Blog: Fight or flight?

Steve Rose


Riding home last night on a busy rural A-road. I’m enjoying the easy way that Honda’s Crosstourer nips through the traffic, when I notice a couple of headlights darting around in my mirrors. They’re bikes, not cars and they’re in a hurry.

I pull over. They don’t come past. I indicate to make it obvious, but they still stay behind. So I speed up and resume overtaking. And they speed up too, keeping right on my tail. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m starting to feel threatened. This can’t be what it seems, not round here – a crimewave in Lincolnshire is two people starting to cross while the green man is flashing.

Thing is… just the fact that I’m thinking about it (and the fact that you know what I’m talking about) is a measure of how ‘front-of-mind’ aggressive bike theft has become – even if it’s still not that common. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but I think there’s a third bike too. That settles it, something’s not right… time to leave.

If this were Hollywood, the appropriate phrase might be ‘Let’s see what this baby will do’. But it’s not, and this is a 280kg shaft-driven tourer. And it’s raining. And dark. So I just get cracking. Taking chances, passing sleepy traffic with less consideration than usual for whether it’s an actual gap or one that I’m creating. For a mile I don’t look back. When I do, the bikes are still there. Shit. Can I go faster? Yes, but the question is ‘should I?’ I’m still not convinced this is what it seems.

Faster Rosie, let’s see what, er, this baby will do. There’s a roundabout ahead. I usually turn left, but let’s do a couple of laps and see if they follow. That way I’ll know for certain and can pull into the services where there’ll be people.

As I reach the roundabout in the right-hand lane a different path appears. The car in the left lane is dawdling and there’s just enough clear road to cut his nose off, turn left and leave the following riders stranded. Risky, but possible, so I slam the Honda down, thankful for Shellgrip, Bridgestone R&D and the VFR’s basic-but-effective traction control. I pin the throttle on this faster, wider stretch of road. It’s four miles to the next roundabout where I go right and I don’t look back until I’ve made that turn.

The road is clear – they’ve gone. I’m guessing I lost them at the last roundabout. My heart is pounding. I feel strangely good…and bad at the same time.

I have no idea whether what I thought was happening was actually happening. Nothing like that has ever crossed my mind before. But bike theft is big news right now – social media brings regular footage of bad things happening. Watching the events in Bristol over the last week has been depressing and fascinating to see the police response. We’ve been seeing posts on Instagram from a bunch of bike-nicking ballbags for a while with the police apparently powerless. But when the crime escalated last week as the brats demanded a ransom before torching a classic Triumph, the cops moved in quickly and made eight arrests.

That doesn’t happen by accident – the police clearly knew exactly who these kids were, but also, that there was little point arresting them, because the typical punishment for a teenager lifting a few motorcycles wasn’t worth the paperwork. Only when the crime level escalated, was it worth their while acting.

That in itself is crazy, but what’s much more worrying is what seems to be a growing trend (mainly, but not exclusively in London) for bike-jacking. At first the thieves had it easy because most riders were so taken by surprise that the crime was done before they realised.

But, as more of us become aware, more of us will be primed and more of us, in the heat of the moment, might react unpredictably, risking ours and others safety to get away. Ordinary people riding for their lives in a real or imagined scenario? It’s one thing for the cops to operate a ‘no chase’ policy on stolen motorcycles, but what about the owners being chased for their bikes – who’s protecting us?

I dread to think how many traffic laws I broke in that seven-mile moment last night, but let’s just say I doubt there’s an ‘awareness course’ that’ll help. I’m a sensible, grown-up family man with a Jack Russell and a dishwasher, but for a few minutes, when it felt like it mattered, I could justify going entirely feral, risking everything for a bike I don’t own in a scenario I wasn’t even convinced was real. I thought the idea was that trained police professionals used our tax money so we don’t have to make our own laws. If we really are going to turn our roads into a scene from Mad Max, then can we at least give the three remaining traffic cops a supercharged V8 Interceptor?

What happened in Bristol demonstrates just how effective the police can be, but what happens next to those arrested will be what matters most. Right now it feels like luck, not judgement is the only thing stopping someone (on either side of the law) or an innocent bystander getting hurt.