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The Biking Doomsday Clock…

January 12, 2012

Selby, England – Has just moved 60 seconds closer to midnight.

Something else to worry about then?

As if things were not bad enough with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), concerned over prospect that nuclear weapons could be used in regional conflicts in the Middle East, north-east Asia and south Asia, moving their Doomsday Clock to 11.55pm. Only five minutes away from global Armageddon.

Not to mention 12/12/12 when according to the Mayan calendar we are all err doomed. Unless of course you happen to be up a magnetic mountain in Utah or hanging by the Great Pyramid. Frankly I blame Jose Arguelles and his book “The Mayan Factor” for this one. Maybe it was just to simple to figure out that the rock that the Mayans etched their calendar on to was just that bit to small to include anything passed 2012.

I digress. The Biking Doomsday Clock? It’s actually a symbolic measure of the threats to motorcycling and not, as some of the naysayers would have it, an old Teasmaid that was found in a charity shop.

Actually the Clock is now stuck at 11.47pm but its has been back as far as 11.35pm, when the UK Labour Government introduced its National Motorcycle Strategy in 2005. It did of course lurch forward to 11.53pm in 1972 when crash helmets became compulsory in the UK, well it was either the helmet thing or someone dropped it.

You are no doubt agog to know why the secretive organisation, the Bikers  Research Foundation  (BRF), who maintain the Biking Doomsday Clock have decided to bung on 60 seconds and take us nearer to motorcycle meltdown.

According to the official communiqué, leaked to BRR from BRF HQ,  BRF members are gravely concerned about the effects that the EU Framework Regulation(s) will have on motorcycling. With the latest news from Brussels seeming to indicate that extreme “Chopper”  style motorcycles with long forks, stretched frames, high handle bars etc could be banned via  type approval regulations.

Then we have the announcement from the French Ministry of the Interior that the wearing of hi-viz clothing will be compulsory for motorcyclists in France from January 2013. Add in the anticipated downside effects of the 3rd Driving Licence Directive, to be implemented in 2013, and little wonder its bi-polar medication all round time down at the BRF.

If it all seems like a bad dream perhaps that’s because it is.

Still chins up. Spring will soon be here and we can all once again hit the highways and byways of merry England leaving the uninitiated defeatists floundering in our slipstreams.

Have fun. Ride safe

© Back Roads Rider 2012


In the spirit of co-operation??

January 4, 2012

Boston, England –  It has always fascinated me as to why…

… There is not more co-operation between cycle and motorcycle lobby organisations. Is it that they really do believe that they are disparate groups or is it that fostering the entirely dissimilar position is handy when it comes to recruiting members and campaigning.

Within hours of Transport for London (TfL) announcing that motorcyclists and scooterists would have permanent access to bus lanes on the TfL Road network the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) hit back. From LCC Chief Executive Ashok Sinha, “Cyclists and motorcyclists are both especially vulnerable to bad road policies; TfL’s action does nothing to reduce danger for either group.” From LCC’s road danger expert Charlie Lloyd , “The overwhelming conclusion from the latest bus lane trial is, yet again, that there are no safety benefits. The results of this trial should act as a warning to other authorities not to risk allowing motorcycles in bus lanes”.

Not much spirit of co-operation there then.

Meanwhile out in the real world a poll carried out by TfL,  as part of the first bus lane trial, revealed that the majority of the 600 cyclists asked had no issues with motorcyclists or scooterists using bus lanes. Strangely this poll received little publicity at the time. When the grass-roots opinion does not support the lobby and there’s a whiff of co-operative spirit simple ignore it. Political agenda’s rule!

Thinking about it there are other examples where grass-root views didn’t match the lobby.

Somewhere deep in the bowels of the UK Department for Transport (DfT), no doubt hidden in a dusty corner, is an unpublished research report that examines the safety issues relating to motorcycle and scooter riders using advanced stop lines. Advanced stop lines (ASL’s)? Those areas in front of the vehicle stop line at traffic signals designated for use by cyclists and often also used by naughty bikers and scooterists.  Someone had the bright idea that it would be a good idea if use of the ASL’s in London by scooter and motorcycle riders was made official. So despite a “over our dead bodies” thing from the cycle lobby it was post-haste to the London Borough of Newham for a trial and a research project. Well hit me with a damp lettuce if  trial didn’t produce a result that indicated that there was a safety benefit for motorcyclists and scooterists and no safety disbenefit for cyclists if joint use of ASL’s was allowed. Even better in a poll more than 50% of cyclists did not have an issue with joint use.

