Thursday, 31 October 2013

The baffling case of motorcycles in the UK

T.E. Lawrence on his Brough Superior
Few peoples know how to tumble down the ladder of success more spectacularly than the British. When they fall, they fall hard.

For example: the British Empire. Although her father and grandfather certainly laid the foundations, I think it's safe to say that Elizabeth I (under the guidance of a Welshman, I'd like to add) really got the Empire going back in the 1600s. And over the next 300 or so years it grew and grew to the point that, famously, the sun never set on British territory.

Things wobbled a bit in the early 1900s but the wheels completely came off after WWII. In just two decades -- 1945 to 1965 -- the number of people under British rule outside the UK plummeted from 700 million to just 5 million. The bulk of those left were living in Hong Kong, which was relinquished from British control in 1997. These days all that's left are a handful of islands that you would be incredibly hard-pressed to find on a map (e.g., the Caicos Islands). And, of course, it's possible that even the UK could cease to exist within my lifetime. 

I find that deeply sad. OK, sure, in terms of Empire it is almost certainly for the best (or will be, in the long run) that Africans be in charge of Africa. But you get my point. It's sad to see something that was once so immense reduced and reduced to an almost nothingness.

The same sort of thing happened with pro wrestling in the UK. In the 1960s people would wear suits and ties to events; Prince Philip would sit in the front row for matches (many people believed Philip was the true identity of Kendo Nagasaki until the latter was unmasked in 1966). But soon it went the way of the Empire. Along with country pubs, resistance to obesity, church attendance, employment, intellectual excellence, and so on. Britons have managed to turn decline into a grand, sorrowful art.

But the particular brand of decline that's been on my mind this week has been that concerning the popularity of motorcycles in the UK.

The fabled Vincent Black Shadow
Pop quiz: Name the five greatest manufacturers in the history of motorcycling.

I'll bet that at least three of the manufacturers you just named were British. This tiny, soggy archipelago used to dominate motorcycling. For at least half a century, in terms of both technology and style, no one could produce better bikes than Blighty.

I got to thinking about all this earlier this week, after the BBC aired a documentary called "Full Throttle: The Glory Days of British Motorbikes" (if you live in the UK, you can watch it online until 7 November). Much of it, of course, covered familiar territory -- T.E. Lawrence and ton-up boys and the like -- but I still found it fascinating and even learned a few things. For instance, the "Brough" in Brough Superior is pronounced "Bruff," not "Bro," as I had assumed. I learned, too, that in the 1920s there were more than 200 makes of motorcycle being produced in the UK.

If you're not familiar with British motorcycling history, here's the abbreviated version: 
  • In the 1920s, makes like Vincent and Brough Superior built bikes so amazing that they could still outrun a modern Harley.
  • During WWII, British forces made use of more than 400,000 motorcycles, the bulk of them being BSA and Norton machines. Most of the people riding them preferred the Nortons.
  • As the British Empire was in its 20-year freefall the UK saw a rise in motorcycle culture, most notably that of ton-up boys/rockers on cafe racers.
  • At the same time, Triumph, Norton and BSA found great success in the American market. (It is very important to note that Harley culture really didn't take off until the late 20th century in the US. Badasses like Johnny Strabler and the Fonz rode Triumphs. And even when hanging with the Hell's Angels Hunter S. Thompson insisted upon riding a technologically superior BSA)
  • In the late 60s Japan figured out how to make awesome bikes for less money, and everything went tits up.
  • In the present-day United Kingdom there are less than 1 million active riders (compared with an estimated 7.5 million in the United States), making up just 1 percent of road traffic.

These days, as far as I am aware, there are just two makes of motorcycle being produced in the UK. And even that number is questionable. Triumph is the most famous but exactly how many of its motorcycles come from its factory in Hinkley, England -- as opposed to the three factories in Thailand -- is hard to nail down. What is more certain is that although some Triumphs may be assembled in the UK, 90 percent of the bikes' parts come from elsewhere.

Ton-up boys
OK, perhaps it doesn't really matter. Modern Triumphs have a strong reputation and I'm in love with pretty much every model. But it feels sad to think that the last of the standard bearers of Britain's great motorcycling tradition isn't really all that British.

"Wait, Chris," you say. "I thought you said you knew of two makes of motorcycle being produced in the UK."

Yeah, that's true. Maybe. The other one is Norton. Acclaimed for always winning the Isle of Man TT before WWII, producing the bikes couriers wanted to ride during WWII, and being the machine of choice for ton-up boys after WWII, the make has been floundering, Indian-style, since the 1960s with numerous unsuccessful attempts at revival.

The phrase most observers would use for the current revival attempt is: "dodgy as fuck." The stories of how the modern Norton (under the direction of dodgy businessman Stuart Garner) manages to screw things up are prolific. It is the stuff of legend.

But Norton is still a British heritage brand, owned by a Briton, with headquarters in Britain and claims of making "as many parts as possible in-house." And just this week it has announced that it has started shipping bikes to the United States. It has established a minuscule network of nine dealers (where the hell is Farmer's Branch, Texas?) and has high hopes that the US market will account for at least 30 percent of Norton's worldwide sales. Looking at its website, Norton also has dealers in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg, with plans to establish further dealers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

As far as I can tell, however, it does not have a dealership -- not even one -- in the United Kingdom. And I find that to be an utterly depressing commentary on the state of motorcycling in the UK. This country that was once home to the greatest machines and riders now cares so little about motorcycling that its iconic brands, its last bastions of British pride, must look across the water to find any hope of success.

Not available at any UK dealership
That, my friends, is decline. Britons have let their motorcycling heritage slip away. And as a result, manufacturers find it's not worth the effort to offer the newest and best models here; I frequently find that at 37 I am younger than most other riders by a good 20 years; and lobbying groups like the BMF and MAG have all the political clout of a Starbucks blueberry muffin. It's depressing as hell.

I have no idea what happened. Ask a British motorcyclist and he or she will almost certainly blame the government. But Britons blame the government for everything. I am not exaggerating. Every social ill, every economic woe, every good thing that once was but now is no more is somehow blamed on the government. Indeed, I've lived here so long that I am very much guilty of doing the same thing. But I have to think that the truth is more complex than that. What really happened? What really caused the majority of Britons to turn their backs on motorcycling and their own rich and enviable heritage?

The best-selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta. What the hell happened that Britons became so complacent, so joy-averse, so mediocre that they would willingly choose such a jejune piece of crap over, say, a Triumph Bonneville? I don't know. But I do know that it makes me sad.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Astride the fire-driven dandy horse!

