Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Column, May 22, 2007

LOVE mountain biking, but I accept that it is not without its risks.
If you choose to go up and down rock-strewn tracks on two wheels, the chances are that you will return from a trip with a few bruises and scrapes you didn’t have when you set out that morning.
I’ve fallen off more times than I can count, usually when trying something beyond my capabilities or that should only be attempted by someone with suppleness and reaction speeds that fled my aging frame about 20 years ago.
But I still love it and if anyone is going to get hurt it’s only going to be me. I accept that risk and I’ll admit that I do it because the risk is part of the enjoyment. There is a thrill to the fear of going down a drop where there’s a 50 per cent chance that I won’t make it to the bottom still attached to my bike.
If I’m injured, it’s me that’s to blame and I’m prepared to accept that it’s my own daft fault for going mountain biking.
Which is why I’m a little puzzled by motorcyclists.
They buy machines that are capable of outrageous acceleration and eye-watering top speeds, and yet they seem to expect us to believe that they do not buy these bikes to make use of these abilities.
I simply do not believe that anyone buys a bike of 500cc plus that is capable of speeds in excess of 120mph, buys it because they like the colour.
As a BBC documentary on speeding bikers has shown, they do it because they like the speed. They like the thrill that riding a powerful bike gives them and they like pushing their abilities to handle these machines on challenging roads.
The safest way to ride a bike would be on a deserted motorway in a straight line, but of course no-one expects bikers to do that. The most exciting place to ride a bike is on twisting roads where the bike’s ability to corner and accelerate are tested to the full.
And that’s where North Wales comes into the picture, because when it comes to twisting roads we’ve pretty much cornered the UK market haven’t we?
And so bikers beat a path to our door, with the sad consequence it has just been revealed, that 13 of them so far this year have met their end on the roads of North Wales.
Now, it might well be that there were other factors in those deaths, I will leave the coroners of the areas concerned to draw their own conclusions as to what happened. Lets face it the coroners service has had plenty of experience in dealing with such deaths in recent years.
And yet the motorcycling community would have us believe that all but a very, very few of them are not interested in the phenomenal capabilities of their machines, but would rather pootle along within the speed limit at all times.
Really? So why buy a 1,000cc machine then, when a 125 with an engine that sounds like a hair-dryer under stress would get you round perfectly well, if all you wanted to do was to stick to the speed limit?
One biker caught speeding by the North Wales police helicopter and subsequently banned from driving told the BBC that he would go and buy another bike once his ban was over and would do the same thing again.
I find it very hard to believe that someone riding a bike capable of 150mph isn’t tempted, quite often, to test its ability to go so fast. You only have to look at the way these bikes are marketed and take a quick glance at biker magazines to know exactly what they are interested in – blistering speed.
Now, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem for me, were it not for the fact that when motorcyclists crash they often get others involved, quite often in a car, van, or lorry.
It has to be said that it’s usually the biker that comes off the worst, so there is that going for them. When they risk life and limb it is usually their own and no-one else’s. But I think if I were driving a car that killed a biker, even if it were the bikers fault, that would be an experience that would leave a mental scar, although there were not physical ones.
Now bikers are saying their relationship with North Wales Police has been badly damaged by the showing of pictures of a dead motorcyclist to illustrate the dangers of speeding.
Perhaps that relationship would improve if bikers were a bit more honest with themselves and with us about why they love biking so much.

WHILE we’re on the subject of cycling, the new Highway Code is out and it has clearly been written by someone who has never been on a bicycle in their life.
Their advice to cyclists tackling a roundabout is to stick in the left hand lane at all times.
Word of advice – if you’re turning right, don’t even think about it, it would mean you going straight across the path of car drivers at least twice.
So the Highway Code is asking you to trust drivers to have seen you as they go round the roundabout and to have slowed down to let you cross in front of them as they try to exit.
Yeah, right.
Having a copy of the Highway Code in your hand will come as no comfort as they car you off to hospital, so do what’s safe, and use the roundabout just like very other vehicle on the road, left hand lane for going left or straight on, right hand lane if you’re going right – that way you don’t have to cross anyone’s path to get around it.
They’re talking about prosecuting cyclists who fail to follow these lethal bit of advice. I would rather be alive and in court than law-abiding and dead.

MEMBERS of Parliament are not often to be found there on a Friday, which is the day they very often return to their constituencies to carry out work there.
But last Friday a fair number were found in the House where they passed a Bill to exempt Parliament from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
Those in favour of excluding MPs said it was to protect their confidential correspondence with constituents.
Critics said it was more to do with MPs preventing embarrassing disclosures, such as their expense being made public.
Two North Wales MPs who voted in favour of exclusion were Labour’s Martyn Jones and Mark Tami.
I e-mailed Mr Jones and Mr Tami over the weekend to ask them why they felt that MPs should be excluded from this legislation.
As of yesterday morning they had not replied. I hope they get in touch this week as I think this decision by MPs requires some justification and I hope they can provide it.

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