(Archive feature, May 2009)
Who was it who said, “Seasonally adjusted, this is the biggest rise in optimism for twelve years?” Or was it ten? Either way, it might have been Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1990-1993.
Norman, you’ll recall, was the man responsible for dragging Britain into the European ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) and crashing out again in spectacular fashion thereby pushing interest rates up to a whopping 15%—whilst also managing to wipe zillions off the value of Sterling.
Stormin’ Norman, during the last big recession, was also famed for uttering the ill-advised “green shoots of recovery phrase”; a quip that's recently been dusted, unfurled and hoisted up the mast of the good ship UK. If ever there was a spring-loaded, garden rake comment, this is it. Just step sharply on the business end and … well, you get the idea.
Nevertheless, the OECD (Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development) has recently dared to poke its head out of its foxhole and state that an unexpected 0.3% rise in GDP has been recorded on the seismic barometer of national bankruptcy— a rise that’s supposedly indicative of a burgeoning financial spring (but is really a camouflaged and convoluted way of telling us that things are still as bad as cancer, but somehow not quite as bad as predicted).
Elsewhere, the latest rise in unemployment figures is, depending on whose numbers you believe, little more than half the monthly rise experienced last autumn (never mind that down at my local Job Centre they’re fighting off new claimants with a broom).
Elsewhere, estate agents are reporting a small but distinct rise in property sales, which, they claim, is proof positive that happy days are here again (and if you can’t trust an estate agent, who the hell can you trust?).
And there are any number of other indicators that we’re past the worst of it: the rising price of petrol: banks actually managing to once again lend a few shillings here and there: a small company in West Lothian doubling its workforce from two to four (actually, a firm of bailiffs): and so on.
But the best indicator of what's going on was perhaps at Kempton Park recently when I noticed that a large number of dealers there had travelled an unfeasibly large number of miles to offload whatever stock they could cram into the back of their vans. Fifty miles. Ninety miles. One hundred and thirty miles. Two hundred and twenty eight miles. Three hundred and fourteen miles.
Now don’t get me wrong. Kempton Park is a great autojumble. One of the best. But when, as one trader reported, you have to travel three hundred and fourteen miles to spend six or seven hours flogging 3 clutch cables, 1 throttle cable, 1 gasket set, 2 spark plugs, a rear mudguard, a pack of grommets, and various other motorcycle related items totalling about four hundred quid, plus change, you realise that there’s not much the OECD can tell you about the state of the economy. It’s going down, down, down, brother. And those green shoots are weeds ...
Speaking of weeds, things are deteriorating further in British Petroleum’s Russian garden where the company’s 50-50 partnership with the Reds has hit an all time low.
BP-TNK, in case you didn’t know, is a subsidiary of British Petroleum (BP) and has for a long time been in cahoots with the Ruskies in the dubious shape of a consortium known as AAR. The venture employs 64,000 people. The amount of oil pumped from ex-Soviet turf represents a quarter of BP’s daily production.
The Russians, it seems, didn’t have the technological nous to get at the black gold on their own. But now that BP has found it and is bringing it out in very large barrels, the Russian oligarchs are steadily moving the goalposts and ousting the Brits in a series of dastardly corporate shenanigans stopping short only at poisoned umbrellas.
And to think we supplied them with all those tanks and motorcycles during WW2.
The upshot is that BP has pretty much lost control of the oil fields. The ship is still sailing, but the captain (Bob Dudley) is no longer on the bridge (last seen leaving Moscow airport in a great rush).
But what does it mean to us?
Only that as global oil and gas production becomes ever more Russian centred, it’s odds on that once the recession ends (if it ever does), you can bet your life that the cost of petrol (now back up at around 98 pence per litre, in case you haven’t noticed) is going to seem as cheap as English rain.
Our advice? Get a couple of very large jerry cans, fill them up, and dig a hole at the bottom of the garden.
We could be riding on borrowed time.
And running out of fuel may be the least of our problems if the Aussies have their way. A firm called Cohda Wireless, from Down Under, has recently managed to screw a few millions out of the EEC to further develop a state-of-the-art fly-by-wireless system for cars which, if successful, will take the driver right out of the equation in the event of an impending traffic accident.
