Category Archives: Motoring

Rolling Back The Years

The sun was smiling warmly as I walked out of the relative gloom of the Chequers Inn, in the tiny rural Hampshire hamlet of Well. I carefully cradled my pint as I walked to one of the somewhat rickety tables overlooking the small car park.

Sitting down at a secluded corner table, I wrestled with my packet of cheese and onion crisps, childishly relieved when the deceptively tough bag finally submitted and dutifully opened, spilling the yellow discs onto the aged wood.

In direct contravention of my dear old Mum’s advice, I gathered them up from the slightly damp, green stained table top, munching them in indecent haste.

Leaning back against the mellow bricks, I could see my motorcycle. It too appeared to be resting, leaning against its side-stand. I smiled. Metaphorically, all she needed was a cigarette…

She was a bit of a beast. Conceived in Milwaukee, she was a diva, and a total extrovert. Dripping in chrome, she was loud, brassy and turned heads wherever she went.

I smiled to myself. 103 cubic inches of American muscle. Deep iridescent metal flake crimson. Acres of chrome. Slash cut muffler and tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Range Rover 4×4.

I took a pull on my pint. Here I was, aged sixty, blatting round the backroads of leafy Hampshire on a hooligan’s machine.

Idly reminiscing, I thought back…

How did I get to be biking?

In a heartbeat it was 1977 again and I was 18, free and single. I was earning a decent wage as an apprentice communications technician, and was enjoying combining working on the tools, and attending West Kent College of Further Education.

It was there that I met my good friend DC, (you know who you are!) who lived in one of the villages south of East Grinstead, where I lived.

Every Friday evening, I would drive the seven miles to Chelwood Gate in my careworn 1969 Vauxhall Viva, and pick up DC, Chip, and our ever-faithful wingman, Elvis.

From there, we would hurtle through the byways and farm lanes at stupid-crazy speeds, playing 50s rock n roll at maximum volume on the eight track. Back then we were all into rock’n’roll, and Chip and Elvis even wore the obligatory drapes and crepes, and both had great haircuts – the Tony Curtis look. I swear that Elvis got through an entire man-sized aerosol of Cossack spray every Friday. His quiff would probably have stopped a round from a Kalashnikov assault rifle at fifty feet!

DC was more of a greaser type, with leather biker jacket and jeans, and although I had a Tony Curtis, I went for the American college-boy look, with drainpipe Levis and baseball boots.

And so it was that fateful Friday…The old country manor house set deep in the West Sussex woods reverberated to the sounds of classic rock and roll – just a normal Friday evening really.

The resident band, The Whispering Sands, were ripping it up, with a rendition of Wipeout, and the dance floor was a mass of gyrating figures, some bopping, some jiving, and others just swaying.

The crowd parted for a moment – just long enough for me to spot her. Tall, willowy, and with a mane of copper auburn curls. Sensing my stare, she grinned, and waved me to come over and join her.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was not renowned as a dancer of any kind. More of a self-propelled clothes horse – that was my style. Still, it was too good an offer to decline, so I made my way over.

Thankfully, the band ran out of steam at that point, so I avoided having to dance, and we found a quieter table and sat down.

After an awkward introduction, we settled down to chat amiably, and all too soon it was time to leave. I did however, manage to get her phone number, which I hastily scrawled onto a damp beer mat.

In a blink she disappeared into the night, leaving me wanting to see her again.

Two days later, I called her, and she seemed pleased to hear from me. I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She immediately agreed, and suggested a small pub in one of the nearby villages.

“When should I pick you up?” I asked, hoping to find her address.

“Meet you there at seven o’clock. Public Bar”

I was about to respond, when I realised that she had hung up.

Later that evening, I parked up in the small car park at the Punchbowl Inn in Turners Hill. I checked out the public bar, but she wasn’t there, so I ordered a pint of Harveys and went out to sit in the beer garden, which sat adjacent to the car park.

The mid-May sun was low in the clear cloudless sky, and was painting the local roofs gold.

I could hear my car clicking softly as it cooled down. The outside of my beer glass soon had a sheen of condensation.

I was checking my watch for the fiftieth time since arriving, when a light blue motorcycle swooped into the car park, it exhausts crackling and popping. The rider got off, and pulled the bike onto its stand, and then removed the blue crash helmet – revealing a shock of copper curls.

Turning, she saw me, waved, and walked over.

“Nice bike” I ventured.

“Its new. I only got it three weeks ago.” She grinned. “It’s already run in!”

I walked over to get a better look at it. Iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chromework, and a gloss black frame.

Suzuki GT185 proclaimed the badge on the side panel.

I then realised that there was an open face helmet with WW2 Fighter pilot goggles strapped to the small rack behind the seat.

“Drink up” she said. “Leave your car here. We can go to the White Hart at Ardingly”

“On that?” I asked.

Looking at me levelly, she said “Call it a rite of passage.” “That’s assuming you would like to see me again.”

I hastily pulled the helmet on, feeling my stomach start to knot. I eventually managed to fasten the strap, and pulled the goggles down over my eyes.

She was already rigged, with helmet scarf and gloves on. Leaning over, she popped the small pillion footpegs down, and got astride. I awkwardly climbed aboard, and held onto the chrome rack with a vice like grip.

The bike suddenly started, and she yelled at me to lean with her, and relax. With that she swung the bike back onto the main road, and we sped off, with fantastic acceleration.

It was a truly visceral experience, the joy of speed, the sensory overload of seeing hedgerows and houses pass in a blur of colour. The smell of two stroke exhaust, and the smooth roller coaster swings of the bike as we rounded bends. The weird feeling of the footpegs dancing up and down as they followed the wheels trajectory – I could not only see the road, I could feel every ripple, every bump.

All too soon, we stopped at the White Hart, where we stayed for the rest of the evening.

Driving my car back home was very much an anti-climax, and at that point I decided to get a motorcycle.

Within three weeks, I was the proud owner of a second-hand Suzuki GT250, in iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chrome and glossy black paintwork.

I then owned a variety of bikes of differing sizes, including a TS250, RD 200, TD175, RD250, XS250, KH250, and then, having passed my test, Suzuki T350, GT380, GT550, GT750, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha XS550, XS750, Kawasaki Z900, and then more latterly, after a gap of some twenty years, Suzuki GS550, Triumph Bonneville, Suzuki V-Strom, Harley Davidson Switchback, and now my Triumph Trophy 1215 SE.

And not to forget a Honda Silverwing 400cc scooter, which is very different and was a good commuter for an 80-mile daily round trip.

I’m now sixty. Still riding. And all because of a girlfriend in 1977 who owned a bright blue Suzuki GT185.

I Feel The Need….. The Need for Speed!

The sun streamed through the slightly dusty windows of the Alton branch of Costa Coffee, as I sat enjoying my coffee, catching up with the news, both digital and conventional.

 

An article caught my eye about road safety, so, having had my curiosity piqued, I conducted some research which I found very interesting, and in the spirit of friendship and understanding, I offer my thought to you, gentle reader.