You may at this point be thinking along the lines of “so why aren’t  riders using ASL’s in London”, officially that is. Well a couple of those “road danger experts” from the cycle lobby stepped forward and whispered sweet nothings in a civil servants ear and the whole thing got shelved pending further research. BTW that was ten years ago.

Of course these are the same “road danger experts” who continue to fight tooth and nail against the compulsory use of cycle helmets.  Oh and please no b*****ks about the majority of cyclists wearing helmets, they don’t.

But then it could be that an expert is the one who knows more and more about less and less.

Perhaps then time for grass-roots co-operation.

Enjoy you winter riding.

© Back Roads Rider 2012

Happy New Year…

December 27, 2011


Bury St Edmunds, England – Always good to start a new year on a high..

And London’s motorcyclists and scooterists are certainly  going to be doing just that. For on December 21 Transport for London (TfL) announced its intention to give riders permanent access to bus lanes on the TfL Road Network (TLRN) from 23 January 2012. Yes we now have access to the 478 bus lanes spread around the 580 kilometres of road that make up the TLRN.

The campaign to get motorcycle and scooter access to the TfL controlled London bus lanes has, to say the least, been long, tortuous and often filled with force hope of success. It started shortly after the first London bus lane, on Vauxhall Bridge, was put into service on 26 February 1968 and has continued in one form or another for four decades.

Yes it really has taken 44 years to reach this decision. The log jam of intransigence along with the smoke screen of disinformation only being lifted when a pragmatist arrived in the shape of Boris Johnson.  Elected London Mayor in 2008 Johnson had made it clear during his election campaign that he would allow motorcyclists and scooterists into bus lanes. Indeed his statement that: “I intend to put the commuter first by introducing policies that will first and foremost make journeys faster and more reliable”, is a good fit with TfL’s published reason for allowing a us access i.e. “Benefits include reduced journey times for motorcyclists and less carbon dioxide emissions”.

Be in no doubt that giving us London bus lane access is a political decision that emanated from Mayor Johnsons office. Unlike his predecessor, Ken Livingston, who used a research project into the first London bus lane trial as an excuse to deny access  Johnson, who ordered a second research project to run alongside the latest trial which produced not dissimilar results to the Livingston trial, has simple ignored the academics and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) and gone with the bikers and scooterists. With 50,000 bikers and scooterists using the TRLN bus lanes everyday and 2012 a mayoral election year it seems that Mayor Johnson really does know his stuff re-election wise.

Of course Johnsons decision has other long-term benefits for London’s riders. Johnson has cleverly sidelined the London Roads Safety Unit from motorcycle policy decisions. Leaving then to do what they should have done in the first place i.e. look after the safety of London’s road users and not play at politics. The London Motorcycle Unit seems to have drifted into “the cloud” while motorcycle policy has arrived at TfL’s Stakeholder Engagement “branch” in London’s Blackfriars Road. Indeed if BRR’s err researcher is correct we may, if Johnson is re-elected, be in for Die Glückliche Zeit (the Happy Time) London biking wise.

So this New Year please don’t forget to raise a glass to all the UK Motorcycle Action Group and British Motorcyclists Federation un paid activists and poorly paid lobbyists who worked tirelessly for more than 40 years to get us into TfL’s London’s bus lanes. At BRR we know some of the names, we also know that some have died while waiting, we salute you. An over used word but hero’s springs to mind. And to the vastly overpaid public relations lobbyists at the UK Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) we offer very grudging thanks.

To the  johnny-come-latelies who have spent the last week on the social media claiming its all down to them, well we fart in your general direction! While hoping you are right that this “is the start of a new era for motorcycling policy development at local and central government level”. See you in the Mayors office, always a good idea to know who you are sitting next too!

