Biking is booming, and the authorities are terrified

Steve Rose THUMBNAIL

 

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog here about how, with a bit of statistical license you could demonstrate that motorcycling in the UK was much safer than climbing stairs, having sex or drinking alcohol. The impetus came from sitting in yet another meeting with people who knew little about biking but were convinced that it was the single most dangerous thing on the planet.

The last 12 months have shown us that the single most dangerous thing right now is actually a virus made of a small piece of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA).  RNA is one of the fundamental building blocks of life, but in itself is incapable of opening a can of beans, hugging its children or inventing a dual-clutch gearbox. If you put a small vial of RNA on a table at one side of a room and the assembled brains of the world’s politicians at the other, with their capability to think, strategise, communicate the correct tactics to their people and invent vaccines, it’d be a foolish man who’d bet on the RNA coming out on top.

The fact that this most simple of chemicals (you can’t even call a virus an organism because it has no ‘organised’ internal structures like, say, a bacteria – which is a full-factory MotoGP bike compared to the pedal-and-pop moped of a virus on the evolutionary scale) has decimated our planet demonstrates that our politicians are even more dangerous than climbing stairs, having sex, drinking alcohol and maybe even more dangerous than motorcycling too.

So maybe, like living with a virus, we must find a different way of dealing with them. In the UK the latest example of our rulers not getting it is what’s happened with motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). At a moment in time when avoiding public transport is one of the best ways to keep the country functioning, we’ve seen a huge take up in alternative personal transport. Last summer much of this was onto bicycles, which are cheap, require no training, insurance or special clothing and so, must be safe…right?

It didn’t take long for people to realise that cycling as an adult is hot, sweaty, more dangerous than we remember and miserable when it gets to October. So, unsurprisingly there’s been an upturn in interest in motorcycling and scooters. Sales of scooters were up 10% last year despite the pandemic, furlough and working from home. Sales of electric scooters (that’s proper scooters, not those teeny-wheeled stand-up, man-bag movers) were up 50% and a lot of people who’d done a CBT previously decided to get back on two wheels.

In the first lockdown the Government recognised that key workers riding small bikes would need to be able to do CBT (or renew their old one) and CBT centres were allowed to open and operate under careful restriction during spring and summer. The numbers were reduced – many schools ran 1:1 instructor: pupil ratios but the income allowed those schools to stay in business even if they weren’t making any profit. More importantly, they allowed key workers to carry on getting to work without risking death on the 8.28 from Oldham.

This time has been different. It’s as if the Government saw all those additional people taking to motorcycles and scooters last year, panicked and decided they needed to do something to stop it. All public transport is still running so you have a choice of death by bus, train or even plane. You can still ride a bicycle or an E-bike (which go as fast as a scooter through town on gripless, useless bicycle tyres and pathetic brakes with no requirement for a helmet or training), there are plans to legalise the stand-up trolley-wheeled scooters – which make even E-bikes look safe – and yet you can’t get or renew a CBT. According to the Government someone who has been riding for two years on their current CBT is still a novice, unqualified rider that despite being safe enough to ride yesterday has somehow turned overnight into a dangerous accident waiting to happen.

When the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) pointed out that extending CBTs until after lockdown was a lot less dangerous than postponing MoT tests last summer, the Government disagreed – apparently unaware of the scale of an accident that a fully laden two-ton 4x4 with broken suspension and no brakes would be capable of causing.

The response to MAG tallies with the response to anyone in motorcycling asking the authorities why this form of personal transport that should so obviously be a major part of any future transport policy is being ignored. Those policymakers are terrified of motorcycling because as a society we have convinced ourselves that motorcycle = high-speed, wide-eyed law-breaking, chicken-chomping, maverick lunatic etc etc. There’s a huge disconnect between the perception and reality of biking that means we get treated like we’re all incompetent, wannabee TT racers while the cyclists, E-bikers and Barbie-scooterists are somehow seen as the future. The idea that you can ride an E-bike through town without training, proper protective kit (at the very least a decent BSi-rated helmet) or the accountability of registration and insurance is terrifying. BikeSocial’s parent company Bennetts has (sadly) too much data on the consequences and costs of pedestrians being hit by vehicles going no faster than an E-bike and it is scary to think that these riders have zero accountability, no way of tracing them if they ride off from an accident because there’s no licence plate and no formal responsibility because there’s no requirement for training.

And that’s the point. No one can be opposed to training – it’s clearly a Very. Good. Idea. If the current CBT syllabus is fit for purpose then it’s fair to assume that, with a further two years’ experience, a rider will be able to control their bike better, assess danger, deal with traffic and get themselves from A-B without harming anyone. If the CBT centres aren’t safe to open right now, that’s fine – maybe we should do motorcycle training at the local garden centre, train station or DIY warehouse instead because they are absolutely safe…apparently.

Or, the authorities could recognise that all those key workers, risking theirs and their family’s health to keep us warm, wet, healthy and educated might just appreciate a break and be allowed to extend their CBT until lockdown ends in order to travel more safely.

In the grand scheme of things, compared to the herculean task of defeating a lifeless piece of microscopic RNA, that seems like a no-brainer to me.

And, if you want to be part of changing motorcycling, join up with an open mind at www.mag-uk.org

 

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