 

Speed Cameras. Love them or loathe them, they do serve their purpose, which is reducing speed, and increasing safety. However, adherence to the speed limit isn’t the sole factor that a driver is monitoring, particularly when driving in heavy traffic, or demanding road conditions. Distraction management is not a skill that is taught during driving lessons, and maybe it should be.

 

It would appear that most Police Authorities are aware of this weakness, and allow for a tolerance in speed keeping, to ensure that motorists are not penalised unfairly for a momentary breach of the speed limit.

 

Most police forces in the UK have confirmed that they allow for a 10% error plus a 2 mph additional tolerance to account for minor lapses in driver speed control. This is an agreed standard set by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

As far as I am aware, this margin was originally put in place to account for the inaccuracies of early speedometers, which were cable driven from either a gearbox on a road wheel, or from the vehicle transmission gearbox. I have also heard anecdotally, that the additional 2 mph was to account for what we could call distraction error.

 

A recent Freedom of Information request made by Auto Express© (www.autoexpress.co.uk) to UK police forces confirmed that 22 constabularies adhere to the guidelines, and cameras are calibrated to trigger at the posted speed limit plus 10% + 2 mph (i.e. in a 30 mph limit, a camera will trigger at 35 mph, in a 40 zone at 46 mph etc)

 

The remaining eight constabularies declined to offer full details of the trigger tolerances, which is a shame, but understandable.

 

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, [1] speed enforcement cameras reduced accidents by between 17 to 39 per cent, and reduced fatalities by between 58 to 68 per cent[2], so they are definitely an effective measure in improving safety.

 

Interestingly, speeding accounted for 60 per cent of all fatal accidents in the UK in 2015.

 

However, whilst the cameras reduced accidents within 500 metres of the site, accidents outside the camera zone increased, as drivers either braked suddenly to ensure they were in compliance with the limit, or accelerated heavily once outside the camera’s operational range.

 

As a result of this behaviour, more and more speed limits are now enforced with average speed cameras, which ensure compliance over a greater distance, and without the related dangers of braking and accelerating in the locality of the speed camera site. This works very well, as I can testify to.

 

One of my regular routes takes me up the A3 towards London. Just south of Guildford, the national 70 mph limit drops to 50 mph, in the area known locally as Wooden Bridge. Up until recently, it was almost impossible to maintain 50 mph in safety due to aggressive tailgaters, dangerous filtering and regular high speed lane changes and sudden lane changes.

 

A few weeks ago, Average Speed Enforcement was activated, and as a result, most drivers now comply with the 50 mph limit, and aggressive tailgating is negated by the need to maintain 50 mph.

 

Human behaviour, being what it is, means that wherever it appears safe to breach the rules, then a driver will consciously break the limit. I admit that on an empty motorway, I often take a calculated risk and drive at 80 or 90. I have done so on a number of occasions, when my experience and perception indicates to me that it is safe to do so. I say that with the benefit of 42 years of driving experience, both on motorcycles and in cars.

 

It often appears that the authorities are willing to reduce speeds when appropriate, but not to increase speeds when the conditions warrant it.

 

Across the EU, they take a sensible and pragmatic approach. In France for example, I have seen a limit of 130 kph (81mph) with a further sign reducing the limit to 110 kph (68 mph) in rain.  Across the Netherlands, the Autoroute limit is 130 kph as well, so 10 mph faster than the maximum speed limit in the UK. So much for EU unity!

 

As it appears that drivers are incapable or unwilling to abide by speed limits, which to be fair, are generally there for the safety of all road users, the EU is now is now mandating that all vehicles manufactured after 2022 will be fitted with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA).

 

There is currently a lot of mis-information about what is perceived as external speed control. ISA is designed to complement the driver’s speed keeping discipline, and will intervene should the speed limit be exceeded.

 

ISA is an onboard system that tracks the vehicle’s position by GPS, and compares the co-ordinates with a speed limit database. The system then continuously monitors the vehicles speed.

 

ISA will be designed to offer three modes of operation.

 

At the most basic level, should ISA detect a breach of the posted limit, an audio/visual warning will be generated to alert the driver. This is referred to as an “Open” system. This is an advisory system only, and the driver may choose to ignore the system-generated warnings.

 

Should the authorities decide that the system should be more robust in its levels of intervention, then either a “Half Open” or “Closed” system will be mandated.

 

The Half Open system will be designed to provide force-feedback through the accelerator pedal should the posted limit be exceeded, thus giving the driver not only an audio/visual warning, but a sensory input that actively resists the foot pressure delivered to the accelerator. The driver would then have to consciously make an effort to overcome the feedback pressure. This enables a driver to breach a posted limit in the event that an emergency condition dictates it.

 

Lastly, is the “Closed” system, which actively prevents the speed limit being exceeded, and gives the driver no means of intervention

 

There are obviously drawbacks to the ISA as a system.

 

Firstly, there is a risk that further automation of the driver’s interactive functions will reduce the level of awareness and involvement, potentially leading to a reduction in attention to road and traffic conditions. Loss of awareness is highly dangerous, and could in itself lead to further accidents.

 

Secondly, once a driver has accepted the use of such a system, there may be a tendency to become over confident, with a perception of invulnerability as the system effectively manages maximum speed. However, as the system only monitors compliance with the maximum speed, the driver needs to remain involved and “in the loop” as conditions may dictate a much lower speed for safety.

 

Some drivers may also become frustrated at the system holding them at what they consider to be a speed that is too low for safety, especially where speed limits have been set arbitrarily rather than as a result of evidence based decisions. This may result in risk based behaviour.

 

 

 

So, vehicles are becoming much more automated, and much work needs to be done on developing that man-machine interface.

 

I am so glad that I enjoyed driving as a young man during the years when there were no speed cameras. As a country teenager, I took my chances with getting caught by the police whilst rocketing around the lanes of Sussex at lunatic speeds. I was lucky that I enjoyed this without sustaining a crash, injuring or killing anyone else, and without receiving any driving bans.

 

This is a privilege that is denied younger drivers now.

 

Brave new world?

 

 

You decide.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Figures from 1992 – 2016 Cheng Keat Tang PhD

[2] Within 500 metres from the camera site

Vehicle Security – Brave New World?

Forty-two years ago, I learnt to drive a car, a spotty-faced 17-year-old, lurching along the leafy lanes of West Sussex, my Father patiently instructing me, his face impassive as he hid his grimaces as I crashed the gears. He did relax a little once I had mastered the co-ordination of gear lever and clutch pedal, and he seemed to enjoy getting me through my driving test.  He must have been reasonably good, (or maybe I was) because I passed my test first time.

My first car was an Austin 1100, built at the BMC Longbridge plant in 1965, so by the time I bought it in 1977 it was 12 years old, and had about 55,000 miles on the clock. Fantastically easy to drive, I enjoyed owning it for a year or so after my test, finally replacing it with a 1969 Vauxhall Viva SL90 – which to be fair wasn’t nearly as good mechanically, but looked flashier to my 19-year-old eyes.