The proper way to treat a Harley.
Ever have one of those moments when you feel you've been particularly clever? 

"Ho, ho. Good one, me," you say to yourself approvingly. "You really are the epitome of wit."

Then you spend the rest of the day continuing to congratulate yourself and feeling slightly despondent that more people haven't recognised your genius.

That was me recently after leaving a comment on RideApart, one of my favourite motorcycle websites. The comment was in response to an article noting the fact that the whole media uproar in the wake of the Nonsense in New York© about a month ago (a), was not anything we hadn't seen before.

In the article, Tim Watson draws parallels between the media's hysterical response to the NYC incident and its similar reaction to an incident in Hollister, California, some 66 years before. I'd like to point out, by the way, that I had already made the same observation long before Tim, which I feel is further proof that RideApart should hire me on as a foreign correspondent. 

But I digress. The point is that media reaction to the Nonsense in New York© was biased, comically inflammatory and not at all new. Media outlets have been losing their shit over the scourge of motorcyclists for as long as there have been motorcycles. And my comment at the end of Tim's article was this:

"What I found interesting about media fallout from the NYC brouhaha is that they often used the very same language as was used by the press back in the Hollister days (if you read Hunter S. Thompson's "Hell's Angels" he quotes from a number of these articles). Words like hooligan and hoodlum, scofflaw and thug. The media response to the NYC bikers was almost an Onion parody of media response. Next time, though, I hope they'll go even more out of date in their rebuking of bikers, something along the lines of: 'Zounds, fellows! Gaze upon these be-masked ruffians astride their terrible fire-driven dandy horses! Behold their detestable countenance!'"

The proper way to ride an Indian.
Fire-driven dandy horses, yo. I thought that up with my brain! 

And almost as soon as I had done so, I felt a great rush of self-congratulatory pleasure. Fire-driven dandy horse. Tee-hee. Ha, ha! That is the best name for a motorcycle ever.

A dandy horse, also known as a draisienne in French, was a precursor to the bicycle and was popular in Paris during the unsteady reign of Louis XVIII. It is mentioned at the very start of Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey, and like the machine that would take its place more than a century later it was the source of great alarm and consternation for everyone not riding one.

But anyway: fire-driven dandy horse. I am so tickled by that phrase that I have incorporated it into this blog's description (see above). I just wanted to draw your attention to it, and kindly ask that you help make "fire-driven dandy horse" a thing. Use it in everyday conversation ("What ho, chaps?! Shall we venture to the pub astride our fire-driven dandy horses?" or "Egad! My fire-driven dandy horse has tumbled asunder! I shall now have to replace its brake lever") and help spread its use. 

Though, please attribute it to me. Few are my contributions to this world and I would like to be acknowledged for them. Though, I suppose that's the whole point of this post: to serve as proof that I came up with the phrase first. Go Team Chris.


(a) You know, the whole thing with the massive group of riders and the Range Rover and the smashing and the yelling and the the blah blah blah.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What I want: Motus MST (MSTR)

Motus MST
I feel a little uncomfortable putting the Motus MST into the What I Want category because it lacks a key feature that is a priority for any bike I would consider spending my money on: anti-lock brakes. But, hey, we're dealing more with the theoretical here than the practical. There are a whole load of bikes on the list that I will almost certainly never own nor seek to own, so let's go ahead and include this V-4 from Alabama.

It's the last two words in the previous sentence that should let you know from whence comes my affection for the MST: it's made in America. And it's not a cruiser. There's a dearth of American not-cruisers, so I feel emotionally obliged to support just about every one that comes along. I realised this the other day when the new EBR 1190RX was announced. I don't actually like the look of that bike and all its power would be completely wasted on me. But I am nonetheless supportive of this latest Buell initiative and really want it to succeed.

The Motus MST and Motus MSTR are indistinguishable from one another on sight, with the difference being that the MST has a slightly smaller engine, producing slightly less bhp. Both, though, have a fair amount of kick, producing 160bhp and 180bhp respectively. But already I'm boring myself with talk of specs. If you really care, you can find specs for the MST here and for the MSTR here.

The fact that those specs are offered in the form of jpeg files should tell you a little something about Motus: it's a pretty small-potatoes company. They've been working on this machine for a number of years and have faced a few setbacks in its release –– the sort of thing that would make me a little cautious as a buyer.

But, hey, everyone has to start somewhere and I support an American company producing an American motorcycle that isn't a cruiser. Don't get me wrong, I love cruisers. I am crazy about the new Indians, have long been a fanboy of Victory and definitely wouldn't turn my nose up at a Harley. But I ride a Honda sport tourer and find that I quite enjoy the feel and handling of such a bike, and would certainly like to see an American-made version. Apparently I'm not the only person thinking this, because that's what Motus is offering: an American-made sport tourer. The engines come from Texas and the whole thing is put together in Alabama.

Beyond its heritage, there are a number of things to like about a Motus: the engine is a V-4, basically a Corvette engine that's been chopped in half. I won't pretend to know anything about engines but apparently this one makes the bike really move (lots of bhp and lots of torque). Additionally, the engine gives the exhaust a low muscle-car-like growl that is almost certainly more pleasing to American ears.

As far as looks go, I can't complain. I'm not too sure about the front fairing, but the rest of the machine looks solid. I don't think anyone really creams their jeans for the look of a sport tourer, though. The point of such a bike is performance and feel. And from what I've read so far it's got that, along with an impressively tech-friendly dash.

There are some problems, though. First and foremost is the fact that the price ranges from $30,000 to $37,000, which is at least $10,000 more than I would expect to pay for such a bike. I mean, a BMW K1600 GT starts at $21,500. A Honda VFR, of which the Motus most reminds me, starts at $17,000.

Who will buy these?
And it's hard to guess where the extra money for the Motus is being spent. Those "cheaper" bikes produced by Honda and BMW (which also come with the advantages of tested liability and extensive dealership networks) come with things like anti-lock brakes, traction control and cruise control. The Motus does not –– not even as an option. I find it hard to fathom that a company would build a modern sport tourer without ABS.

By the standards of the three biggest American motorcycle manufacturers (i.e., Harley-Davidson, Victory and Indian), the Motus is relatively advanced (a), but by the standards of the machines against which it would likely compete Motus is far behind the curve. Also, for me personally, that front fairing is just too ugly. It makes the bike look several decades out of date.

So, I find myself feeling just a little bit sad when I think about Motus. I want so much for them to do well, and I would love to have an MST or MSTR to roar around on. Give me one and I'll thank you profusely. But there's no way I'd spend my money on one. And I can't help but wonder who would.


