² reflective material as a victory. I’m just a bit confused here, there was me thinking that this was all about things not being mandatory, about the human rights of the minority and freedom.

Not wishing to labour the point but the French riders groups don’t exactly have a good record when it comes to biking and things mandatory. Mandatory headlights on, mandatory crash helmets, mandatory retro-reflective helmet stickers, mandatory wearing of an area of ​​150 cm2 retro-reflective material and mandatory removal of safety camera information from GPS and other on board information systems.

Oh well c’est la vie.

Pleasing to see that Loughton Town Council, a town in the Epping Forest District of Essex, has honoured neurosurgeon Sir Hugh Cairns by placing a Blue Plaque on his former home in Whitakers Way, Loughton.

Profoundly affected by treating T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) for head injuries during the 6 days before he, Lawrence,  died following a motorcycle accident. Cairns began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle despatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists. As a consequence of treating Lawrence, Sir Hugh Cairns would ultimately save the lives of many motorcyclists.

Ride with pride, that’s mandatory!

© Back Roads Rider 2012

Well he would say that, wouldn’t he…

January 20, 2012

Blyth, England – After all he is a politician!!

This week in an attempt to generated some much-needed publicity the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF) have published an exclusive interview with Mike “the bike” Penning MP, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport and self-styled “Minister of Motorcycling”.

As a veteran of many interviews, covering motorcycle issues, with high-ranking Civil Servants and on occasion Ministers I had hoped for something new. Experience told me that was unlikely and I was not disappointed. Penning’s answers are to say the least to brief, a brief that appears to have been dusted off and reused over and over again in the past ten years whatever questions are asked.

So with an admitted slightly satirical curve here is what our “Minister of Motorcycling” is actually saying:-

Penning: “reveals himself as a motorcyclist keen to tackle the issues facing motorcycling today.”

BRR: Nothing new there then. Previous Transport Ministers have also been “keen to tackle the issues” but although they didn’t style themselves “Minister of Motorcycling”. Then with hindsight they didn’t  “tackle the issues” either. Has anyone seen the “issues”?

Penning: “having first started riding motorcycles as an Army despatch rider, currently owns a 900cc Ducati Monster and a Royal Enfield and despite his own riding being limited these days.”

BRR: Mrs Penning has worked out that it’s not really a good idea for fairly rotund fifty year old geezers to wobble around at weekends on Duc’s.

Penning: “Tackled over the thorny problem of rider testing and licensing, the Minister said that he fundamentally disagreed with the previous administration’s knee-jerk reaction to the European legislation on testing. “I keep referring to a single test and I still think that’s the best idea.”

BRR: Good move always blame the previous Government for a mess. Hey Mike you might like to blame the UK motorcycle industry too. After all they were at all the meetings nodding approval. Ahh the single test nirvana syndrome. Which of course will be introduced in January 2013 in line with the 3rd Driving Licence Directive when prospective riders will be able to take a single test for each category of motorcycle licence.

Penning: “saw motorcycles as “an enormous benefit for the environment because of their ability to keep moving, give off less emissions and cause fewer traffic problems than a car.”

BRR:  Yes very true, but four earlier transport Ministers saw it that way too!

Penning: “It’s not so much about getting people on to two wheels, but rather getting people to stay on two wheels – and stay safe.” 

BRR: The UK Department for Transport will never endorse a mode of transport it considers unsafe.

Penning on red tape: “streamlining the SORN arrangements by removing annual renewals was just a start.”

BRR: Probably the start of more stolen and dodgy bikes for sale.

Penning on European issues: “he had permission from the Prime Minister to “push back as strongly as possible” on anything he didn’t like and on the Commission’s latest Type Approval legislation he said he would do just that.”

BRR: A nice sop to the Conservative right-wing and the “its all Europe’s fault biker” brigade, based in Almeria I believe. As for Type Approval legislation there’s basically naff all Penning can do about it apart from making a show about keeping customising safe via the UK’s sensible Single Vehicle Approval Scheme.

Interviews with politicians don’t you just love em!

Ride with pride.

© Back Roads Rider 2012