These two vehicles did have something in common – and that was their complete lack of anything except the most rudimentary security. There were only two barriers to stop a would-be thief from stealing my cars – the simple key locks on the doors, and the simple ignition key.

This was state of the art at the time the cars were built. A thief could quite easily force the door lock, and by reaching under the unsealed dashboard and bypass the ignition switch, thus activating the car systems and enabling the vehicle to be started. The car could then be driven away.

Statistics show that from 1968 thefts of vehicles soared, primarily as a result of “Joy Riding” (also known as Twocking, – Taking Without Owners Consent), and theft to obtain parts for resale.

To combat this, UK legislation was introduced in January 1971 to compel manufacturers to fit steering column locks to all new vehicles. Most manufacturers incorporated these into ignition switches making it much more difficult to steal a car. Once this requirement filtered into the market, thefts of vehicles began to slow a little, but thefts from vehicles continued.

During the early years of my car ownership, alloy wheels were extremely popular, and as such, opportunistic thieves would simply jack a car up, remove the wheel nuts, and steal the wheel, leaving the car propped up on bricks.

Industry quickly countered this with locking wheel nuts, so the criminal community moved on to stealing car audio systems. Again, industry reacted by building the radios into the car dashboard in such a way as to make them virtually permanent.

Modern cars are extensively fitted with high technology systems, many of which are controlled by buttons built into the steering wheel. Additionally, the steering wheel also contains an airbag, and is an expensive item – a quick check on E-Bay will show second hand steering wheels, complete with airbags and column fetching in the region of £600!

So, have we come through a complete circle? In the 1970s the introduction of Steering locks, and later immobiliser chips built into ignition keys cut theft. This was reinforced by central door locking, and on-board security alarms.

As vehicles developed, we saw the introduction of remote locking, remote starting, and GPS tracking systems for cars.

The downside is that as we have become more reliant on high technology, the bad guys have become equally adept at hacking into systems.

We are just starting to hear about cloning devices that capture the digital signature of your remote key fob. Once this digital code has been hijacked, it may be used to unlock and then drive your pride and joy away.

So – what’s next?

My car has an integrated radio, locking wheel nuts, an immobiliser, a steering lock, and an alarm. But the bad guys can still target my car.

Thinking about this, there are a few simple precautions that may be taken.

If locking or unlocking your car in a public place, you may be better off by using the mechanical lock fitted into the door handle to unlock the car, thus denying any opportunistic thief the ability to skim your codes.

Secondly, Maybe invest in a steering wheel lock immobiliser such as the Disklok® which will prevent the theft of your steering wheel, and coincidentally makes the electronic capture of your unlock codes meaningless.

So, there are some areas where the current levels of electronic and computer aided vehicle security fail, and then it’s back to good old-fashioned mechanical protection.

Welcome to Brave New World.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© 2019

Note: I am not sponsored by Disklok topromote their product(s). Other Steering Wheel Immobiliser Locks are available:

Stoplock

Maypole Ltd

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Rides a Different Road

He’s in his fifties, yet leather-clad, his grey hair proves his years,

His tattoos long since faded, and his belly fat, from beers,

With chains, and studs and heavy boots, his presence here is awesome,

The patch upon his back is clear, he is an iron horseman,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

 

You’ll see him up the Ace Cafe, or at a bikers boozer,

He spends less on food and clothes, than he does upon his cruiser,

In his mind he’s easy rider, he’s Brando on the run,

Mad Max on the Highway, Terminator with a gun,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

His summers packed with ride-outs, just cruising with the HOG,

In a roaring stream of metal, they look a fearsome mob,

But behind the beard, and denims, the leather and the chrome,

Is a bloke who’s’ taking Christmas toys, to the local children’s home.

So when you sit in judgement, from your shiny, ivory tower,

On your dull commute to office land, where you wield such puny power,

Of the old bloke on his noisy bike, In his jacket, jeans and scarf,

Remember that he’s just chosen, to ride a different path

 

acecafe20th-2013-03

Mark Charlwood 2019©

A Summer Fly-in at a Country Airfield

The sky was an azure bowl, and the scent of new-mown grass lay heavy in the mid-morning sunshine. The playful breeze toyed with the surrounding tents, causing them to billow and sway, like an insane troupe of Turkish Belly Dancers.

I wandered along, past ranks of parked aircraft, each one trembling slightly at each soft breath of wind. To the other side of the runway stood a mediaeval cluster of tents, gazebos and stalls, each accumulating untidy gaggles of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

The subdued hubbub of conversation was suddenly overwhelmed with the electronic hiss of the public address system. The disembodied voice of the commentator rolled across the airfield, bouncing back from the surrounding hills, the echoes garbled and distorted.

The announcement was garbled, but I caught a few words and realised that a lost boy was being held at the First Aid tent. I wondered idly where his parents were. At the Burger Van? The Mobile Bar?  Or were they queuing to use the lavatories?

The murmuring was quiet at first – almost beneath the threshold of hearing, but it gradually became persistent, growing in volume and engorging with tone. Suddenly the day was split apart with the thunderous yet melodious note of three vintage aeroplanes flying in perfect formation – appearing low over the trees at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The staccato high-pitched whine of motor-driven cameras was just audible above the palpable growl of the engines. Every spectator looked skyward, envying the superb airmanship shown by the pilots.

The flight swooped majestically around the airfield, the sun glinting on the polished cowlings, refracting off wings as they looped and rolled above the South Downs. They were gone as suddenly as they arrived, and peace reigned once more.

As I continued my ramble towards the end of the runway, I heard the much softer note of another aircraft engine. I spotted a single light in the sky, which grew steadily until it metamorphosed into a small aircraft.

With its engine at idle, the aeroplane passed me, sighing softly as it touched down on the bumpy grass, its nose nodding up and down, affirming a good landing. As I watched, it slowed to walking pace, and taxied sedately towards the low Nissan Hut housing Air-Traffic Control.

A sallow youth wearing a very grubby High Visibility Tabard, stood glumly at the head of a vacant parking slot, and  began to unenthusiastically wave his arms at the pilot, marshalling him into the vacant position.

More incoherence from the Tannoy indicated something would soon be happening. Looking up, I faintly recognised the profile of an aeroplane, obviously at high altitude – a ghostly insect crawling across the window of the sky.

Suddenly, the blue fabric of the sky was cross-stitched with a web of pristine white trails, each creating patterns of gently expanding white.

Blossoming into multi-coloured parachutes, each action-man figure oscillated like a small pendulum, expanding as they approached the white cross laid on the grass.

With a graceful pull on their control lines, each man arrested his descent, landing as softly as thistledown. An appreciative crowd clapped, as the team collected their deflated chutes.

Shadows were lengthening as I drove out of the car park. A Spitfire suddenly howled overhead, just in front of my car, its wheels already tucking up into its belly, its sides bronzed and gilded by the setting sun. Disappearing into the heat shimmer, it left only the echoes of its engine to testify to its existence.

