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