7:30 on a Sunday? Sorry, does not compute. But my phone is binging cheerfully at me, the little sod, a cat is asleep on my head, beloved is a whiffling heap under the duvet and I’m struggling with the concept of needing to be vaguely functional in the next twenty minutes and on the bike in a hour. The intervening time is spent knocking up bacon butties and coffee for self and Fiona, the proprietor of the famed Green Welly Stop, as she drops in en route to Tulliallan for today’s Scottish IAM Motorcycle Forum meeting. I’m worried though: TGW does totally excellent coffee and I need to ensure I’m on decent form to repay the hospitality.
Firstly, a disclaimer: I don’t live in Humberside. Now that’s neither for nor against the place, simply a statement of elsewhereness. But hold that thought while I digress. I’m also a considerable fan of road safety, having desire to neither kill nor be killed on the public roads. But – and this is a big one – I’m like most of us, in that the more threatening and authoritarian the message, the more likely I am to start taking the piss. That’s not big and not clever, but is pretty basic psychology — engage with me and I’ll listen, behave like a fascist and I’ll start fomenting revolution.
Where I now live, things seem to be generally sensible: no fixed cameras, strong enforcement of urban limits and a high days-and-holidays police presence at biker gathering spots like the Green Welly, where they’re promoting Bikesafe courses and wandering around mumbling slightly abashed comments like, “Take care out there lads…”. Several plain clothes plodmobiles (cars and bikes) tend to be out and about at similar times, but I’ve seen relatively little bad behaviour or general numptiness by the local Police.
Go for a long ride though and, as you pass from force to force, you’ll see a wide variety of approaches: from the engagement-driven attitude of places like Durham and North Yorkshire (both of which have amongst the best safety trends in the country) to the outright hostility and bullying control freak mentality of places like North Wales and Northamptonshire. When I ride into the latter County, with its huge “You ARE Being Watched” signs everywhere, I am seized with a near uncontrollable desire to behave in a manner outrageous, illegal and undignified (not necessarily in that order). On the same ride, I’ll then cross into Buckinghamshire and find signs along the nicer roads that tell me what the accident rate for that road is for a given period. Thanks, you’ve treated me like an adult, given me information and I’ll act on it. All is then peace and light.
I’ve mentioned before that I live next to one of THE great biking roads, the A84 from Callander to Killin. That’s all of 20 miles of fast, wide sweeping bends that every so often turn into narrow, bumpy, twisty complexes that test machine set-up and rider anticipation, skill and basic sense. And far too bloody many people are failing that test: we’ve just had what (I think) is the third biking fatality of the year — and all of these on the mere eight miles between Callander and Strathyre, particularly through the twisties of the Falls of Leny, just North of Kilmahog and at the notorious “Doctor’s Bend” a couple of miles further North.
The consequences of this aren’t just limited to the motorcyclist and his or her (almost always ‘his’) family and friends but affect the local community: firstly, this is the only road South from here (without a 50-mile detour), so when it’s closed for most of a day it has a real local impact. Secondly, and mostly importantly, people here are genuinely upset about the sheer bloody waste of life that’s going — I haven’t spoken to a single person who’s anti-motorcycling in any way, but to many who are affected by the knowledge that another life has been needlessly lost on our doorstep and who genuinely feel the sense of lost humanity. While writing this blog entry, I’ve been approached by several friends and neighbours, each asking me if there’s anything at all I can do to raise awareness of the specific risks of this road. So here it is.
Today I should most definitely have been working — too much to do, too little time, yada yada… But by 11 o’clock the temperature was about 23° and not a cloud in the sky. I also tripped over my Arai on the way to make a coffee, which was an omen not to be ignored, so the concept of ‘early lunch break’ had its definition rather stretched. Besides, I wanted to test out a new toy — a little Sony GPS that records everywhere you’ve been — the downloaded results then being used to tag the photos you’ve taken along the way, before mapping them in Google Maps or Google Earth. And where should I go to test this but a second (and third) pass at a road I discovered last weekend — the A821 from Kilmahog (I kid you not) to Aberfoyle, via the Duke’s pass. That’s the Duke of Montrose, not the Duke of Bologna, which would have been so much more appropriate. This road is something else — it starts with a couple of fast sweepers that throw in a decreasing radius 120° corner at the last moment, then into a switchback straight which has self and machine airborne at anything over about 70mph, even with the new suspension. A large number of sump gouges and suspicious stains along this stretch tell their own tale. The road is a mixture of old and broken surface (with the occasional pothole and patch of loose gravel) and brand new shiny tarmac — overall, not too bad by Belgian standards, and less than brilliant by anyone else’s.