End

Mark Charlwood MRAeS MISTC)©

Facebook – A Modern Time Machine

Social Media is a wonderful thing.

A few years ago, when my dear old Father was still alive, I recall a gloomy conversation that I had with him about friends. He lost touch with many of his school day friends, mainly as a result of being evacuated to different parts of the UK during the war.  He was expressing his sadness about how he had never been able to find those old friends of his lost and damaged childhood. 

Friends Reunited, and Facebook arrived too late to help my Dad, and so he died having never found those boys he grew up with.

I am very privileged. Using Facebook,  I managed to reconnect with a number of old friends, some from school, and some from my apprenticeship and college days. I am happy to say that I am still firm friends with all of these individuals , despite the passing of the years. It just needed the catalyst of social media to re-ignite old friendships.

I was sitting in my man-cave the other day, when my IPad softly chimed, indicating an incoming message. Putting down my mug of tea, I opened the app, and read my message. It was from a very old friend, Mark 

Now, I should perhaps explain here, that Mark was a year younger than me, but his Father had been my headmaster, a man who is still fondly remembered by many of my friends, if their comments on social media are to be believed. 

Mark and I used to be regular members of the local youth club, the Wallis Centre and both of us developed a passion for motorcycles – a passion encouraged by the leader of the youth club, a middle aged eccentric who loved bikes, and was a skilled photographer. I have many black and white photos of my bikes, accompanied by either my girlfriend of the moment, or in some cases, me!

At the time, in the mid nineteen seventies, there were a number of cliques in my youth club. There was my age group – seventeen and eighteen year olds, and a number of older members who were already in their early twenties.

However, under the wise management of Stef, we made the transition to adulthood with a soundtrack provided by the Mighty Status Quo, Lynyrd Skynrd, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and the Stones. We all got along, and grew up together.

I remember the thrill of taking my first real motorcycle up to the Wallis; a metallic blue Suzuki GT125, and then as the years passed, of riding up on different, ever larger machines, from my ponderous Honda CD175, to my agile and nimble Suzuki TS185, the TS250,  The Yamaha RD200, Suzuki GT380, GT550, Yamaha XS750, and so on.

Friday nights used to be almost a ritual. Black fringed leather jacket.  Check. Levis. Check. Despatch rider boots. Check. White tee shirt. Check. Denim cut off with badges and patches. Check.

Bikes would be washed and polished – never knew when Stef would have his camera out. A gentle potter up to the Wallis centre and park up – along with maybe twenty or thirty other bikes.

The disco would be in full swing, and the sounds of rockabilly, rock, and rock and roll would be pounding.  Black ink stamp on the back of our hands.  Helmets and jackets everywhere. Long lines of guys n girls stomping out line dances to the Stones and The Quo.

All of these leather jacketed “bikers” in a polite and orderly queue, buying bags of crisps and bottles of Pepsi at the tuck shop – no alcohol allowed in the youth club. 

Summer evenings, outside, with your girl, enjoying a snog and a hug. Quiet conversations over a cigarette, helping mates through the pains of a break up, or helping them to screw up the courage to ask a girl out.

Bad Ass people us motorcyclists.

At ten o’clock sharp, we would be unceremoniously ordered out, and we would tumble out of the doors, a happy throng, and jump astride our bikes, kick them into life, and a stream of Hondas, Yamahas, Nortons and Triumphs would make their way into the High Street, where we would park up by the war memorial.

Laughing and joking, we would all pile into the Public bar of the Rose and Crown, where we would have a few pints and shoot some pool.  Once the pub turned out at eleven o’clock, we would wander across the road, and sit down on the steps, by the memorial. There we would sit, smoking, laughing and talking.

This would go on until the Town’s local police car cruised past us for the third or fourth time. Eventually, the car would stop, and PC Rain would casually walk over.

“Evening Lads” he would say. All of us would respond, “Evening Sir”. A little banter would ensue, with gentle insults traded in both directions.

It would normally end with “Plod” heaving a deep sigh, saying, “Goodnight lads. I don’t want to see you here when I next come past”

He would then climb back into the little sky blue and white Ford Escort, and slowly drive off down the town.  We knew from previous experience that he would drive down to the fire station, turn around in their car park, then come back up the town, via the cinema. 

About ten minutes.  He was always very reasonable, and we all liked him. 

Within five minutes, we would be helmeted, started, and gone, leaving only the smell of burnt two stroke oil, and a slight haze to testify to our existence.

We would be back in place by ten o’clock on Saturday morning. We would sit on the steps and chat, and maybe take a wander round the market. By noon, we would descend on the Wimpy Bar, where we would take up residence for the afternoon, drinking tea and coffee until we were unceremoniously booted out at five o’clock

This went on without issue for months, but apparently, somewhere, somehow, we had managed to irritate someone.

We only discovered this, when someone wrote to the local paper, complaining about anti social motorcyclists gathering by the war memorial. The East Grinstead Courier were delighted with this, and the headlines screamed out “Top of the town motorcycle gang causing concern”

Really?  A bunch of bored middle class kids enjoying a cigarette and each other’s company? I never witnessed any problems – not even dropping litter. Yes, we may have got a bit loud sometimes, but we were never villains. I think I still have a copy of that headline. 

Eventually, we all grew up.  Moved away. Had kids. Got divorced.  Got back into motorcycles.

So, within the last three or four months, my old friend had got in touch with everyone he could think of who used to be part of this notorious “gang of n’ere do wells”.

And so it came to be – the Rebirth of the Top of the Town Bikers. Forty years since it all began.

As a result, if you venture up to the top of the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinstead at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, you are likely to see fifteen or twenty middle aged men and women, on a selection of bikes from sports bikes through to customised cruisers.

You will witness much laughter.  You may be in time to see them mount up, and start their machines, the ground shaking, and the peaceful high street woken up with the noise of engines.  Then they will be off, majestically sweeping off down the town, off on a ride out somewhere. Probably back to 1976. Who knows?

I was with them on the most recent ride out – there must have been 12 bikes, including 6 Harley Davidsons, and the rest sports bikes.  We rode down to Goodwood motor racing circuit, and enjoyed ourselves in that uninhibited way that only long time friends can.

 

Happy days…thanks to Facebook!

Stars In The Sky

Yesterday, I was sitting in Costa Coffee in Petersfield, trying to warm up and dry out.  The morning outside was, in pilot-speak “Claggy”, and the mist was draping itself seductively over the landscape.  I had just travelled the best part of 80 miles to get my scooter inspected prior to applying to get it onto the British vehicle register. 

The journey on the motorway was dull, boring, and miserable, and the continental trucks buffeted the bike around, competing with the blustery wind to make me work hard to keep the machine following a straight line.

So I decided to stop in Petersfield to get out of the fine misty rain, and glug back some Java.

