Tag 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.

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)©

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