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Time to ban the macho men and their killing machines

Friday 30 June 2006

Our countryside commentator John Sheard asks why he should risk death several times a week during the summer months simply by going about his daily business on the roads of the Yorkshire Dales

FOR several years back in the 1970s and 1980s, I used to report on the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races. In doing so, I got to know many of the top motorbike racers who would spend their days doing 180 mph on two wheels within a foot or two of drystone walls - and their evenings in the pub.

They were a pretty likeably bunch - the past tense being appropriate because a lot of them are dead, victims of their obsession - but I never changed my opinion that they were all stark staring mad. But little did I think that, years later, I would be entering the Yorkshire Dales TT - along with thousands of assorted cars, quarry wagons, tractors and caravans.

Wensleydale - a place of peace?

This thought came to mind this week as I drove out of Hawes on the lovely but treacherous road to Ingleton. It is one of the most picturesque drives in Britain, taking you past the world-famous Ribblehead railway viaduct as you approach Ingleborough's rugged backside.

They have just erected a huge traffic sign on the Hawes exit to the B6255 imploring motorcyclists to drive with care because 36 of their members were injured on these 17 miles of soaring, twisting miles snakeback last year alone. They were lucky to escape with mere injuries.

Anyone who makes a living in the Yorkshire Dales has to learn to be a pretty skilful driver. When my wife and I first moved here 20 years ago, we lost two wing mirrors to drystone walls in as many weeks. These days, that would have cost us well over £100 apiece, so we learned our lesson the hard way.

On that drive this week, I had to emergency brake four times to avoid sheep and lambs rushing across the road - that's roughly once every three miles - and with that ominous road sign still in mind, I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had I in those precarious moments been overtaken by a gang of motorcyclists "doing the ton" - i.e., 100 mph.

Two or three years ago, this very same stretch of road was featured in one of the more irresponsible motorcycle magazines as one of the best in Britain for a "burn up." It actually gave lap times which, if achieved by readers, would have meant that they would never have been below the 60 mph speed limit.

Police and politicians were furious and the subject became national news. This, in turn, led to a psychological study of such speedsters which revealed a strange phenomenon: by and large, they were not 'teenage tearaways but mainly middle-aged men who were trying to regain some of the thrills of youth - and we rich enough to pay for 180 mph bikes which cost as much as a family car.

If you think this is an exaggeration, a middle aged biker was recently timed at 160 mph on the Settle bypass. I travel the A65 like a yoyo and, any time now, I expect to see yet another sad pile of flowers by the roadside, another home-made memorials to a biker who have killed himself - and perhaps some else too.

And, sadly, the peak season for such deaths is approaching as the school holidays start. These already crowded roads will be awash with tourists admiring the scenery at 30 mph, caravans swaying as much as two feet from side the side in the slightest wind, plus the every present mix of quarry wagons and tractors. Add ton-up bikers and you have a truly lethal cocktail.

Now I don't want to be a spoilsport. Many of my friends have what I consider to be crazy hobbies, like rock climbing, potholing and hand gliding. But if things go wrong, they tend to kill only themselves (although, admittedly, putting our superb voluntary rescue teams to a lot of bother).

Middle-aged ton up bikers can kill other people, apart from ripping the peace of the countryside to shreds with their noise and scaring half to death hundreds of other road users. The police do their best to crack down but, sadly, modern magistrates tend to be capable only of giving any miscreant a gentle slap on the wrist and a fiver from the Poor Box.

We all know that the courts can no longer send people to prison - they're all full and Gordon Brown is too tight-fisted to build any more - but in the case of mad motor-cyclists the judiciary have a cheap and effective weapon: the driving (or riding) ban.

How about a month's ban for every 1 mph over the speed limit? That would take a ton-up merchant off the road for over three years. And we would not see our 160 mph character in the saddle for eight, by which time he might have learned a little more sense. Or it this just too simple?

Your views:

  • Dear John, I visit Hawes on a regular basis, I stop over on average every third weekend, generally from Friday afternoon through to late Sunday and also for a several longer stays throughout the year. I am well aware of the Hawes to Ribblehead 'TT Race track' but please don't do yourself a dis-service by tarring every bike rider with the same brush. Stick to facts and don't try to over dramitise events. Yes, I am often passed by bikes charging along at phenomenal speed. Yes, it is an insanely dangerous practice. If they want to kill themselves, good, but why should they be allowed to possibly kill some innocent family out for a drive through their stupidity.

    Speed cameras and fixed video surviellance won't even stop such activity, all horrendously expensive, as is stationing police at intervals along the road in the hope of stopping this lunacy. Police instruction and advise is one of the most praticable ways to educate these bikers. (by the way car drivers are hurtling over the route as well).Another option would surely be to install sleeping policeman on the road, every 100 metres, this would reduce speeds. This is a matter of public safety and the local council should gain funds from the government or EU to fund this if though of as a last resort.

    PS, you say you have had to 'emergency brake'on four occasions on one drive? I suggest you either slow down and drive more responsibly, or take some advanced driving lessons to allow you to anticipate hazards before you come upon them, therefore allowing you to brake without it having to be an 'emergency situation'. Oh, and by the way, I have yet to see any modern caravan swaying from side to side by 2 foot in a slight wind. maybe the one you saw was incorrectly loaded? As for you writing off two wing mirrors in as many weeks, maybe that again is pointing to your poor driving skills. Yours, Brian, Car driver for 30 year, Non-caravanner, non-biker.

    Brian - Jarrow

  • Well of course, here we can see a fine example of the same kind of rhetoric that brands every brown person with a beard and and a shifty look a terrorist.

    In 2002 the DoT produced statistics that state 58.8% of all accidents for Yorkshire and Humber occured on Urban 'A' roads and some 32.2% on Rural 'A' Roads (the rest were on motorways). So it seems the picture Mr Sheard paints isn't as bad as he makes it seem is it?

    As you may have guessed I am a motorcyclist and while I agree that inappropriate use of speed is very dangerous, not every motorcyclist speeds (or has loud exhausts) or overtakes caravans at 100 mph.

    So as Mr Sheard lumps me in, being a middle aged biker, with all the 100 mph+ lunatics (just how many are there John?) I'm sure you can see that I won't be very happy. I'm just thankful I'm not a brown shifty eyed Muslim as well otherwise I'd be right in trouble in the Yorkshire Dales!

    Gary - Loughton

  • Sounds like a reasonable view to me.

    Oh yes. I am a biker (900cc Yamaha). I am a middle aged 44 year oldS(though sorry to admit it)... but idiot riders and cret magazines that endorce lunacy should be banned.

    I still don't think these bikers are the majority (not nationally anyway - its just that they stick out like sore thumbs - and get all bikers a bad reputation)

    E T - colchester

  • Why does nobody mention the damn racket these annoying bikes make? It is supposed to be peaceful in the dales. I have lived here for 4 months and it is the noisiest place I have ever been, and I used to live near Middlesbrough!


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