(a) Performance-wise. Technologically, however, all three offer models with anti-lock brakes.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Winter's coming. What do I do?

The bike has been sitting in its little spot beneath a cover for about a week now. The last time I rode, it was just a collection of very short jaunts –– from the house to work, work to the city centre, city centre to Cardiff University, the university to home. That's less than 11 miles, spread out over a space of 15 hours. So, effectively I've not ridden since my road trip to Mid Wales.

Going too long without riding makes me antsy, and I start to worry about all kinds of things. For example: is the bike clean enough? I have a fear of the next time I pull away the bike's cover finding it has somehow transformed into a great indecipherable pile of rust. After all, I didn't clean it before putting it away last time. Though, it was a dry day and I had cleaned it after the road trip.

"Clean" is a relative term, perhaps. I had invested £2 to buy 5 minutes at the power washer in the Morrisons car park. They say (whoever "they" are) that you're not supposed to clean your bike that way. I figure it's fine because I just use the soap brush and the misting settings, never hitting the bike with a full spray. Besides, I can't think how else I would clean the thing. When I first got Aliona I would invest time filling a bucket with water and cleaning her with a sponge, but that was: a) in the summer when it was warm and dry; and b) before I realised how much I hate washing my bike.

The other day, I saw a post on a motorcycle forum where a dude proudly confessed to spending an afternoon detailing his "baby." And I thought: "Good lord, man. That's an afternoon during which you could have been riding." I cannot think of one thing –– ever –– that I have spent an afternoon cleaning.

But cleanliness of the bike does play in my mind. It's a part of the equation, they say, to ensuring your bike makes it through the winter.

The coming of The Long Dark and its effect on my motorcycle and my motorcycling has been playing on my mind. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may know that one of the instigating factors in my becoming so obsessed with motorcycles was a desire to fight against the feelings of confinement and homesickness that always result from The Long Dark. That's what I call winter in Britain, because "winter" doesn't properly describe what one experiences.

Handling winter like a boss.
First of all, The Long Dark is longer than winter; it generally stretches from late October to early May. The weather is not so terribly cold, certainly not by the standards of someone who spent his formative years in Minnesota, but its capacity to break you down emotionally is so much greater than anything else I have experienced. It is grey and dark and wet and windy every day. No, dude, listen: when I say every day, I mean EVERY day. Day after day after day after day of the same miserable routine.

And for some inexplicable reason, the peoples who have lived on this archipelago for thousands of years have not figured out how to build homes and structures that combat this misery. It is drafty, cold and damp in my flat. At my workplace. At the pub. The Long Dark is inescapable.

I'm wandering off the point here, sorry. Here's what I'm trying to say: Winter's coming and I'm a little worried. I learned to ride in the cold and as such, I consider myself an all-season rider. Plus, I think I need to be for the sake of my sanity. So, there will be no sheltering of Aliona for months on end. Which means that the articles I've been reading recently about preparing your bike for winter are pretty much irrelevant to me.

But that's exactly what I want to know: How should I prepare for The Long Dark? I plan to get heated grips put on as soon as I can find the money, and I'm very seriously considering putting on some engine bars, as well. I'll be asking my parents to buy me a pair of these gloves for Christmas. I'll probably buy a balaclava just for kicks. But these are things done for my physical and psychological comfort. What about the bike? How should I be treating Aliona?

Britain is a land of myth and legend, and that's an attitude that extends down to what people tell you to do with motorcycles. So, I've been struggling to find any particularly good advice. Search the interwebs and stuff seems to be half made-up –– steeped in the intraceable "truths" of dudes who grew up in the 60s –– and comes from the same sort of people who complain that antilock brakes are somehow evidence that the socialists are winning control.

But what truths I have gathered are this: I should do my best to keep Aliona clean, and I may want to consider regularly dousing her in GT85. OK. Done. Is that it, though? Keeping in mind that I don't have access to a nice, warm, dry garage and that the best I can offer Aliona is a sturdy all-weather cover, what else should I be doing? Any advice? How do you keep your bike going year-round?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Journey to Middle Earth

Round trip, it is roughly 250 miles from Penarth to Pennant. Well, this particular round trip is that far, because it is one that takes in a fair number of detours, wandering first through a blur of same-as-the-other-one Valleys towns, then up through Brecon Beacons National Park, off onto an unmarked road, then a stretch of tiny B roads until arriving in a village that is so middle-of-nowhere that the mind boggles at how (and why) anyone ended up there in the first place.

The distance is not so great, I suppose. Especially when broken into two days. In the summer I did a 220-miler in one day. Admittedly, though, I got so tired (and, as a result, inattentive) on that trip I almost sped into the back of a lorry. Additionally, that journey took in more well-travelled roads than this trek to the deep, green heart of Wales. And perhaps it's that last aspect that had me so unnerved. In the days leading up to the adventure I couldn't sleep.

The whole adventure started with news that Jenn was being called to London for two days on business. I decided to take advantage of those days to do something on my own. My head has been more than a little weird lately and I've been wanting to get away and be on my own for a bit. I like being on my own; I find it cathartic. But I like being with Jenn so much more that I rarely get a chance.

Your actions have consequences. I am sure that if I said to Jenn, "I want to go off on my own for a while," she would have no problem with it. But I worry about the repercussions. What if she got used to my not being around? What if, indeed, she found my not-being-aroundness to be a preferable state? Likely that would not happen, but best not to risk it. Especially now she has gotten this new job that will take her to London often. I'm sure I'll soon have had my fill of being on my own.

I chose Pennant somewhat at random; it was home to the cheapest of nearby B&Bs listed on My original intent was to swing south, toward New Forest National Park, but you can't argue with a £30 B&B (sigh, I can remember the days when a stay could be had for £12 a person). Once the bed and breakfast was booked, I started a constant worrying that was more on par with a motorcycle trek to Siberia than a two-day jaunt.

At the Penarth Tesco, ready to go.
On the first day of my adventure, I was out of bed by 6 a.m. The night before I had packed my bags, checked them, checked them again, and checked them once more. Once that was done, I checked my bags. Then I went to bed, but got up about an hour later because I realised I needed to check the bags. I checked them again a few times in the morning for good measure and was out of the door at exactly 7:30. Half an hour later the bike had a full tank of petrol, the tires had been checked and I had done one last safety wee at the Tesco. I was ready for adventure.

I felt the first tiny droplets of rain as I was riding through the Whitchurch neighbourhood of Cardiff. The forecast had called for a little rain, but I had optimistically thought I might be able to avoid it. By the time I made it onto the dual carriageway section of the A470 the misting had become a steady light rain.