I pulled out my trusty IPad, and started to write this article.  The subject matter has been playing on my mind for a good few months now, and having a few minutes spare, I will launch into it without further ado.

The catalyst for this sudden desire to get the article written was the news that Harrison Ford, a man for whom I have great admiration, had crash landed his vintage aeroplane whilst taking off from Santa Monica airport. 

Our Mister Ford is a keen pilot, and holds both single engine and twin engine licences, together with a helicopter licence.  He owns a number of aircraft, and is in love with flying to the extent that – in his words “I will fly up the coast for a cheeseburger”

As an aviation enthusiast (anorak) I love any films related to flight, flying, or aeroplanes.  My film collection is littered with films such as Top Gun (which must be the seminal aviation movie for the 80s) Air America, The Great Waldo Pepper, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and the Flight of the Phoenix.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many other Hollywood stars who appeared in such movies actually had piloting experience.

There are one or two well known high profile pilots, such as John Travolta, who owns a number of aircraft, and has a home on an air park in Florida.  He also operates a Boeing 707 bearing Quantas livery, which he flies regularly.

His nearby neighbour in California, one Clint Eastwood has been a qualified helicopter pilot for over thirty years, as well as being a keen environmentalist. 

Fellow actor and song wright, Kris Kristoffersson was also a helicopter pilot, having been taught by the U.S. military, and serving in Germany.  Leaving the army in 1965, he became a commercial helicopter pilot, serving oil platforms in Southern Louisiana for three years before making it big in the music industry, and then more latterly, the movies 

The diminutive Tom Cruise, who played the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun is a pilot in real life as well.  Having qualified in Canada, he owns a P51 Mustang, and a Pitts   Special. Not content with just flying aircraft, he also likes to jump,out of them, and in a keen parachutist. This, in my opinion, makes him a certifiable lunatic – but, hey, each to his own. 

Morgan Freeman also flies, and holds a Private licence.  He too has experienced the thrill and freedom that flying offers.  As a younger man he was an aircraft engineer in the USAF, and had aspirations of being a fighter pilot. I think he made the right choice, because as a successful movie star he can afford to fly whatever he likes….

The late, great James Stewart was a full Colonel in the USAF, and flew many combat missions during the Second World War, and was a highly decorated pilot.  He also appeared in the famous film The Flight of the Phoenix, and appeared in the starring  role in the biopic of Charles Lindburgh. However, his wartime experiences affected him profoundly, and he was averse to appearing in war films. 

Now, let’s move on to Star Trek.  Stark Trek epitomises the pinnacle of what aviation could become;  flying in what is effectively four dimensions.  The cast of this show is positively filled with an abundance of pilots.

James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer “Scottie” flew during the Second World War as a liaison pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster single engined aircraft, liaising with Canadian Artillery units. He was a natural and exuberant pilot, and was reprimanded for slaloming his aircraft between telegraph poles in around Salisbury Plain, when operating from RAF Andover. 

Creator and director of the Star Trek franchise, Gene Rodenberry was a bomber pilot during the Second World War, flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific theatre.  He flew 89 combat missions, and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Air Medal. He retired from the USAF holding the rank of Captain.

Subsequently, he went on to work for Pan American, flying Lockheed Constellations.  Strangely, he left his aviation connections behind, and before creating the series, he enrolled as a police officer in the LAPD. 

Michael Dorn, (Lieutentant Worf) is an accomplished and experienced pilot too. – and has owned a number of classic American ex-military jets, including a T33 trainer, and F86 Sabre, and a Sabreliner.  He is also very privileged to have flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.

Kurt Russell, joins the ranks of celebrity aviators.  The star of films such as Backdraught, and Vanilla Sky, and long time partner to Goldie Hawn holds a private licence for both single and multi engine aeroplanes.  He is also heavily involved in the aviation charity Wings of Hope. 

Action man Steve McQueen was also a very keen aviator. Having had a very dismal and fractured childhood, Steve developed a love for motor racing, fast cars and motorcycles.  He owned a collection of both, and performed a lot of his own stunts.  He is particularly renowned for the motorcycle chase sequence in The Great Escape, and for the high speed car chase in the film Bullit.  

It must be a hand-eye coordination thing, because he also fell in love with aviation.  

Or it could possibly be because his natural father was a stunt pilot with a Barnstormer Flying Circus!

Steve owned and flew a 1945 Boeing Stearman biplane, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a very rare Pitcairn PA-8 which was used by the U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker when he flew for the U.S. postal service.

George Peppard of “The A Team” fame was a talented pilot, and flew most of the aerial sequences in the film “The Blue Max” in which he starred as a German Air Force pilot.   He also piloted his own Learjet, which he used for commuting.

Jack Pallance, was selected by the USAF for pilot training, but a serious aircraft crash, which severely burned his face prevented him from flying thereafter.  

It’s also important not to forget the ladies in aviation.

Angelina Jolie is a qualified private pilot and flies a Cirrus SR-22. The model Giesele Bundchen has gained her wings, as has the British TV personality Carol Vorderman.  

Hilary Swank who, coincidentally, played the part of Amelia Earhart has also got a licence.

It’s not just the movie and TV personalities that have been gripped by the thrill of flying. 

Country Singer Alan Jackson has a private licence for both single engine and twins, and ex Van Halen rocker Dave Lee Roth has a helicopter licence.

Gary Numan, the Techno-Pop icon of the 1970s and front man of Tubeway Army is passionate about flying.  He qualified as a pilot and operated a North American Harvard for 15 years on the UK Airshow circuit. 

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy rock group Iron Maiden is also a flier.  However, his enthusiasm took him one stage further than most of his contemporaries, who are, in the main, private pilots.  He decided that he would gain his commercial licence, and in fact flew for the now defunct UK based airline Astraeus, flying Boeing 757/767 types. He now owns an aviation company based at St Athan in Wales. 

Probably the most famous musician with a licence is John Denver.  During a musical career that spanned a couple of decades, he too fell in love with flying.  Taught to fly by his Father, a record breaking USAF officer (who flew a B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber) he also owned and operated many different aeroplanes, including a Learjet, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane, and a pair of Cessna 210 utility planes.  

Many of Johns songs were about aviation or space travel. 

Sadly, John died in an air crash, when flying  his recently acquired Rutan Long EZ which crashed on a Californian beach, killing him instantly.

So, next time you watch a film, and think that the actor or actress is a “Lovey” and a soft shrinking violet, you may be doing them a great dis-service. Not only may they be doing a good percentage of their own stunts, but they may be better qualified than you are!

 

  

UK Radio Presenter Stopped by Park Police For Speeding – On His Bicycle!

Those of you who read my ramblings, will be aware that I a fairly regular cyclist; law abiding,(in the main) and sensible, but like most of us human beings, capable of making the odd mistake or two. Ask Mrs Paleflier, and I’m sure that she will have a list of my regular transgressions, as most men do.