A battery of sensors, smart chips, servos and whatnot will do all the thinking, acting and yelling when the you-know-what is about to hit the fan, thereby slashing road accident figures by 50%. Or more.
That's the plan, anyway.
And you're right; it's not the first time the technocrats have tried to circumvent the age old problem of human error of the motoring kind. This particular vision of autopia dates back to 1950s, and beyond. But the Cohda box of tricks looks more serious, and the long and short of it is that a workable system (it's claimed) could be on the road by 2012, just in time for that great money sucking sponge which is the London Olympics.
Worryingly, the system appears to rely upon (quote)"similarly equipped vehicles" enjoying a digital dialogue with each other on a kind of I-see-you, and you-see-me basis. But little has been said about those more technically challenged historic vehicles which, for many of us, is the whole nine yards.
Even more worryingly, we learn that cars fitted with this system might also enjoy a windscreen curtain that drops down at the moment of impact.
You can see where we're going with this, huh? Your classic bike is not "similarly equipped", so they can't "see" you on their on-board radar and won't even have to look at your ugly mug either as you get ploughed into the asphalt when one of the computer chips goes belly up - or, worse still, is hacked into by whatever computer nerd has just been told by his mum to clear up his bedroom and decides to vent his spleen by taking the next step up from a video game and starts playing God with a joystick and a webcam.
Think it can't happen? Then think again, because if Downing Street, the White House and the Kremlin can have their firewalls breached, what chance do you think you have against a ten year old Ford Mondeo that's having a bad
So the Northumberland rozzers are to axe their fleet of motorcycles. The reason? Health and safety, which is, of course, the new religion.
Apparently, the notion of one of the county’s finest coming to grief in inclement weather, or falling off whilst on escort duty, or when engaged in any of the other life threatening, do-or-die chores typical of a routine day in the life was simply a bridge too far.
So the 15-strong bike fleet has got the chop, and the officers are to be reassigned—their duties to be undertaken by four-wheeled traffic cops who, apparently, can do everything a bike can do. Which is news to me.
Now when you’ve finished drying your eyes over that revelation, you might want to consider the wider implications of a police force scrapping its bikes and the knock-on effect if and when this new facet of safety hysteria gets a grip on neighbouring forces and spreads throughout the land.
Think swine flu.
Or pig fever, if you prefer.
For all their sins (which, of course, are many and various) two-wheeled cops are arguably the most “sympathetic” to the lot of the average motorcyclist. In fact, a fair number of them, if not most, are riders themselves during their downtime—which ensures that their worldview is not entirely biased against the biking breed.
But there’s an even more worrying aspect to the demise of the motorcycle cop as a species, and that’s the inevitable shift of opinion against single-tracked vehicles which are likely to be regarded with even more disapproval, if not outright condemnation, once the safety fascists wake up to the fact that the police have totally abandoned two wheels in favour of four-wheeled, air-bagged, anti-locked, traction-controlled crumple zones—the point being that if a man riding a motorcycle equipped with flashing blue lights on the front and rear, a 115 decibel siren and the word POLICE emblazoned on a fluorescent yellow jacket can’t be considered reasonably safe on the road, what chance have the rest of us got?
You’ve seen those large warnings stamped on the side of cigarette packets? Well think about that the next time you’re wondering what to paint on the back of your leather jacket, or what to have airbrushed on your crash helmet.
In a few years, it’s just conceivable you might not have much choice...
… which would be tragic now that Triumph is riding on a crest of a manufacturing wave and getting stronger and more dynamic/aggressive every year.
What started as a small firm in Leicestershire building modest modular motorcycles has blossomed into a … well, a still fairly small firm (globally speaking), but one that’s punching well above its weight and producing some of the best—and certainly some of the best looking—bikes on
the planet. And if you believe the propaganda from the dealers and the factory, some models are so successful that they’re on an increasingly lengthening waiting list, whilst other models are coming in one door and pretty much going straight out of the other into the arms of waiting customers.
