My old man’s been dead for over forty years, and that’s a long time to be lying around doing nothing except returning to dust.
Not that he’d mind. That’s the best thing about being brown bread. Nothing matters anymore. No past. No future. No now. No anything. Just sweet oblivion.
I don’t ponder on it too much anymore, mind. But when the thought does pop up, it’s usually with regard to the changes the world has seen since DeFazio senior shuffled off this mortal coil. And those changes are profound.
Sure, that statement seems obvious; about as obvious as, say, telling someone that the Rolling Stones are a great band. They are great, but then you start working through their back catalogue and discover all the tracks you’d forgotten, and all the tracks that Jagger/Richards have written for others, and you remind yourself that even you need reminding of just how great they were.
And still are.
But if my old man reappeared tomorrow (and I still live in hope), he’d have to go through a long and possibly painful process of re-education and re-indoctrination.
For instance, he’d have to be quickly introduced to the internet and would need to be taught that we’ve made a few changes since Telstar.
I’d show him my mobile phone and explain how it works and tell him that you simply can’t get by anymore without one, certainly not if you want to park your car in Central London or pay a bill or even talk to your family and friends. Naturally, he’d marvel over the phone’s interface where you poke and prod and squeeze your way around a mystifying touchscreen. And I’d probably tell him that I’ve got the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue on this thing, and he’d say; “What? Not that long-haired bunch of hooligans?” And I’d say, “Yeah, you got that right, dad. And they’re still around. Barely.”
"But yes, we’ve still got atom bombs, and we’ve now got things called Smart Bombs that fight stupid wars and can fly through a basketball hoop from five miles high guided by pilots with “heads up” displays and coded voice commands."
He’d probably smile at the notion and would then wonder about all those cameras on posts in the high streets and shopping precincts. And he’d puzzle over the soldiers dressed in black boiler suits and toting machine guns outside the Palace of Westminster, and I’d have to explain that those are actually coppers and that nobody cares too much about Dixon of Dock Green style policing anymore.
He’d puzzle over Twitter and Facebook and would question why anyone in their right mind would want to splash their personal details over that internet thing. Naturally, I’d tell him that I have no idea either, and we’d talk about TV and radio and he’d marvel over the ten billion channels and stations currently on offer.
We’d discuss politics and he’d puzzle over what a Liberal Democrat is, and I’d tell him that I don’t know the answer to that either. I’d probably mention in passing that the wall came down some time ago. Yes. The Iron Curtain. It just sort of … well, suddenly rusted away and everyone from the other side of it is now living in Cambridgeshire.
But yes, we’ve still got atom bombs, and we’ve now got things called Smart Bombs that fight stupid wars and can fly through a basketball hoop from five miles high guided by pilots with “heads up” displays and coded voice commands.
And we’ve got cruise missiles that can be launched from submarines and hug landscape contours at five hundred miles an hour and follow a military version of Google Maps and—
Google Maps? Oh. Well, that another legacy of Telstar. He’d be amazed and would maybe tell me that the next thing they’ll be doing is walking on the bloody moon.
I’d probably smile and would leave that alone, and would instead caution him not to light up in a pub, and would tell him that you can’t smile innocently at kids anymore, and that nowadays it’s okay for blokes to hold hands in the street.
Well, sort of okay.
"And sooner or later, motorcycles are for the chop—unless, that is, radical changes are made. Stands to reason."
I’d also have to warn him that modern family saloons can travel at 150mph and can hit 60mph in just three or four seconds. So watch where you cross. And he’d ask about motorcycles because he’d ridden one or two in his younger days. BSAs probably. And I’d have to bring him up to date with all the biking news. And by the time I’d finished all that, he’d be ready for his box again, perhaps shocked, perhaps disappointed, perhaps hopeful, and perhaps not.
Change can be hard.
And there’s a lot more change coming that most of us have barely prepared for; neither mentally, spiritually, commercially or otherwise. Three-dimensional printers have already hit the high street. The world’s first nanobots are on the march. Artificial intelligence is rapidly wising up. Quantum physics is making us question Newton and Einstein. China, ultimately, is headed for a break-up as old ethnic groups and factions rediscover their ancestral and tribal heritage. America, as we know it, won’t last forever. Sooner or later there will be a nuclear terrorist attack. Sooner or later a world government will form. Sooner or later we’ll have to stop breeding (I certainly have). Sooner or later they’ll name an airport after the Kray Twins (well they did it for Robin Hood).
And sooner or later, motorcycles are for the chop—unless, that is, radical changes are made. Stands to reason. We’re an ageing species living longer and better. And currently, we’re obsessed with the idea of our own mortality. You hear it everywhere. Doctors, we’re routinely told, have just saved another life, whereas doctors actually only delay deaths. We’re daily propagandised into exercising more, eating healthier, drinking less alcohol and suffering routine body scans. We’re compelled to belt up, wear lids, slip into DayGlo vests and always be nice to each other. Currently, the UK feels more like a Nazi training camp than the sceptered isle that my old man fought a war to protect.
To further our survival, we’re now looking at cars that drive themselves and park autonomously and can recognise an oncoming collision with predictive algorithms that see a lot further into the future than the average motorist.
Ford and Toyota are a long way down this road. Mercedes too. And by 2020, Volvo is promising that no one will die or suffer serious injury in one of its products. And it’s in this hope-I-get-old-before-I-die climate of rampant mortal (and moral) paranoia that the EC is seriously looking at mandatory speed limiters for cars and motorcycles just as they’re now fitted as standard to millions of trucks and buses.
The system is called Intelligent Speed Adaption, and consultations are well advanced. Yes, the auto lobby is powerful and will resist. But the tobacco and alcohol lobby was powerful too, and both of those, in an effort to bolster sales, are now desperately peddling their drugs to ten year olds in third world economies.
Currently around 30,000 people die each year on European roads. In the UK, we’ve ratcheted it down from around 7,985 in 1966 to 1,754 at the most recent count. Which is wonderful, but the ultimate target isn’t 1,000 or 500 or 50. The ultimate target is zero, and it’s hard to see how that’s going to happen when you’re on two wheels minus a crumple zone.
That doesn’t mean that bike dealers should panic. It doesn’t mean they should shut up shop. Yet. But it does mean that as a smart businessman (albeit sometimes not as smart as a half-smart Smart Bomb), you need to prepare for the technological changes coming at you.
Motorcyclists will soon have simple domestic technology to manufacture some, or all, of their own bike spares. Home laptops can already handle motorcycle diagnostic issues. New bikes are being sold on the net. Disposable engines are being developed. Computer driven cars will either make motorcycling fantastically safer thereby increasing sales, or (given that many biking accidents involve no other driver) will further highlight the fact that motorcycles are the cruise missiles of the highways and as such are dangerously dangerous, and now surplus to general social requirements.
The pace of change is accelerating, and we’re headed into a whole new technological and commercial war zone, and the first thing you do when headed into any war zone is figure out an exit strategy.
Got yours yet?
Note: This column originally appeared in British Dealer News, 2014
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