For those of you playing along at home, a "dual carriageway" is the British term for what an American would call freeway. I didn't want to spend too long on this section of road because I sort of like urban riding and the challenges of filtering through traffic. Plus, I saw this as an opportunity to visit a section of the South Wales Valleys to which I had never been. Yes, all Valleys towns look exactly alike, but I wanted to say I had been there. So, I left the A470 at Pontypridd and promptly got lost.

There is a magic line when riding in the rain that separates the states of dry and wet. This line is very thin but it is equally definite. There is no between; you are either dry or you are wet. And once you cross that line there is no going back. I crossed it as I was going through a roundabout in Porth. Upon entering the roundabout I was snug in my riding gear, happy at my slow but steady pace through traffic. Upon exiting the roundabout a stream of water had found its way into my appropriately named Triumph Adventure trousers, and my scrotum was now soaking in a great pool of cold water.

This was distracting, to say the least. So much so that I soon had no idea where I was. I pulled into the first large parking lot I could find, to give myself a chance to dig my map from the tank bag. Upon entering the parking lot I found myself spoiled for choice in terms of spaces and in my soggy state of distraction I rode around in circles unable to decide where to stop.

I'm not saying my distracted nature is to blame here but it was certainly a mitigating factor. Eventually my mind clicked that I just needed to stop anywhere and I brought the bike to an awkward stop. As I did so, I stuck my foot out and discovered that wet brick is almost completely frictionless. There was no uh-oh moment. I put down my right foot, I fell over, and Aliona came down with me.

I had dropped her again.

"Hell," I thought. "I'm not even out of the Valleys yet. This is not a good start."

I reached down, clicked the emergency kill switch and looked around. No one was there to see me in this moment of embarrassment , so I felt calm. I positioned myself in that squat position you see on YouTube videos, got a good grip and pushed up with my legs. The bike lifted slightly, then my feet slipped out from under me and I landed on my butt. As I did this, I heard a little clink-clink noise.

Note the slippery brick surface.
Shit. Something had broken. After turning to face the bike and just muscling it back upright without finesse I discovered that the thing broken was my brake lever.

How many swear words can you say in five minutes? I'll bet I said more. The rain was unrelenting and made it difficult for me to think. Ideas, portions of thought, jumped around in my head so quickly that I couldn't form any particular one of them. I wanted to find someplace dry. I wanted to pee, my wet underwear having created a feeling of urgency. I wanted to get the hell out of whatever miserable town I was in. I wanted to figure out where I was. I wanted to get back on the road.

I was unable to come up with good, immediate solutions to any of these problems, so I chose instead to stand in the rain and mutter every profanity and combination of profanities that I could muster.

Eventually I was able to gain enough clarity to assess the situation. Brake lever withstanding, the bike was fine. She's a tough old girl, Aliona. There was enough brake lever left that I could get two fingers on it, which meant the bike was drivable. But probably not so much that I could ignore the situation. I needed a new lever. Now.

Thanks to the intensity of my motorcycle obsession I am aware of just about every motorcycle shop in the South Wales and West Country area. Running down the mental list, I realised that Celtic Motorcycles was probably the closest and wouldn't require too much of a change in my route. Plus, it is the only Victory dealership in Wales.

"Golly," I thought. "This is going to turn out OK. I'll go there, they'll throw on a new brake lever, I'll use their toilet, and I'll get to ogle some Victory awesomeness. Ooh, maybe this will turn out like the time I visited the Harley-Davidson dealership and ended up test riding an 883 Sportster and 1200 Sportster."

¿Dónde están las motos de Victory?
Nope. Not so much. Celtic Motorcycles is a Victory dealership that has only one (used) Victory Vision in its showroom (a). The rest of the small building is occupied by high-mileage used economy bikes of the sort that are so annoyingly prevalent in these parts. Wales is where old VFRs go to die.

Additionally, Celtic Motorcycles does not have public toilets. Nor does it have any brake levers for a Honda CBF600 sitting around. What it does have, however, is a really awesome mechanic who will drop everything to come out and jerryrig another brake lever onto your bike with duct tape and charge you only £10.

"You wouldn't be able to pass an MOT with that, mate," he said. "But it'll hold up. Be sure to sort it out properly as soon as you can."

I thanked him profusely and got back on the road (after first detouring to the toilets at a nearby Tesco). Up through Hirwaun and onto the small, winding A4059 –– a road I had chosen because dropping the little Google Maps Street View guy just about anywhere along its length affords you an incredible view of Brecon Beacons National Park. Look, here's an example of what I'm talking about; I just picked that spot at random. Isn't that amazing? For all my complaints about Wales (and there are many), I can't deny it's got some pretty amazing scenery.

Unfortunately, I didn't see any of that. At Penderyn the rain turned to heavy, thick, wet, oppressive fog. I slowed to about 30 mph, keeping wary of the free-roaming sheep I could see grazing along the roadside. Sheep are strange animals; if you walk anywhere near them they'll bolt, but if you come at them with a roaring 600cc machine they don't give a fuck.

At Beacons Reservoir
Eventually the fog lifted and turned again to rain. I soon found a kind of zen in the wetness: "Well, this is just how things are. I am wet. It is the Truth. I can like it or dislike it, but I cannot change it."

The road undulated and turned and twisted and I began to reconsider my route. My original plan had been to take an unnamed road across a large expanse of moorland that is used for training by the SAS. But in light of my incident earlier in the morning I now questioned the wisdom of isolating myself in such relatively desolate country. Additionally, on the map I was carrying that particular area was marked, in big red letters, with the word DANGER, with no explanation as to what particular danger one faced. Sheep? Narrow roads? Sharp curves? Or was there a possibility of being hit by a rogue SAS bullet? I chose not to find out and carried on instead to Llandovery.

Making the decision to change my route opened the mental floodgates. If I could change this part of the trip, why could I not also change the part that said I was supposed to stop at a picnic site and eat the miserable cheese sandwich I had packed for myself? Why not eat hot food, inside and out of the rain? Soon, my mind was filled with visions of rustic pubs with roaring fires. The wet and cold suddenly started to affect me. I could feel it in my aching hands and sore back. I felt it in my dull head and weary eyes. I needed to stop.

By the time I got to Llandovery this need had become so all-consuming as to make it difficult to think. So, when I saw a pair of Triumph Tiger Explorers parked in front a café I decided that was the place for me, too. I made no further attempt to find the pub I had been imagining.

Not healthy, but delicious.
For those of you playing along at home. don't be fooled by the word "café." It is not as exotic or quaint as you might think. In Britain a café is what an American might call a diner. A greasy spoon. Some are better than others but none are all that spectacular. The food is predictable; a café is the sort of place you can go and order food without having to look at the menu. Every café has the same thing as every other café.