Enjoy fantastic riding in 2012. Please always wave, you never know be it at the Nordkapp or in the Atlas Mountains it might be me coming the other way.

This is BRR’s 200th blog, thank you all for your past comments and support.

© Back Roads Rider 2011


Closer to home…

December 18, 2011


New Romney, England – We are a bit preoccupied at the moment…

It seems that hardly a day goes by without a horror story concerning the implications of the European Commission’s (EC) proposal’s for motorcycle regulation surfacing in the UK motorcycle press or on social media sites.

So avid has the search for a new angle become that this week Motorcycle News, the UK’s largest circulation motorcycle paper, decided to attack MEP Malcolm Harbour chair of the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO).

For new readers IMCO is the Committee dealing with the EC’s motorcycle regulation proposals. Harbour of course being one of the few people in the sorry mess of the current motorcycle regulation saga who has attempted to filter out some of more bizarre ideas that the EC and IMCO members have tried to inflict upon us. In short he is one of the few friends we have and does not deserve to be criticised for his efforts.

Mean time none of the issues that existed before the EC regulations thing blew into town have gone away. Here are just four that are likely to give UK bikers and scooterists grief in the not so distant future.

E10 petrol. Arriving at a petrol station near you soon. We are talking the fact that the amount of ethanol in UK petrol will  rise to 10% by volume (E10) from its current 5% (E5). Ethanol is corrosive increasing the level above 5% can damage engines, corrode metal fuel tanks and cause the rubber hoses and seals in fuel systems to break down. Still the UK Department for Transport (DfT) reckon only 700,000 vehicles in the UK parc won’t like running on it. Two years ago they reckoned a third of the 28.6 million cars on UK roads would have issues. Don’t you just love Government stats.

Toll roads. Interesting one this. You may have noticed that the DfT have published their list of  items, legislation wise, that will be cut out as part of its response to the Governments  “Red Tape Challenge”. Unsurprisingly all the legislation relating to, congestion charging, workplace parking charges and toll charging remains in place.

Parking charges. A significant victory in recent days but with a sting in the tail. The folk over at the Westminster No To Bike Parking Tax (NTBPT) campaign are still fighting it out over bike and scooter parking charges being levied by London’s Westminster City Council (WCC). The sneaks at  WCC upped the anti by attempting to bring in evening and weekend charges too. Handily thwarted this week when a High Court judge granted the campaigners a judicial review into the legality of the parking plans consultation. Apparently WCC Council Leader Colin Barrow appeared a bit deflated when he announced that WCC have decided to shelve the introduction of the charges until after the 2012 Olympics.

While in the next door London Borough of Camden the Council is considering introducing evening and weekend parking charges, presumable to cash in on all the people who will attempt to park for free if WCC start to charge.

The Sting? According to the Camden local media: “Motorcyclists parking in Camden are not guaranteed an escape from new fees either. The Town Hall says it will examine whether – just like in Westminster – people should pay to park motorbikes for the first time”. Ouch!!

Insurance certificates. “Red Tape Challenge” again. The DfT intends to bring forward legislation that will mean insurance companies will no longer issue insurance certificates and vehicle owners will not need to posses them. It’s all going to be on a database that an authorised persons can check i.e. the police, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency etc. Actually a good idea particular for motorcyclists and scooterists. One less bit of paper to carrier or if you don’t carry it no need to visit a police station if asked to prove if you are insured. Except. Well will the insurance companies pass on the money saved from not producing and sending all the paper to customers by reducing premiums. And what about those of us who ride abroad. We will still need a hard copy certificate to prove to those nice European police officers that we are insured. No international database you see. So will we be charged for a certificate, I’m betting yes. Surely that’s a not a Red Tape  Challenge but a Red Tape charge!

I take the opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012.

May the jingle of Santa’s bells herald the fulfilment of your biking dreams and grant you safe passage on the road to biking nirvana.


© Back Roads Rider 2011

Let battle commence??

December 9, 2011

Waterlooville, England – No more mister nice guy…

It is time to get the sleeves rolled up and get stuck in, let battle commence.

The European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee have voted on the proposals for the regulation, approval and market surveillance of motorcycles, three wheelers and quadricycles. According to the “riders rights groups” it’s not looking good, time to man the barricades.