My two “local” Triumph dealers are certainly looking pretty fat and smug these days, neither of whom are offering any special finance deals, take note.
Which is good news. I’ve been bitching about the demise of British manufacturing since before Thatcher got the boot, and here’s a British motorcycle manufacturer going from strength to strength and set to launch its new 1600cc Thunderbird parallel twin intent on giving struggling Harley Davidson a good kicking, both stateside and at home.
That’s the plan, anyway, and as much as I like and respect Milwaukee’s most famous son (having owned three of them), you can lull yourself to sleep at night these days counting passing Fat Boys and Bad Boys and Big Boys and whatever—and wasn’t it much more fun anyway before the fashionistas got accessorised with Hogs and made the bikes respectable?
Still, that’s a Harley problem, and this is about Triumph who are now comfortably in the black whilst other, lesser marques are slipping deeper and deeper into the red.
Or is it brown?
But while we're on the subject, is Triumph really going to knock Harley off the cruiser top spot? Or even put up a credible challenge? Not a chance. Not one in a million.
Harley, for all its sins, is a still a class act and has dominated its market since it invented it. And as far as I can remember, the word chopper is still spelled H-A-R-L-E-Y
Moreover, if Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki haven’t, in all these years, been able to kick the Hogfather into touch on the boulevards of the USA, it’s unlikely that a small (but highly capable) firm in Leicestershire will make much more of an impact, and might be better advised to steer clear of Harley and aim instead at, say, BMW.
Still, there were many who said that John Bloor was full of brick dust and that Triumph wouldn’t get even this far, so it’s worth remembering that when the dice are rollin', they’re rollin’. And if you know your motorcycling history, you'll also know that it wouldn’t be the first time the Brits have successfully invaded the Land of the Free.
The last time Triumph did it, it was (interestingly enough) also with a bike called a Thunderbird.
And Triumph isn’t the only outfit rollin’ the dice at the moment. The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) are playing a mean game of chance of their own, this time with the already infamous swerve test for learner riders that’s got just about everyone cooking their brains beneath their helmets in disgust and contempt at this new manifestation of nanny state hysteria.
On the face of it, what the DSA is asking is fairly straightforward and not much to get excited about. You simply have to ride along at 31mph and, on cue, swerve to avoid barrelling into a cone trap. Simple.
Except that these things rarely are. The trouble with testing anything is that the act of testing distorts the results. Breathing becomes difficult the moment you think about it. Ditto for running down a flight of stairs. Tests always test only your response to the test. Nothing more, nothing less. Which means that when Junior Biker is busy on his first swerve exam, he might well behave completely differently to how he, or she, is likely to ride in a real world situation. He may do well on the test. He may do badly. He may do very badly and fall off and damage the bike and break his neck.
But, according to the DSA, it will be entirely his fault. In their eyes, he ought to be able to swerve at 31mph without coming a cropper—and he probably can, just as long he’s not doing it in front of an audience, a speed trap, and with a driving licence dangling on a hook just out of reach.
Then again, some riders will breeze through the test, claim their licence prize and promptly lose all concentration as they sail off down the High Street on a collision course with whatever poor old illegal immigrant has stepped out from behind a parked car to pick up his fake passport.
The fact is, riding a motorcycle is a lot more complex than performing circus tricks in a government test centre. Riding a motorcycle requires a sophisticated palette of cognitive and motor skills; skills that are likely to be heavily compromised when you attempt to access them as a mere stunt. Moreover, conditioning riders to always swerve might not be a good thing at all. It might be better to get into the habit of crunching pigeons and stray cats rather than veer across the road into something a lot more unforgiving.
Put simply, we need to throw away the rule book and stay as flexible as possible, both mentally, physically and bureaucratically. Anything else is a straightjacket of conformity that will ultimately do more harm than good.
We need to cut the contrived tests and empower the examiners to make decisions for themselves about who’s capable of riding the range, and who isn’t.
But instead, we have the usual nonsense of another government trying to micro-manage every situation that it’s faced with by hitting everyone with the same blunt hammer. We don't have to put up with this nonsense. Resist.