But sometimes that's the thing you want. When you are soaked to the skin and numb from cold, the opportunity to shovel down a plate of fried egg, bacon, fried bread, mushrooms, hash browns and sausage is exactly what you want. Especially when it's washed down with a big pot of hot tea.

Tea makes everything better, y'all. And soon I was starting to feel cheerful. I had a chat with the two Brummies who owned the Triumphs parked outside (why is it that so many bikers I meet are from the Midlands?), then another chat with a fella who wanted to tell me about how much he loved his Honda Pan European, and finally felt ready to get back on the road. I dug a pair of dry gloves from my tank bag and set out.

I got lost trying to find the A483, passing the café again three times before finally finding my way. Roads in the UK are utterly confusing. Firstly, they are not marked very well at all, but also they make no sort of logical sense. For instance, in the United States all odd-numbered highways and interstates run north-south (i.e., I-35) and all even-numbered highways and interstates run east-west (i.e., I-94). Logical, see? In America, roads are there to help you get places. In Wales they seem to exist just because someone had a spare bit of asphalt and a free afternoon.

Additionally, the roads twist and meander with no seemingly obvious purpose. I imagine that the laying of most Welsh roads went like this:

Rhodri: "Right. I reckon I wan' to do me a bit o' road buildin' today."
Gavin: "Oh, thass a good idea, Rhod. Where to you wan' it to go, like?"
Rhodri: "Good question, Gav. I don' know, to be honest. But there we are, see. Less jus' get started and see where we end up."
Gavin: "Tidy. Oh, now. There's a sheep up by here. You wan' me to move 'im out the way?"
Rhodri: "No worries, Gav. He's not hurtin' nobody. We'll just have the road go roun' him."
Gavin: "Good idea, Rhod. Oh, now. He's moved again, now, 'asn't he? What ya reckon? Turn the road the other way?"
Rhodri: "That's juss the stuff, Gav. Lovely bit of road, this. Don' wan' things too straight anyway. Just fall asleep, innit?"

Sometimes Britain's OK.
Though, as I hit Beulah and made my way up the B4358 I started to think that perhaps I am so spoiled by the roads of Wales as to be unappreciative. In the United States, people will travel for miles and miles and miles to ride certain famous winding roads. They will give these roads names like "The Serpent" and "The Dragon." In Wales we have roads like that, too. But here we call them: "Every road in Wales."

For example, on a section of the B4518 I decided to count how many seconds between curves; I never counted higher than 12. After about 10 minutes I got bored of counting and focused instead on my riding, the machine and I flowing through the countryside. Hairpins, S turns, long sweeps, zig-zags –– the whole country is like that.

At a picnic spot I stopped to rest and eat a chocolate bar. I took out my earplugs and listened to the quiet all around me. That's what I miss by living in such a densely populated area. In Penarth there is never a point when I do not hear cars and buses and motorcycles and people shouting in the street –– and we live in a "quiet" village.

The rain had stopped by now and a bit of sun was peaking through the heavy cloud. I lay out on a picnic table and closed my eyes, listening to the birds and the wind, and felt a melancholy content. I wished Jenn were there with me, though I suspect that she would not have been so willing to ride around in wet gear. She enjoys being on the motorcycle and is delighted by the additional freedom of movement it offers us, but motorcycling is not a thing for her. She's not obsessed.

That said, I am almost certainly selling her short. Bicycling is a thing for her. She will get on her bike and trudge out in the most miserable weather imaginable –– torrential rain, gale-force winds, snow –– because the act of being on the bicycle is cathartic to her. So, I know she can understand the content, the zen, that one can find in the act of being on a motorcycle. And perhaps, in fact, she might feel that, too. Maybe she would have been equally happy to lie on that picnic table next to me, listening to the empty soundtrack of Mid Wales. I would have liked for her to be.

Stopped near Afon Gwyddon.
Eventually I got a chill and decided I needed to get moving. I was tired and wet and cold but didn't have too much further to go. Putting on my gear, I looked at the fresh scratches on Aliona's fairing and apologised. But, hey, as Poi Dog Pondering say: wear with pride the scars on your skin. (Though I may try to find a cool Minnesota Twins decal that would cover them up.)

The village of Pennant was just as small as I had expected: just a tiny collection of houses tucked onto a tiny nameless lane in the tiny middle of nowhere. Being a postman in these parts must have been infuriating in the days before they implemented the postcode system. Whereas Benjamin Franklin established ZIP codes in the United States in the 1780s, their British equivalents weren't implemented until the late 1950s.

Staying at the B&B felt like stepping back in time even further. When I arrived, I was given a fresh pot of tea and some biscuits.

For a tiny moment I felt annoyed about the parking situation because the whole reason I had searched for a place via Bike Stay was to have a good, safe place to put my bike. I was offered a spot on the gravel driveway, which didn't really feel adequate. Gravel, yo. I've had bad experiences parking on that stuff. But, in truth, parking on the street was fine. This was not a street by any sort of American definition and I knew traffic would be minimal. As it turned out I counted just four cars going past during my entire stay. Additionally, I was able to park the bike directly beneath my bedroom window. The only attention it ever received was from a tabby cat who took a liking to the engine's warmth.

I showered and changed into dry clothes, then sat and read until I was called to dinner. This is what I mean by stepping back in time: the whole dinner experience.

Firstly, B&Bs typically do not serve an evening meal. I can't remember ever having stayed in one that did. Usually, breakfast is the only thing offered (it's in the name, ol' boy) and it's up to you to figure out everything else. I've stayed at pubs, where, of course, all meals can be had in the same building. But the difference there is that in a pub one is offered a menu. You choose what you'll be having for dinner. Not so at the Old School House Bed and Breakfast in Pennant. There, dinner is just whatever the husband and wife owners are having.

The hustle and bustle of Pennant, Wales.
"I'm making lasagna," my host, Karen, had told me. "Should be ready about half seven. Do you want to eat in the dining room? Or you're quite welcome to eat with us in the kitchen. That's what David always does."

David was the other guest. A Birmingham-based butcher who travels to local street markets selling meat from his truck (Meat from the back of a truck! What could go wrong?), he stays at the B&B every Tuesday. At dinner we all sat around a small table, sharing spaghetti bolognese (Karen had changed the menu slightly at the last minute) and garlic bread, chatting about current events and sharing gossip about the locals. See what I mean about stepping back in time? I felt like a traveller in the 1600s, visiting Wales in a time before anyone thought visiting Wales might be a good idea –– a time before hotels –– in which one would have simply shown up at the door of a farmhouse and relied upon the resident family's good hospitality.

