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The dan­gers of mo­tor­cy­cle safety films

Nasty!” It’s the im­mor­tal word growled by tough-guy ac­tor Ed­ward Judd, as a mus­tard Mor­ris Ma­rina sideswipes a ’60s Honda twin. Judd smacks fist into palm. Ouch.

Judd fronted the 1975 TV safety cam­paign: Think Once, Think Twice,

Think Bike! If watch­ing a Honda rider head­but­ting a Mor­ris weren’t suf­fi­ciently trau­matic, the ac­tor seethed: “A mo­tor­cy­clist is very hard to see. But he’s dead easy to hurt!”

In 1978 the cam­paign had foot­ball’s Jimmy Hill com­men­tate on a Cortina smash­ing a Suzuki GT185. “That car driver will be more care­ful next time,” Hill dead­panned. “But for the mo­tor­cy­clist, there isn’t go­ing to be a next time.” (Ac­tu­ally, the trashed Suzi, reg XKX 770S, did have a ‘next time’ – it re­mained taxed un­til 1985.)

This made painful fam­ily view­ing. Only the fact that my older brother had to­talled three cars be­fore I’d reached 16 stopped mum ban­ning bikes. Back then I didn’t re­alise Think Bike! was fol­low­ing a long, gory tra­di­tion. Death and mu­ti­la­tion are sta­ples of the clas­sic bike-safety film genre. There’s a thin line be­tween sav­ing lives and de­ter­ring any­one from two wheels. Most early films weaved all over it. Thanks to Youtube, you can now cosily watch well-in­ten­tioned old film mak­ers killing bik­ers in myr­iad nasty ways. This also pro­vides hours of clas­sic-spot­ting fun.

Liver­pool dealer Victor Hors­man tried an un­usual sales tack in his ’50s film,

Rode Safely. “Don’t run away with the idea that mo­tor­cy­cling is a dan­ger­ous pas­time,” stresses the voiceover. “There’s noth­ing dan­ger­ous about this [pulls out a re­volver]. Any pos­si­ble dan­ger de­pends on the user. And this [bran­dishes ra­zor blade], is a lethal weapon if you use it that way.” I can’t see Honda go­ing with ‘Safe as a loaded gun’, but Vic un­der­stood bik­ers’ hu­mour. “We’ve staged a few ac­ci­dents, partly to make it more in­ter­est­ing,” says the com­men­ta­tor. Cue trick cin­e­matog­ra­phy of rid­ers thrown over bon­nets and roofs, dust­ing them­selves off and walk­ing away with­out a thought for trauma coun­selling. Char­ac­ter-build­ing, they called it. Bri­tish Pathé made a gem in 1965:

Look, Sig­nal, Ma­noeu­vre, about sen­si­ble Tom on a strait­laced 1964 Match­less 250 and his reck­less friend who tear-ar­ses a 1961 Tri­umph Tiger Cub. Nat­u­rally, the reck­less pal hits a truck head-on. Sen­si­ble Tom gets the girl. While the Cub is lost to his­tory, DVLA records show that Tom’s Match­less was last taxed be­fore 1985 – same as Think Bike!’s GT185. Spooky.

There’s fa­tal-ac­ci­dent fun from the USA, too. Among the best is Not So Easy from ’73, star­ring Peter Fonda and Evel Knievel. Har­ley-mounted Fonda adds more gloom, warn­ing: “If you don’t know what you’re do­ing, this could be a quick ride to the

grave­yard”. Fonda later lost a half-inch of height in surgery af­ter break­ing his back and neck in a bike ac­ci­dent – in 1985. Far more my era are the Ja­panese mak­ers’ at­tempts, such as ’74’s Kawasaki

Be­gin­ning Rider Course – be­cause ev­ery­one should learn on a Z1 or a 400 triple. An al­ter­na­tive ti­tle might have been: The quick and the dead.

More cheery is Honda’s ’60s ef­fort, The

In­vis­i­ble Cir­cle – a must for fans of early CBS and pretty girls on step-thrus. It claims that “Mo­tor­cy­cles are about the safest thing on wheels”. Ha. Watch­ing any of th­ese will make you re­flect on your rid­ing. But even more use­ful for me is the late-’70s film, Mur­ray Walker Talks About Wob­ble and Weave

on Mo­tor­bikes, star­ring GT750S, XS1100S, big Zeds, Jo­tas and Beemers ga­lore.

Walker’s high-speed track ex­per­i­ments show ’70s superbikes are far less likely to tankslap when car­ry­ing heav­ier weights. Af­ter re­cently suf­fer­ing a near-lethal weave on my H1, the film’s ad­vice made me re­flect on the fact that I’m only ten­and-a-half stone. The clear mes­sage is that, for my health’s sake, I should eat more pies. Thanks, Mur­ray.

‘Safe as a loaded gun’ wouldn’t make a suit­able pro­mo­tional slo­gan to­day

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