I know that there are many cyclists out there who do not fulfil all of these requirements. There are the unlit, the poorly equipped and the selfish. There are also the persistent law breakers. – those who disobey traffic signs, those who ride dangerously, and those who are just plain selfish.

I was somewhat surprised today, therefore, to read that Jeremy Vine, a BBC radio broadcaster was stopped by Police whilst riding through Hyde Park in London for speeding.

Apparently the alleged “offence” was committed whilst Mr Vine was riding through the park on an approved cycle path whilst commuting to work. He was stopped by two police officers who had used a hand held radar gun to ascertain his speed as a ding 16mph, exceeding the 5mph limit by a margin of 11 mph.

Quite frankly, I think this is ludicrous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is impossible for a cyclist to be prosecuted for the offence of speeding. They can only be charged under the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act for “Riding or Cycling Furiously”.

The regulation that governs the equipment fitted to bicycles is The Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983, and having read through this, there is no requirement as far as I can see to fit a speedometer to the cycle.

This opens up a whole new “can of worms”. If an obligation is placed upon cyclists to comply with the Road Traffic Act, and the Highway Code, then adherence to speed limits is a necessary part of compliance.

Cars are fitted with calibrated speedometers to enable them to comply with published speed limits, but as there is no legal need for a speedometer to be fitted to a bicycle, then I fail to see how a cyclist could be charged for speeding. Maybe this is due to inaccurate reporting from the journalist.

Secondly. – this appears to be somewhat heavy handed policing. Is it really necessary to pull over a commuter for cycling at 16 mph – hardly fast by any standards. This merely highlights the fact that the police are out of touch with the public. Secondly, it discourages people from cycling, or worse, pressurises riders to cycle on the main roads, where they are exposed to much higher levels of risk.

Thirdly, why are cyclists not exempted from the speed limit for the park. I accept that motor vehicles tanking around Hyde Park at high speeds amongst pedestrians is unacceptable. 15 mph is proportional to the damage that a car could cause.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to cycle at more than 5mph. In fact, wobbling around a slow speeds, with limited stability is probably more dangerous. I suggest a change of the speed limits. Placard the limit of 5mph for motor vehicles. Let cyclists ride at the speed which is natural.

Some pieces of traffic legislation demand overhaul, and a number of these have implications for cyclists.

For example, why can’t cyclists ride on public footpaths in rural areas? I fully accept that riding a bicycle on a narrow urban pavement is dangerous and anti social. But why can’t I ride my bicycle over the South Downs on some sections because they are “footpaths” only?

Maybe more emphasis should be given to legally enabling access to cyclists wherever possible, whenever possible, provided that in so doing, other members of the traveling public are not placed at risk. I personally see limited logic in allowing pedestrians to use a path through the woodlands, fields and countryside, yet denying a cyclist access, despite the fact that the path is of adequate dimensions to accommodate cycling.

I generally fully support the police in the work that they do, which is often dangerous and unpleasant. However, the reported action by the officers in this case, strikes me as a bit of a gross over reaction. How about injecting common sense back into policing? It does the Police no credit to appear in national newspapers pulling over a mature and responsible cyclists for minor transgressions that really don’t have a safety or security implication.

You decide.

I’m just off to check the Highway Code, and the Right to Roam legislation. May also consider getting a speedometer for my bicycle. 🚲😎

Should Cyclists Be Legally Obliged To Wear A Crash Helmet

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues. Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful and sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with the cyclist, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet. Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking. Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by some unelected bur to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics. Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a crash helmet may be needed by a cyclist.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual by taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe activity of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over three times as many pedestrian killed on the roads in 2013 than cyclists. If we are to assume the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets! This is obviously ludicrous.

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable. However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Given the stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle, is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets. Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has set up a public cycle hire scheme, administered and funded by Barclays Bank – colloquially known as Boris bikes to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, and has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics clearly show that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads.

For example, in Australia, there is a. Lear link between the decline in cycling journeys and the introduction of mandatory helmet law

I have to confess that I do wear a plastic hat – occasionally. The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride on which I am about to embark.

If I am about to ride down a well maintained canal tow path, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city or commuting to work, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit here and now, that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet wherever I think it appropriate.

I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous bike crashes. More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in most of these cases I was not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

Additionally, there is always the potential for behaviour to be altered when wearing a helmet.
Riders may feel much less vulnerable when wearing a crash helmet, and may, therefore ride in a less cautious fashion, thereby increasing the chances of them being injured in an accident.

Drivers of vehicles may also be less considerate to riders who appear to be more “professional”

In a study conducted in 2006 by Dr. Ian Walker of the University of Bath, it was found that drivers of motorised vehicles passed much closer to helmeted riders than riders without. This would appear to support the idea that helmeted riders give the impression of being more competent and regular riders than those without.

Naturally, this places the rider at more risk through drivers being less tolerant of their vulnerability, and thereby increasing the chances of an accident.

Dr. Walker, a traffic psychologist, used a bicycle fitted with proximity detectors and a computer to enable him to establish how closely traffic passed him whilst he was cycling.
The research was conducted on public roads in the cities of Salisbury and Bristol.

In order to assess whether the wearing of a helmet influenced driving behaviour, he conducted half of the study whilst wearing an approved cycle helmet, and the other half bare headed.

During the study, data from over 2,500 overtake manoeuvres, was analysed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was found that passing drivers were twice as likely to get particularly close to the cycle when he was wearing the helmet. The analysis showed that drivers passed closer by about 8.5cm than when he was bare headed.

It would appear then, that a drivers perception of a rider, is influenced by their appearance, and will affect the amount of safety margin they are willing to provide.

Due to the increasing popularity of cycling, and the Renaissance of larger sporting group rides, the study suggests that drivers (as a group) tend to perceive cyclists as a separate sub culture to which they don’t belong, and don’t understand.

As a result, unfair stereotyping, classifying cyclists as “Lycra-clad urban street warriors” prevails, and anyone riding a bicycle wearing part (or all) of the “uniform” are regarded to be more competent, experienced and predictable than those who don’t wear a helmet.

The flawed acceptance of this sub conscious fact, would go a long way to explaining why drivers pass extra close to helmeted riders.

There is an interesting dichotomy here. Most adult cyclists are also licensed car driver, and therefore know what it is like to drive a car, but relatively few motorists ride bicycles in traffic, so don’t understand or identify with the problems that cyclists face when riding.

Interestingly, the study also found that larger commercial vehicles such as buses, coaches and lorries pass even closer than cars.

The average car passed 1.3 metres away from the cycle, whereas the average truck passed only 1.14 metres from the bike. Buses were even bigger offenders, passing with only 1.1 metres of clearance. Not a lot of “wobble room” for the cyclist in the event that evasive action needs to be taken to avoid riding into a pothole, or drain head.

Despite their frequent bad press, the drivers of larger SUVs, 4x4s and People carriers passed no closer than the drivers of standard cars.

And what of “White Van Man”?

Well, the urban legend of white van man is still living up to public expectations, and will, on average, overtake cyclist 10cm closer than drivers of cars.