Though, in that faraway time I likely would have had to share a bed with David. He looked a cuddly enough chap, but I'm glad we had our separate rooms. After dinner I read for a bit more and retired to my bedroom by 10 p.m. I was exhausted. Outside my window it was so pitch dark I couldn't see my bike just a few feet away. I couldn't see anything else, either. It was dark enough that I left my curtains open, my window cracked slightly to allow me to hear a nearby creek and the call of an owl.

Breakfast in the morning was of the hearty English variety, and after a shower I was on my way by 8:30 a.m. It was drier this morning, but cooler. I wrapped up in a sweater beneath my jacket, zipped in the lining to my Adventure trousers (every time I say "Adventure trousers" it amuses me), and slipped on my thickest pair of wool socks.

Down the curving and undulating A483 in the crisp autumn air, and I was happy. I have now ridden in all four seasons (well, their British versions, at least) and I think autumn is my favourite. You feel alive –– electric. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and ride a motorcycle as a teenager; the number of girls I could have wooed with rides through the Minnesota Octobers would have been astronomical.

Most roads in Mid Wales are incredibly narrow.
If I had pined for Jenn's company in the wet, I pined for it even more now as the bike and I waltzed south in the autumnal cool. I wanted to reach back and squeeze her thigh, feel her wrapping her arms around me. But perhaps if she had been there I would have been more nervous, less willing to lean into the curves. As it was, I had one of the most enjoyable rides I can remember.

My only complaint came in the quality of my gloves. They weren't warm enough. That was surprising because they are the gloves I had worn last winter. But on reflection, it occurs to me that: A) I was wearing them whilst training, and therefore my brain was so focused on learning stuff that I wasn't paying as much attention to my personal comfort; B) Actually, I can remember that my hands would sometimes hurt for a whole week after a day of training; C) During that period I very rarely rode at highway speeds and certainly not for long spaces.

By the time I got to Pont ar Daf, south of Brecon, I had made a solemn promise to myself that the addition of heated grips would be a priority. As well as the purchase of some better gloves.

I stopped at a roadside café (the British term for "food truck") for a cup of tea in the shadow of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, southern Britain's highest peaks, and tucked my gloves into my jacket to try to warm them. The fella in the truck and I had a conversation about the value of heated grips and he gave me another tea for half price.

I had just another 45 miles to go, so took a deep breath and hopped back on the A470. Down the Taff Valley, ever faster toward Cardiff until I was flying along at 85 mph (b) toward home. It was a good trip, and although I was originally a little annoyed that it would be short I think it was a good length for my first proper road trip. I got to have some fun, and learn a few things that will come in handy for future trips. Most of all, I got to reconfirm my love of motorcycling. I got to remind myself that all the frustration involved in getting me to this point was worth it.

My apologies for such a long post. Primarily it's a post for myself, I suppose –– something for me to look back on in the years and journeys to come.

This sort of thing is why I moved to Wales.

Enjoying the tranquillity of Mid Wales

Centuries-old bridge in Builth Wells


(a) This post was long enough, so I didn't want to get into it. But, what the hell? How can you be an official dealership for a motorcycle you don't have in stock?

(b) As always, law enforcement officials should note that this is a lie, told for the sake of enhancing the narrative. I never speed. I am a good boy.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Los Harlistas

Here's something people may not know about me: I have always wanted to be Latino. A Texican, specifically –– best of both worlds, in my opinion –– but any sort of Latino in a pinch.

It's a strange wish to have, I suppose. I am a white male Protestant of Western European descent, with all the societal privileges that entails. Cops don't hassle me. Despite flunking out of high school (because I was too busy chasing girls), I charmed my way into college. In fairness to me, I am pretty damn awesome; so, many of the positives I've experienced in life are very much my own doing. But I realise that, at the very least, my skin colour/heritage has never hindered me. Whereas I am fully aware that being Latino can earn a person a tremendous amount of unwarranted abuse from certain people with my ethnic background.

But still, for as long as I can remember, I've thought Latinos were cool and wished I could claim such heritage.

I grew up in Texas, of course, where the Latino and Gringo cultures blur so much as to make it sometimes difficult to tell which is which. Indeed, in certain parts of Texas, such as Brownsville, news stations won't bother translating into English if they interview a Spanish speaker.

As a kid, the catch-all term for Latinos was "Mexican." In my mind there were only three places on Earth: Texas, Mexico and everywhere else. Texas, of course, was the best; Mexico was where all the good food, pretty girls and bad-ass dudes came from; and everywhere else was the sad, miserable domain of the unfortunate and damned.

But as I say, I loved the "Mexicans." I wanted to be one. For the kid version of me, part of the appeal was the flamboyance that is often a part of Latino culture. Whether you're talking about baile folklórico or lowrider culture or the Tejano dudes with their shining cowboy boots and immaculately pressed shirts, I was drawn to the sort of colourful self-assuredness that is inherent in such things.

As I got a little older I found I was drawn to that confidence in other ways: the girls knew they were gorgeous; the boys never backed down from a fight. In Houston all the Latino kids I knew (and I knew a lot –– I went to Welch Middle School, where whites make up just 2 percent of the student body) were fluent in both English and Spanish, and could spin beautiful verbal circles around you. The Latino kids found it impossible to bully me because I so enjoyed their taunts.

Eventually my family moved out of Texas, I got older, and my picture of Latinos broadened. I still love that element of beautiful arrogance, which I now know extends from Spain. But I love, too, the strong family bonds that so often run through the culture. I admire the acceptance of emotion. Standing on the outside, it seems to me that Latino men can be tougher than anything if they want, but they are also willing to show deep emotion –– passion, sadness, love, etc.

I'm digressing. I could go on and on, evermore exposing my embarrassing "whiteness." But the point is this: As far as I'm concerned Latinos = Awesome. And I tell you this to explain why I was willing to sit through a documentary that I was certain would be little more than an hour and a half advertisement for Harley-Davidson. Because it is about Latinos who ride Harley-Davidsons.

The film (see video above) is about Harlistas, a made-up concept to describe Latino riders of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It follows four Latino families as they take road trips in different parts of the United States: Four brothers; Two brothers, a mother and a wife; a father and son; a step-father and step-son.

Yeah, there is a cheesy underlying theme that certain loud, expensive motorcycles of an American variety have the ability to heal fractured families, and there are one or two scenes that are just beyond silly (two words: Indian dance), but I found the whole thing to be surprisingly touching. Seriously, I got teary-eyed several times.