On ABS. IMCO adopted an amendment, put down by German MEP Kerstin Westphal, which means that ABS will be compulsory on all new machines, including light motorcycles and scooters, from 2016. Ms Westphal is such a fan of ABS that she enjoyed a visit to the Robert Bosch ABS production facility in Bamberg Germany in early November. Coincidently Bosch will be bringing to the market in 2012-13 an ABS system designed specifically for scooters and light motorcycles.

Customising and modification including the construction of one-off specials. This issue appears to have dropped off the “riders rights groups” radar. Noises off still seem to indicate that European States will be able to legislate internally on this issue. Meaning in the UK little or no change. However there remains a possibility that we could end up with an unhappy mix of legislation when it comes to modifications that fall under the anti-tampering proposals. Where does modification end and tampering start and who decides?

Anti-tampering applying to new models. Articles 18 and now 18A of the European Commissions proposals. IMCO voted in favour of  introducing legislation to force manufactures to incorporated measures into machines that would prevent modifications which adversely affect safety or the environment. Article 18A also surfaced and was approved. This would mean that should  “substantial” modifications be made to a machines powertrain it would have to be presented to a “competent authority” for inspection and approval.

What happens next? IMCO produce a report which is a modified version of the original European Commission proposals. Next stop is a plenary vote in the European Parliament where Members can vote to approve or modify the proposals. Then its onto the Council of Ministers.  Where the Transport Ministers from the twenty-seven European Union member countries have their say and can vote to adopt the European Parliaments version of the legislation or send it back for modification.  Be in no doubt that somehow a compromise, a common position, will be found and what emerges will be if not exactly what the European Commission intended in the first place very close to it.

There are still opportunities’ for the “riders rights groups” to significantly reduce the effect of this legislation. However the question remains are they capable of doing so in any meaningful way. Will this be the biking equivalent of the  Battle of Rorke’s Drift or a hopeless Banzi charge against the impenetrable redoubt of unwanted legislation from Brussels.

What ever the outcome the Canute syndrome is in play. This is death by a thousand cuts. Legislation is by nature restrictive and politicians by nature legislate.

Safe riding.

© Back Roads Rider 2011

A Common Position…

December 1, 2011


Warminster, England – Finding a  Common Position, that’s what it’s about…

Time to take a peek through the smoke emanating from the, intellectually vacuous, pretentious, verbose and insincere bonfire of words that the “riders rights” groups have ignited over the proposed European Union (EU) Regulations for Motorcycles.

This will be no easy task, that smoke is thick and its gagging to the lungs. Lets use a modernised version of that great British invention the smoke and fog busting device FIDO. Ahh yes the smoke of rhetoric is clearing the facts are emerging we can see the way ahead, we can grasp the significance of the Common Position.

The Common Position? Unfortunately BBR fans not to be found on page sixty-nine of the Kama Sūtra but a term used by European politicians to ensure everyone is facing the same way on a particular issue. Everyone being? The Commission, the Council of Ministers and acolytes, in our case the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and not of course forgetting the European Parliament.

Is there a Common Position emerging? Well yes, admittedly speculating slightly, it seems there is on at least three of the major Motorcycle Regulation issues.

ABS to be a mandatory fitting on all new model machines from 2014 with a switch on models deemed capable of both on and off tarmac use.

Customising and modification including the construction of one-off specials. Left to EU Member States to legislate internally. In the UK’s case there will be little or no change as we already have a Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) scheme in place.

Anti-tampering applying to new models. Motorcycles used by full licence holders will be unaffected. Mopeds and the new light motorcycle likely to have measures incorporated to make modifications to power output impossible or difficult.

So has all the protesting affected the outcome, probably not. But the disinformation disseminated like  “we are all doomed” and the rabid anti EU propaganda has certainly upset the politicians and has definitely damaged our standing with them. Indeed UK Member of the European Parliament Malcolm Harbour, who also chairs the IMCO Committee, has stated in the last few days that he has not had direct contact with the protesters and struggles to understand their position. In a media interview Mr harbour also stated: “That claims that a new EU law will “suppress” the freedom of motorbike riders is “complete nonsense”.