In order to further explore driver psychology, Dr. Walker tested if drivers would demonstrate more consideration to female riders. He therefore conducted part of the study wearing a long wig.

Whilst wearing the wig, the data clearly indicated that drivers passed with an average extra clearance of 14cm more space!

It is not clear from the study whether this is because drivers subconsciously regard female cyclists as being less predictable riders, or whether it’s due to some other factors not yet ascertained.

Whilst this is respected research, having been published in The Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, it does not seemed to have been offered the same level of media attention as the vociferous pro helmet lobby, which has been given under the guise of complying with the Health and Safety fixated and risk averse culture that is the norm in Britain today.

One of the major collateral problems of legislating for helmets to be worn by cyclists, is that it implies that cycling is an intrinsically unsafe activity. This affects public perception adversely, subtly persuading potential riders that they must be coddled up in high visibility clothing, helmets and so on in order to commute a few miles to work, or to make a quick trip to the shops. A lot of people therefore give up cycling, because of the extra inconvenience of having to take so many steps to protect themselves in what is really a quite benign environment.

This is also reflected in the usage statistics of various city bike rental schemes, such as the Boris Bikes operated in London. The public cycle rental system in Melbourne, currently gets used for just 150 journeys a day. Melbourne operates a mandatory cycle helmet policy. Conversely, in Dublin, (where the climate is far less conducive to riding a bike) where there is no helmet law, the scheme enjoys over 5000 journeys a day, despite Dublin being hilly, and full of old cobbled streets.

I believe the two sets of factors are linked.

I re iterate my previous statement, that statistically, more pedestrians are killed every year on the roads of Great Britain. If we are to legislate purely on injury rates, then pedestrians should be legally obliged to wear walking helmets, and wear high visibility clothing, and maybe should carry approved lights during the hours of darkness.

This is plainly ludicrous, but you can see where I am going with this.

It seems that even the respected organisers of charity bicycle rides have been caught up in the scientifically flawed argument that helmets must be worn as a condition of riding, despite the fact that the Road Traffic Act, and the Highway Code makes no such stipulations that riders should wear a helmet.

I have a helmet for such occasions, and wear it at the start, when there is high traffic density and other hazards that I have personally assessed for risk. However, once away from the start, I will pull over, and confine the helmet to the saddle bag, where it belongs and ride with either a baseball cap or nothing at all, depending on the weather.

I have ridden on many rides in this fashion, including the London to Brighton road ride, the London Bridges ride, and The London to Oxford ride.

Last year I participated in the London to Brighton Off Road ride.

This ride is truly off road for a distance of eighty miles, and involves the rider in traversing rough country, fields, woodlands, river beds, grassy heathlands and the South Downs. It takes place in September, and when I did it, the weather was cold, wet, and windy, and the conditions were muddy and treacherous, particularly when riding down trails with tree roots, exposed stumps, loose shale and mud.

I wore a helmet for the whole ride, as it was immediately apparent that the chances of crashing and coming off were very high, and the nature of the terrain made the chances of subsequent injury quite high.

Furthermore, due to the relative remoteness of sections of the ride, getting quick medical assistance would be difficult.

In essence, I believe it is the responsibility of the rider to establish whether a helmet is required, or in the case of a child, the parent should make the assessment.

Too many children are growing up in a heavily risk-averse society, where they are paralysed to take any sort of action, or participate in any kind of sport or activity without the psychological prop of some sort of “Protection”

If I feel like riding down hill on my road bike, with my nose on the handlebars and nudging the speedo past 40 miles an hour, with no helmet, then it is my inalienable right to do so, and I don’t require the permission of some do-Gooder to do it.

Naturally, it’s up to me to ensure that I am carrying adequate insurance in the event that I sustain an accident, but I carry that as a matter of course.

There is, of course, another, more sinister aspect to this, and that is the actions of the judiciary.

The judgements passed in some recent cases relating to cyclists make interesting reading.

A cyclist who was knocked off his bike and seriously injured was deemed to be partially responsible for his own “accident” as he chose not to ride on the cycle path provided, but instead opted to ride on the road.

Whilst there is no legal requirement to ride on a cycle path, it is apparent that the judge in this case decided that he should have used it as it was there.

In another case, Mr. Justice Griffith Williams stated “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a cyclist who does not wear a helmet, runs the risk of contributing to his/her injury”

This in my humble opinion is poppycock. Cycle helmets have a design limit to protect the head in a crash situation at Impact speeds of a maximum of 12 miles per hour. I frequently double that speed whilst cycling. It may protect if I were to fall on my head from a stationary condition, but that is not a very likely scenario is it? Unless of course I had ridden down the road to my local, and imbibed six pints of old and grungy.

My recent near-fatal cycle accident actually happened on a cycle path – where the fence (topped with barbed wire) had fallen over the path due to inadequate maintenance. The path was strewn with debris, and was littered with ruts, potholes and overgrowth. In hindsight, I would probably have been safer using the road.

However, should I have been riding in the road, and suffered another type of accident, would I have been apportioned an element of blame due to not riding on what was proved to be a highly dangerous piece of cycle way.

You decide.

But my point remains. As an experienced rider, and a free citizen, with a democratic right to free choice, I will continue to make my own assessments on the requirement to wear safety equipment.

I am solely responsible for my safety. I will NOT be wearing a helmet anytime soon, unless I feel it is warranted.

Now…….where is my long blonde wig?

Mark Charlwood
November 15th 2014

Cycling in the UK – We Pay Road Tax!

If you cycle regularly in the United Kingdom, then you will probably have experienced aggressive behaviour from other road users.

Many cyclists have been on the receiving end of such conduct, which varies from mild abuse, through to threats and acts of physical violence, such as deliberately ramming the rider with the vehicle.

A common thread which seems to run through these random acts is the perception that cyclists should not be on the roads, causing delays for other road users, as “they don’t pay road tax”.

Road Tax is not a new concept. It was first enshrined in law in the 1888 budget, in the form of “Locomotive Duty”, and was levied at five pounds per annum. In today’s prices, that equates to about four hundred and twenty pounds.

In 1909, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the road system should be self-financing, and so from 1910, Monies raised from road taxes were to be ring-fenced, and dedicated to the development and upkeep of the roads – a process known as Hypothecation.

The Roads Act of 1920 required local councils to create a register of all new vehicles, and to issue them with unique number plates, and by 1921, the obligation for registered vehicles to display a tax disc, confirming that the Road Fund Tax had been paid.

However, subsequent chancellors began to raid the road fund income for other governmental purposes, and Winston Churchill formalised the loss of hypothecation in the Finance Act of 1936, and Road Tax officially “died” in 1937.

In defence of his actions, Winston Churchill was reported as saying “It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created”. (William Plowden, “The Motor Car and Politics 1896 – 1970) It seems to a great extent that his prediction has come true.

Finally, in 1955, the Road Fund, into which the government made payments from central taxation, was officially abolished. Since then general taxation has been financing the upkeep and building of roads and highways.