The product placement is obvious, but within there are touching stories of family and the human spirit. I recommend it. Although, expect to find yourself at the end of it thinking: "Right. My brother and I need to get some Harleys and ride to Denver..."

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A whole mess of wrong

Just before it all went wrong.
By now you will almost certainly have seen The Video. You know the one I'm talking about: the video in which an altercation between a large group of bikers and the driver of a Range Rover leads to a high-speed chase and a fair bit of violence.

If you've somehow managed to miss it, here's what I'm talking about.

Like everyone, I have my own opinion on the whole thing and because we live in a world where it is so obnoxiously easy for me to share my opinion, I'll do so here. Before that, though, I want to make a few points about other comments and opinions I've seen:
  • The bikers involved in the whole brouhaha were from all over the country. While there may have been gang members in attendance (a), they cannot collectively be described as a gang or a club or any other such thing that implies collusion. They were there to take part in a loosely organised mass event.
    • In principle there's nothing wrong with a loosely organised mass event. Many of the people I see on forums who are now waving their flags of indignation were fully supportive of the also-loosely-organised 2 Million 100,000 Bikers to DC ride in September.
  • There's a whole lot of cock swinging taking place in forums and comments sections and discussion groups, with way too many people making statements along the lines of: "This wouldn't happen in my state, where we're allowed to carry concealed weapons." Uhm, OK, let's play out that scenario: What if firearms had been involved here? Are we really going to assume that only the "good guy" would have one? Indeed, are we really so naive as to think that none of the bikers on that day were armed? What's the likely outcome of one person engaging in a firefight against several people who have the one person surrounded? If the vehicle were to have been fired upon by 30-80 individuals, what do you suppose would have been the odds of survival for the much-exalted wife and 2-year-old child that were also in the car?
  • The cock swinging continues with many commenters claiming things like: "If it had been me, I would have taken out at least a dozen of those thugs." Really? Really? If so, you need to be removed from society, because you are a sociopath. It's one thing to harm a person whilst in defense of yourself, it is an entirely different thing to interpret a negative situation as a fantastic opportunity to wilfully maim and/or kill several other human beings.
    • Let's imagine, for instance, the driver targeting several more bikers, including the video's cameraman. What, in truth, has the cameraman done apart from violate traffic laws and be a general nuisance? Your outrageous suggestions of shooting or vehicular homicide are punishments that do not fit the cameraman's crime.  
  • There's additionally a certain amount of racism surfacing in comments and forums. It starts in the form of NIMBY-ist statements such as, "This wouldn't happen where I'm from," but quickly expands to make assumptions about where these bikers are from. Thanks to the fact that a fair few of them are safety-gear averse, one can see the colour of their skin. And on this evidence words like "barrio," "ghetto" and "hood" are thrown around. I see frequent use of the word "animal" in people's comments and I suspect its use is not always metaphorical.
But let's not pretend there was no bad behaviour taking place. There is ample video evidence to support the claim that the motorcyclists involved in the incident had been riding very poorly for quite some time, using their mass presence to disrupt traffic and ignore basic traffic rules such as, "Drive on the right side of the road," and "Don't drive on the sidewalk."

It was bad behaviour of the same ilk that earns people like JakeTheGardenSnake 86,000 subscribers on YouTube (of which I am one). But, you know, it's funny and mischievous when Jake does it because he's white. When blacks and Latinos do it, they are "animal thugs."

So, let's put that bad behaviour into perspective. Up until things went horribly wrong it was basically annoying-ass hooliganism on a large scale. I am using "hooligan" in the playful American sense here, rather than the more sinister British sense. It was a big group of people behaving badly because they could, more or less the way you might choose to try to climb a lamppost on Bourbon Street or splash around in a city fountain or flash your boobs in public or any number of other things that you know full well aren't really law-abiding and proper. There is more than an hour of footage leading up to the incident that shows this behaviour. But I think it's worth noting that you do not see any damage to property and no one is being particularly threatening, unless you are threatened by the sight of minorities.

Are they being jerks? Yes. Are they a terrifying criminal element? Not so much. In fact, note that often in the videos mentioned above bystanders will be cheering at the bikers as they pass.

Think about that last truth: the power of the group. Surely you will at some point have experienced the excitement of being in a crowd. Off the top of my head I can think of the euphoria I felt when in high school, watching our ice hockey team win the state championship. My friends and I and the thousands of others in the now-defunct St. Paul Civic Center screamed at the top of our lungs to will our team to victory in overtime. We gave everything and we felt that we were as much a part of it as the boys on the ice. It was intoxicating and wonderful -- that sense of being part of something larger. 

Or, on a much more relaxed scale, there is the happy ego boost that comes from seeing people clap and cheer when I take part in a marathon; it makes me feel special and important. The people who clap at marathons are not clapping for me, Chris Cope, but for all of the runners, for the collective. There is joy in being part of that.

And that is why most of the bikers were there that day. They weren't there to cause real trouble, but to delight in the empowerment that comes from being in a group so big it can ignore traffic laws.

Sometimes that feeling can give an individual a little too much swagger, which is, I think, the starting point of the incident everyone in the motorcycling world is talking about. A lot of comments I've seen try to guess at what might have happened in the moments immediately before the camera was switched on; perhaps there was an altercation we did not see. I don't think so. With the rider having recorded so much video that day -- and all the rest of it beginning and ending with no particular reason -- I'm assuming the video's start time is just coincidence, rather than the camera having been clicked on in response to something.

At the very beginning of the video, you see the cameraman checking himself in a side mirror to make sure his camera light is on, but immediately thereafter there is no indication from his positioning or posture that the Range Rover is of particular interest to him. Video from the hours previous shows the riders have been swarming cars like this all day without incident. In all past instances, the driver has slowed to a stop and the bikers have ridden on.

It's here that I take the unpopular view that the Range Rover's driver may not be entirely innocent in the incident's beginning. Notice that all the other riders are positioning to move past the Range Rover. They don't care about it. But then one rider, wearing a back protector and a white helmet, does a double take. He's spotted something the driver has done. Perhaps the driver has made a face or extended the finger or some other minor infraction. But it is enough that the cyclist chooses to move in front of the Range Rover.

It's here that the pissing match begins. Looking back at the driver the whole time, the biker slows, basically asserting his dominance. The Range Rover, however, does not slow. I think this is because The SUV's driver is caught up in the immediacy of the situation and narrowly focused on the individual rather than the group. Whereas the biker is effectively communicating, "WE are in control because WE are bigger than you," the driver is asserting "I won't obey YOU because I am bigger than YOU."

