BikeSocial Publisher. Has been riding since before Frankie said ‘Relax’, owned more than 100 bikes and has written for, edited or published most of the UK’s best known bike magazines. Strangely attracted to riding high miles in all weathers, finds track days ‘confusing’ and describes the secret to better riding as ‘being invincible’.
As riders we’re used to looking down at the road surface, left, right and behind a lot more than other motorists. We’ll soon have to add ‘up’ to that list too.
This week the push from the authorities to keep road users in check using technology added camera-equipped drones to the Met Police’s list of gadgetry. The reasons make perfect sense. Chasing dangerous drivers (often in stolen vehicles) in a police car makes a very risky situation even more hazardous. But we, the public are fed up with the police not giving chase because of those safety concerns, so why not follow the baddies with a drone, at a fraction of the cost of a helicopter and intercept them safely, further down the road?
Who could argue with that? Well, the whole of social media obviously, which, since the story broke has been alight with indignation about threats to personal freedom, big brother, privacy etc etc.
The truth is that, despite the bullshit we spout about how fast we all ride (and no one bullshits better than a motorcyclist on social media), we all know that in reality most of us don’t speed significantly anymore. Not enough to warrant the cost of a drone, a couple of traffic cars and a stinger anyway. This initiative is aimed at catching just the kind of bad guys we’ve been encouraging the coppers to catch for the last few years. Hooray for smart and lateral thinking from our moustachio’d chums at the Met’
The worry is that in 18 months’ time when the (hopeful) success of this initiative has made it too risky for scrotes to pinch bikes and taunt the rozzers, the now-redundant (literal) Flying-Squad will be used to watch the rest of us.
Chances are the actual droning part will have been subcontracted out to G4S, Kingdom (look em up, they are genuinely scary) or Mothercare meaning our riding will be analysed not by experienced, trained traffic officers, but wage-slave zero-hours-contract screen-botherers who have no idea of the high-speed skills and 3D spatial trigonometry that is motorcycling, happening right in front of their Instagram-distracted eyes. And, believe me, from 100 feet up most of our riding looks pretty dangerous. Because when a motorcycle moves among traffic even in a smart and considered manner, it looks terrifying to a non-riding observer. To us filtering and overtaking is an art. We look ahead, see the gaps in plenty of time and slink gracefully between cars, picking our moment when two of them are alongside each other, because we know they won’t turn in on each other. Filtering is a skill as technical and rewarding as Dr Marquez dialling-in the lean angles. But to the bloke in G4S’s Central Drone-Dome you look like an accident waiting to happen and every magistrate in the country is going to side with the footage to get you off the road for your own good.
So what’s the answer? Simple, we must become better riders. Because, while the description of filtering above has some truth, for most of us, it is also an exaggeration. Surviving for 30 years without losing a limb does not make us competent, just lucky. We don’t (for the most part) take training, don’t seriously practice our skills, rarely learn our lessons despite having numerous near misses or convictions. We consistently fail to realise that the only thing preventing us becoming the next pile of jam and bones is that we haven’t yet been in the wrong place at the wrong time or had the misfortune to meet some wide-eyed idiot who rides like we do, coming the other way.
Harsh? Yes, if course, but can you hold your hand up and say you have done everything you can to become the best rider you can possibly be? Me neither...by some distance.
And if we don’t do this and make ourselves better (not necessarily slower, just smarter) then don’t be surprised when more of our favourite roads have ‘motorcycle accident reduction schemes’ installed, like on the B660 just north of Bedford or the Cat and Fiddle Pass in Derbyshire. These cracking motorcycle roads have been neutered through restrictive speed limits because we kept leaving FireBlade-shaped holes in the scenery.
So instead of another drone-moan, which will do no good because they’re here already and my guess is that they are here to stay, we need to do two things.
Firstly be thankful that we managed to ride through the most carefree, crazy times. We had it all; the best bikes, on the best tyres, no average speed cameras, few traffic cops and the chance to just go nuts and get away with it. We were blessed and we survived, but now we must act more like grown-ups.
Secondly, admit that we aren’t that person anymore. It is no longer 1998, we are no longer 32 years old and iridium visors were never cool. We don’t ride like we used to and can no longer behave like chumps because the roads are slower, busier and policed by non-negotiable technology instead of grumpy-but-savvy trained traffic officers. If we want to go nuts there are track days and racing. But more often than not, we don’t go nuts anymore. We ride overweight touring bikes disguised as rufty-tufty mud-pluggers… carefully with our loved ones on the back and we have too much to lose to be as daft as we like to think we are.
Instead of moaning let’s just enjoy the fact that we are still allowed to do this amazing thing that so many people would like to see banned. And if that means evolving a bit to keep going, then surely, it’s worth it.
Because if we don’t, the next challenge will be how to enjoy motorcycling in a world of drone-policed 50mph limits, like the B660 and Cat and Fiddle. And no amount of moaning on Facebook will fix that.
It’s in our hands, let’s make sure we don’t mess it up.