Magazine article The Spectator

Another Voice

Magazine article The Spectator

Another Voice

Article excerpt

'29 BIKERS KILLED OR INJURED IN THE LAST 5 YEARS', says the big yellow roadside sign as I drive along the A515 between Ashbourne and Buxton, on my way to this week's Tory conference in Manchester. The sign is repeated many times along the old Roman road. It is rather shocking.

'THINK BIKE', says another sign, pre-sumably directed at motorists. '50' says the speed limit sign, endlessly repeated, both painted onto the road and displayed on steel poles by the side of it. 'IT'S 50 FOR A REASON', say yet another series of signs.

And then 'ACCIDENT ZONE'. And after that a series of weird corrugations in the surface of the tarmac before a junction, pre-sumably to wake us up to the danger.

Further back there's a lay-by with a cara-van in it, selling hot beverages and sausage rolls, mostly to leather-clad bikers, gathered there in some number, taking the air and inspecting each other's bikes. Ahead there's the turn-off to Macclesfield, which takes you over the Cat & Fiddle pass - the Cat & Fiddle pub carpark itself, at the top of the pass, being at weekends always crowd-ed with bikers. Not unreasonably the pub caters to this trade.

Or go back to Ashbourne and turn left on the B5035 to Wirksworth via Carsington.

Here too the hedgerows are festooned with notices about biker danger, statistics for deaths and injuries, and warnings. Here too is a lay-by with a mobile cafe catering to the bikers. Here too are the bikers.

And now begins what is not, repeat not, a rant against motorcyclists. I like motor-cyclists. I like two-wheeled travel - pow-ered or pedalled - and at 17 rode nearly 1,000 miles from Rhodesia to Swaziland on a Honda 50 scooter, for fun, sleeping in South African police station cells, where a white youth would always be accommodated.

I first saw Derbyshire, the county that was to become my home, on the back of my brother's bike, roaring over the moor from Sheffield. For some years when I was an MP I rode a small bike, a green Honda 250 (once, to his chortled delight, acting as Ted Heath's outrider when he passed through the con-stituency in a limo). I gave up motorcycling at 35 when a Jaguar car hit me at 70 mph in the fast lane of the M1 - and, saved by the gyroscopy of my wheels, I didn't quite come off. On the hard shoulder afterwards, the Jag driver was so relieved he hadn't killed me, he almost wept. The accident had been entirely my fault. Shaking, I concluded that motorcycling was inherently highly danger-ous and that, lacking any unusual skills of vigilance, judgment or balance, I would run a very significant chance of death sooner or later if I carried on.

So that's my judgment for me. What about those who reach a different judgment for themselves? As the former Member for Matlock Bath, where literally thousands of bikers congregate at weekends to park up, eat fish and chips, and meet and compare bikes, I think I'm aware of all sides to the perennial 'Bikers: love 'em or hate 'em?'

debate. The truth is that bikers en masse look fearsome but once off their wheels are in fact and for the most part a fairly gentle breed - towards the general public, any-way. But, whether or not it should, their presence in leathery swarms does put off quite a few family holidaymakers, or visi-tors of the more genteel sort, and does alter the ambience of a resort like Matlock Bath. …

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