We've all been there. We've all been in that situation where someone is being a dick and we don't want to back down. My feeling is that the driver here misread the stand-off as an individual one and felt that because he was behind the wheel of a massive SUV and his opponent astride a motorcycle, he was the clear winner and he was not going to back down.

The battle of wills results in a love tap on the motorcycle (not enough to knock the rider off) and suddenly the whole thing goes terribly, terribly wrong. For the next several minutes, many people will make many bad decisions.

For a second, let's step out of the worlds of that motorcyclist and that driver -- named by police as Christopher Cruz and Alexian Lien, respectively -- and think about the surrounding situation. Imagine you're one of the other bikers. Right up to the point that the SUV came to a stop, you were having fun owning the freeway and being part of this great big awesome thing. Now, suddenly, another biker -- a fellow biker, a "brother" -- is stopped and saying he has been hit by a guy in an expensive vehicle. Maybe you know Cruz, maybe you don't, what's your reaction going to be? Whose side are you going to be on?

I know whose side I'd be on by default: the motorcyclist. Knowing no details of the incident, I'd almost certainly, instinctively, support the person who was part of "my" group. I know I would do this, because I have before. I once saw a bicyclist yelling at a driver at an intersection while I was bicycling; without having seen what caused the yelling, whose side do you think I rushed to? In my situation there was no violence, but if the other cyclist had punched the driver, would I have stopped him? Probably not. If the other cyclist had produced a D lock and started smashing the car, would I have protested? Probably not.

So, my guess is that Cruz, particularly emboldened by the power of being in a group, chose to respond very badly. Though, I'll admit -- with embarrassment -- that I have hit a car before in anger when on my motorcycle. And I was by myself. If you're a motorcyclist, you probably have, too. Or maybe you really wanted to. In a group as large as Cruz's you might not have restrained yourself.

In a group as large as Cruz's, a person might feel the "right" to share in Cruz's anger at being hit and that person might choose to display their anger in kind. According to news reports, the motorcyclists at this point used their helmets to damage Lien's SUV and someone slashed one of his tires.

I'm not sure about the accuracy of those news reports, though. Watch the video and look at the posture of people standing in the vicinity of the SUV. They're just standing there, not moving in on the vehicle, but observing. Additionally, I don't see people waving helmets in the air and using them to damage the vehicle. After watching over and over again, I see one person, Cruz, kick the SUV and then try to open its door. There's no doubt he's angry, but he seems to be the only one.

I can fully understand Lien's terror at this point, but whether it was just Cruz or several bikers, Lien's response to the situation is not acceptable. The correct response is to have screamed, "I'm sorry. I fucked up," over and over until the people attacking your car feel vindicated. You let them get back on their bikes, swearing a storm at you, and they ride off. Then you call the police, you call the insurance company for damages to your SUV, and you go home to tell everyone that motorcyclists are dickheads.

What you don't do is attempt vehicular manslaughter and flee the scene of an accident. You don't drive your vehicle over human beings.

Let's stress that point again, friends: Do not drive your vehicle over people. It's wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Driving over people is wrong. Always. That is a truth that stands independent of situation: It is wrong to launch your car at human beings.

Personally, I would guess that the slashed tires that Lien experienced were actually the result of his driving over motorcycles rather than knives produced and used within the 12 seconds during which the bikers and SUV were stopped.

Thereafter, it is wrong that the bikers choose to chase after Lien en masse rather than contact police. It is wrong that Lien hits another motorcyclist. And it is wrong that when the group finally catches up to Lien they beat the hell out of him in front of his family.

In my opinion, two people are to blame for all this: Cruz and Lien. Both should be arrested. Both should be charged with criminal acts. So far that has only happened to Cruz. If overall public opinion is going to let Lien go, portraying him as some sort fatherly hero for paralysing someone other than the person who was attacking his car (b), then maybe he deserved the beating he got.

That is, he deserves the beating for hitting several motorcyclists and fleeing the scene. In terms of the initial confrontation between himself and Cruz, it never should have been anything more than an exchange of profanities.

The potential fallout of all this is what unnerves me, however. What happens now? As a motorcyclist, I can't help but be concerned that some people will look at this mess and interpret it to mean that the correct way to deal with a threat is to run it over and speed away. 

I can quite easily imagine a scenario in which an old couple is next summer driving their land yacht to see Mt. Rushmore. Proud, God-fearing Americans, they are eager to pay homage to the great men whose ideas and bravery shaped their wonderful country. Having lived in the East Coast all their lives, however, they've never heard of Sturgis, South Dakota, nor do they know its significance. Now, suddenly, out in the middle of nowhere, they find themselves surrounded by dozens of ruffians in leather jackets astride huge rumbling machines. "Oh, Harriet, this is just like what happened in Manhattan last year! But now they're after us! There's only one answer: Swerve wildly! Hit as many as you can! Then punch the accelerator and don't look back!"

That's a comic scenario, but it's a serious concern. I have had a person swerve his car dangerously close to my bike and when confronted he irrationally explained that he had done so because "my kind" were always zipping in and out of traffic (remember that filtering is legal in the UK -- this man just didn't know it). He was angry at someone else for a perceived wrong and chose to take it out on me. What if he had felt the law would have let him get away with running me over?

We can criticise the bikers who chose to take part in the Hollywood Stuntz event. We should condemn Christopher Cruz for instigating such a ridiculous and tragic incident. But we should also make it clear that Lien's actions were not acceptable. He responded to a wrong with an even greater wrong. And even his 2-year-old probably knows what two wrongs don't make.

(a) I feel the need to call myself out here because I'm making an assertion for which there is no particularly solid evidence. I don't know anything about gangs in the New York City area. Indeed, I am so removed from that culture I would not be able to identify a single gang member from any single part of the world. If I'm going to complain about people's racism in their response to all this, I should be equally critical of my assumption that a person is a gang member simply because he's riding a quad bike in an urban area. This is an assumption based solely on the film 12 O'Clock Boys.

(b) According to some news reports Edwin Mieses was paralysed when Lien ran him over. In order for him to be in the vehicle's path he obviously could not have been the person banging on the door. Based on pictures I've seen of him online, I'm assuming him to be the person riding a green Ninja, wearing a purple shirt and a black open-face helmet. In the video, you can see that he parks his bike several feet from the SUV then walks toward it. His gait is not hurried or threatening, nor is he gesturing in any way. Shortly thereafter, the SUV launches forward and drives over him. I can imagine a scenario in which Mieses was walking over to mediate the situation. I'm not saying that happened. There's no way of knowing what he said, but certainly his posture when visible doesn't suggest that in the next 2 seconds he will commit an act that sees him deserving of being run over.