Which leaves the more cynical amongst believing that this whole thing is more about  the UK Motorcycle Action Group, the British Motorcyclists Federation and the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations recruiting new members than the issue of EU Motorcycle Regulation.

And the European motorcycle industry? They appear to have emerged with a deal that will protect their market for the foreseeable future. Be in no doubt that hidden in the small print of the regulations are items that will make it much more difficult to import machines into the EU. Thus the European manufactures have secured the new “light” motorcycle market, machines of 450cc and below, from the Far Eastern competition. Meaning that entry-level motorcycles will be far more expensive than needs be. Why, one wonders, are the “riders rights” groups not protesting about that.

Protest by all means but make sure you check out the vested interests first. This is not a competition it is politics!

Ride safe, have fun!

© Back Roads Rider 2011

Deja vu…

November 21, 2011

Worcester, England – The tale of the UK motorcycle test gets more convoluted and there is a strange feeling of déjà vu….

Remember the happy days before the 27 April 2009, when the off-road  manoeuvres required by the European Union 2nd   Driving Licence Directive were introduced.

If  you had a provisional  licence, a compulsory basic training certificate and a theory test certificate you could take the on road pursuit test and if considered competent hey presto get yourself a motorcycle licence.

But then the 2nd  Driving Licence Directive hit town and the mandarins in Brussels and the gold platers at the UK Driving Standards Agency (DSA) had their wicked way, it all got a bit complicated. The two module test was here with the special manoeuvres, in module one, carried out off-road on specially built DSA test sites.

A year on, 2010, and shock horror the number of folk taking the new test, when compared with tests taken in 2009, had more or less halved. Not only that but stories abounded of injuries caused when test candidates crashed will attempting the module one manoeuvres.

Step forward a worried UK motorcycle industry. No new bikers, no new sales OMG. Perhaps an example of getting what you wish for as the industry had lobbied for the 2nd Driving Licence Directive and conducted a successful pre introduction campaign to get prospective riders to take the old test.

Still in true UK motorcycle industry style they started another campaign to get the UK version of the 2nd  Driving Licence Directive toned down i.e. made easier and carried out on road, bye bye module one.

Handily this campaign coincided with a change of UK Government step forward Mike “the bike” Penning, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport. Willing to show that there was a new hand at the UK motorcycling tiller Mike took the industry campaign on board. Yes we make module one easier, yes we make it possible to do all the test on road.

Enter stage left the nasty men from the DSA. Who point out to Mike that there are safety issues with an all on road test. Thus the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) is commissioned to look into safety issues arising from carrying out the hazard avoidance and emergency stop on public roads. Or so the industry thought. The DSA, no doubt sick of the criticism they are getting, pull a flanker and in fact commission research into all the current module one test manoeuvres being carried out on road. Why? Well if the DSA can prove that carrying out the module one manoeuvres on road is not safe that justifies the £80 million they have spent in setting up the off-road test centres.

Time is passing. The UK must introduce the test requirements set out in the European 3rd Driving Licence Directive by January 2013. There now appears to be a planned convergence. If the DSA fail in their mission to keep module one-off road and Mike “the bike” Penning prevails in his attempt to get the UK motorcycle test back wholly on road it will be introduced in January 2013. Just four years and an estimated £100 million after it was taken off-road.


Industry campaign for new safer test and get it.

DSA spend £80 million on off-road testing sites.

Industry discover that test is too hard and campaign for easier test all on road.

Minister agrees but neglects to tell industry that “new” single on road test will start Jan 2013 to align with 3rd Driving Licence Directive introduction.

Industry complain that DSA kept them in dark over TRL research into if certain off road manoeuvres are needed or can be carried out on road as part of new test.

Mean while some trainers lobby for some new test manoeuvres to carried out off-road. Strangely these are trainers not joined to the Motorcycle Industry Association training arm!

Speculation that industry will shortly start a campaign to take your test before Jan 2013. The test being taken will be the one that they say is to hard and unsafe.

Full circle, with the taxpayers down an estimated £100 million.

What a mess!!

And of course this is all the fault of those nasty people in Brussels or is it!

Ride safe.

© Back Roads Rider 2011