Reid

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS -

“Imag­ine if all road users drove ev­ery­where with their eyes on stalks, scan­ning for dan­ger”

I’m on the start line of the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed hill­climb. A size­able crowd has gath­ered, bay­ing for speed, wheel­ies and skids from any­one who might oblige. To these on­look­ers, I vaguely re­sem­ble a man who might en­gage in such horse­play, but the re­al­ity is I’m to­tally out of my depth.

My leathers are bor­rowed from a man I met 30 min­utes ear­lier, my boots do­nated by a to­tal stranger, I’m strad­dling a pow­er­ful mo­tor­bike that doesn’t be­long to me, rid­ing on a li­cence I only ac­quired a few days prior.

Flash­ing through my mind are the myr­iad ways in which I’ll fall off, but there’s no bail­ing out. The mar­shal counts me down, I wind the throt­tle open and, as I dump the clutch, the 1200cc BMW R NineT Racer launches off the line like a kicked puppy. I reach the red line, pull the clutch and kick se­cond, third, fourth.

My eyes widen as the world is now hurtling to­wards my face in a way that makes me feel pro­foundly out of con­trol. My poorly se­cured hel­met strap has be­gun flap­ping against my lid in a man­ner that sounds like sus­tained gun­fire, and I’m con­vinced I’m now nudg­ing fif­teen thou­sand miles per hour.

I’m not. In re­al­ity, I’m do­ing just shy of 68mph, but rid­ing a bike will do that to you. It’ll heighten your senses, flood your adrenal glands and make your sense of your own mor­tal­ity more salient.

I can count the num­ber of times I’ve sat on a bike on my fin­gers and toes, but ev­ery ride has been an ed­u­ca­tion. My jour­neys have been ter­ri­fy­ing, thrilling, and each one has mo­ti­vated me to be­come a bet­ter, safer driver. So much so, that I’m now of the opin­ion that tak­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle test should be manda­tory for ev­ery­one.

I say that be­cause most peo­ple get into their cars and switch off. We ad­just the heat­ing, turn the mu­sic up and, in many cases, ac­ti­vate adap­tive cruise con­trol sys­tems that can ac­cel­er­ate, brake and even steer for us. Even when we do take con­trol, the art of driv­ing safely is be­ing eroded by the knowl­edge that cars are now safer than ever. We’re fail­ing to check our blindspots be­cause we feel in­vin­ci­ble. Our cars will warn us if there’s a prob­lem, brake au­to­mat­i­cally and, if we crash, a zil­lion airbags will de­ploy.

On a mo­tor­bike, none of that is an op­tion. You have to be switched on for ev­ery se­cond of ev­ery ride, with a laser-like fo­cus on the bike and your sur­round­ings; there are con­se­quences to ev­ery­thing. Brake too hard into a cor­ner? You’re com­ing off. Drive over a wet man­hole cover? You’re com­ing off. Fail to do your life­saver check? Cer­tain things don’t bear think­ing about.

And those are just the ba­sics. Since pass­ing my test, I’m con­cen­trat­ing more heav­ily on po­si­tion­ing my­self on the road for the best vis­i­bil­ity around bends, look­ing un­der­neath cars up ahead for signs of feet that may walk out onto the road, and look­ing into junc­tions for driv­ers who think giv­ing way is op­tional.

Imag­ine if all road users drove ev­ery­where with their eyes on stalks, scan­ning for dan­ger, look­ing out for each other, be­cause all of our lives de­pend on it. That height­ened aware­ness, an es­sen­tial part of rid­ing a bike, might be the thing that makes us all bet­ter be­hind the wheel. Sure, there are plenty of mo­tor­cy­clists who are douchebags – there will al­ways be peo­ple who take lib­er­ties with their own safety and the safety of others, but they’re a rel­a­tively small mi­nor­ity. And the rest of us might ac­tu­ally learn some­thing.

If all of that sounds dull, just think of me pootling up Good­wood hill, con­vinced I’m rip­ping a new worm­hole in the space­time con­tin­uum. You don’t have to be do­ing a mil­lion miles an hour to be hav­ing fun on a bike. It’s hi­lar­i­ously en­ter­tain­ing even at low speeds.

So, go ahead. Do it. If you want to be­come a bet­ter driver on four wheels, the se­cret may just in­volve em­brac­ing life on two.

“Imag­ine if all road users drove ev­ery­where with their eyes on stalks, scan­ning for dan­ger”

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