The Public has a long memory, and due to familiarity with the expression, there is a widespread belief that Road Tax still exists.

This gives rise to a widespread belief that roads are primarily paid for by the motoring public, and that this somehow confers a right of priority in usage of the road system.

That is akin to saying that as tobacco taxation funds a large percentage of the National Health Service, smokers should take priority on the NHS waiting lists, which is clearly arrant nonsense.

Vehicle taxation is on the use of a vehicle, not on the use of the road. Furthermore, vehicle taxation is based on the levels of emissions that are generated, and as such, vehicles fitted with larger less efficient engines pay a higher rate of Excise Duty.

It could be argued that this tax is designed to discourage the use of such vehicles, and this is amply supported by the fact that low emission vehicles pay very little VED, or in some cases, no VED at all.

There are other road users who do not pay VED. Vehicles operated by the Queen, and other members of the royal family, war pensioners, those who are registered disabled, government minister’s vehicles, and emergency vehicles, such as police cars, ambulances and fire appliances. In reality, these road users are subsidised by the income raised from others who do pay VED.

So, supposing that the vociferous motoring lobby get their way, and insist that cyclists “pay Road Tax” and carry a tax disc just like other road-using vehicles.

As a zero emission vehicle, bicycles would be exempt from any charge, but there would be a cost involved in issuing the disc. Under a Freedom of Information Act request, DVLA have stated that it costs £0.95 to buy a tax disc online, or £1.47 if purchased from a Post Office.

It is estimated that there are about 25 million owned bikes in the UK, and if every one were to be obliged to carry a tax disc, then at best this would cost almost £25M per year, and at worst thirty six and three quarter million pounds – to gain a net revenue of ZERO.

The costs of issuing these discs would have to be borne by the DVLA, and this financial shortfall would have to be recovered. The obvious way to achieve this is for the loss to be recovered by increasing Vehicle Excise Duty on other vehicles.

The same argument may be applied to the often-heard statement from car users, that bicycles should be required to carry a number plate, and be registered on a system for policing and enforcement.

A number of countries have experimented with registering bikes, and charge a nominal “peppercorn” amount. Some states in the US used to require cycles to be registered, which, to be fair, does offer a deterrent against casual theft, but was more expensive to administer that the advantages it offered.

Politicians have suggested that registering bikes, and obliging bicycles to be fitted with a number plate to enable “Red Light” violations to be caught on camera. Whilst this is an understandable statement, it is obvious that the makers of those statements have little understanding of the practicalities of such a scheme.

A cycle number plate that is of a sufficiently minimal size to be fitted to the limited bodywork of a bike must, by necessity be quite small. As such, would an enforcement camera have sufficient definition to make a clear image, and would the radar activation system register the very low signature of a bicycle?

Furthermore, cycles are slower, and assuming that the cyclist was over the white line when the lights changed to amber, and was entitled to cross the junction, would the following red light activation trip the camera, thus indicating that the cyclist had broken the law by “jumping” the red light?

Jumping lights at red is a sure-fire way that a cyclist may anger a motorist. Riding on the pavement also enrages both car drivers and pedestrians alike, and these two habits seem to trigger the “Pay Road Tax” response.

Minor traffic violations are not just within the province of cyclists. Many motor vehicles jump red lights – hence the need for enforcement cameras – they were certainly not put there for catching cyclists. Motor vehicles also park illegally on the pavement, (sometimes in cycle lanes and bus lanes), and casually breach speed limits on a habitual basis.

Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders use the roads as a Right of Way. Mechanically propelled vehicles use the roads under licence. In order to use the highways under such a licence, the driver of a vehicle must be trained to a minimum level to ensure an acceptable level of competence.

This is partially because of the potentially lethal consequences of poor driving. Additionally, a driver must be judged to be both physically and mentally able to drive the vehicle safely, with due regard to other road users.

In a collision with a pedestrian, a one tonne vehicle travelling at thirty miles an hour is quite capable of killing that person instantly. A bicycle weighing in at 20kg, plus the weight of its rider colliding with a pedestrian is far less likely to kill.

Cyclists don’t hold up traffic. They are traffic, and have equal rights to use the road.

Even if cyclists were to contribute towards road upkeep on a sliding scale on a “user pays” basis, then the amount levied, would by necessity be small. Bicycles do not emit harmful emissions, they do not damage the road surface, they don’t leak dangerous fluids, and they don’t emit noise. On this basis, there is little point in attempting to collect what amounts to pitiful amounts of revenue.

A popular video clip posted on a well known media site highlights the ignorance and boorish behaviour adopted by drivers when in perceived conflicts with cyclists. The clip in question features an altercation in a car park between a cyclist and a car. The female passenger in a car remonstrates with a cyclist repeating the statement, “No Pay, No Say”.

Ironically, cyclists actually pay for infrastructure that they are not legally entitled to use such as the Motorways networks – out of their general taxation.

This sort of bigoted ignorance is rife in the motoring community, perpetuated by the blinkered views of the motor industry. Even Government Ministers don’t appear to have a clue about funding for the roads.

It’s surprising that even respected organisations such as the Royal Automobile Club can’t get it right. They refer on numerous occasions on their website to Road Tax, and even when they do use the correct terminology, (VED) they feel the need to qualify it by referring to it as road tax.

The AA doesn’t do much better either. A quick search on their website shows frequent references to “road tax”, further reinforcing the public’s belief that their annual payment to the government is a direct contribution for use of the road.
When challenged about using such an inaccurate and anachronistic term they responded thus

“The correct term is Vehicle Excise Duty, or Vehicle Tax, but we are conscious that a wide range of terms are used in online searches including “road tax”.

We use a range of terms on our advice pages to try to ensure that they work well in natural search whatever term the user chooses to put into e.g., Google.

Looking at Google search analytics for the past month, there were

823,000 searches using the term Road Tax

1,000,000, searches using the term Car Tax

Only 6,600 included Vehicle Excise Duty.

Kind Regards,

Customer Adviser
The AA.com”

So, rather than attempting to educate the public, the AA chooses to condone and encourage the misconceptions!

So – how can a shift in perception be achieved?

For a start, vehicle manufacturers should immediately be required to only refer to VED in adverts, and motoring organisations should be removing all references to road tax in their publications and posted on their websites.

The department for transport should initiate an educational campaign to make the general public more aware of how the road infrastructure is funded.

The alternative is for cyclists to be charged a one off levy upon the purchase of a bicycle, and the cycle electronically registered to them.

Interestingly, after October 2014, motorists will not have to display a tax disc in the window of their cars to prove tax has been paid. The status of tax will be resident in a database hosted by the DVLA, and will be accessible by suitably authorised agencies such as Police, Parking Enforcement Agencies and Insurers.

Logically, it’s not much of a leap to see that cyclists could be charged without the need for tax discs, but this would obviate the advantages to the population in using cycles for transport and fitness.

Mark Charlwood
Copyright June 2014