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Top 10 ways bikers annoy the public

Think the world is against us? Sometimes it may have good cause

MOTORCYCLING and the general public haven’t always enjoyed a harmonious relationship. From mods and rockers tearing it up on Brighton seafront to wazzocks on open-piped GSX-R1100 streetfighters shattering Sunday afternoon peace, bikers are often seen as outsiders, rebels, law-breakers. Or just a pain in the arse.

Here's a list of 10 things that bikers do to annoy the public:

10) Riding in groups

In a sort of cumulative expression of all the things that annoy the public about biking, riding in groups is one of the quickest ways to lose friends. Scooters on the A17 on the way to Hunstanton, no problem. But bung a pack of six or more motorcyclists (or Greebos, as the scooter boys call us) on the road at once and they’ll attract fearful, intimidated glances. 

9) Riding off road in loud clothing

Special one for green lane comrades; go off-road on a GS wearing an adventure twat-suit and you’ll get appreciative nods from grannies out trail walking. Go out on a KTM in an orange motocross shirt and they’ll beat you to death with their rubber-tipped walking sticks. Funny old world. 

8) Cunning stunts

Everyone loves a show off? Nope. To most people who’ve never ridden a bike – and quite a few who have – pulling wheelies or getting your knee down looks breathtakingly dangerous and barely controllable. These mere bystanders have no comprehension of the hours and hours of practice you’ve put in to your throttle control, how much you’ve rehearsed the skills, how finely tuned your balance is. It is, isn’t it?

Anyway, if there’s one thing guaranteed to convince even the most rational observer that motorcycles should be banned forthwith, it’s pulling a third gear minger in front of them. Extra kudos for binning it.  

7) The helmet issue

Common dislike, this, not so much among the public but with garage staff. We’ve all been there: stand on forecourt, pick up nozzle and place in tank, voice comes over tannoy: ‘Excuse me number four, can you take your helmet off please? We can’t serve you unless you remove your helmet.’

This gets our backs up. Number one, the tone of voice is usually that shrill, school ma’am, hectoring nag that has just enough edge of excitement in it to suggest the woman behind the microphone is getting off on her moment of power. Number two is the unspoken addendum: ‘Because we want to see your face so the security camera can get a good look at you in case you turn out to be a criminal and do a runner.’ Which is being declared a suspect before the crime has even been committed.

But look at it from their point of view. For a start, they’re jobsworths and even if they think the ruling handed down from above is nonsense, they have to comply and ask you to remove your helmet because... all together... ‘It’s more than my job’s worth.’

And then, think about it. You could be anyone under that £600 Arai. You could be thief. A terrorist. A person of foreign extraction. An alien from the planet Esso. Reveal yourself!

I started this point with the intention of supporting the garage staff and explaining why failing to take off a helmet might annoy them. But you know what? I can’t think of a defence. So sod ’em.

6) Jumping the queue

This a relatively new issue, only taking hold over the last few years. For as long as there have been bikes, we’ve used them to filter. Filtering to the front of a traffic jam on a motorway or filtering to the front of traffic lights in town; it’s what bikes are good at. No-one ever gave it a second thought.

Until, for some reason, the last few years. Something has started to piss punters off about bikes filtering to the front of a queue. Filter to the front at traffic lights and you can feel the irritation behind you building like a tidal wave. Sometimes a car will try to nudge you out of the way, or a van move across to block your path. 

Same thing in a motorway jam; vehicles will close in, box you out. Doesn’t seem to happen on the continent. Only in the UK.

The reason for this sudden indignation is unclear. Maybe people are now so colossally me-too selfish they can’t bear to see someone profit at their loss, even at a minuscule, sub-atomic level. And too ignorant to know that, by filtering, motorcycles shorten their journey times, too. 

5) Maladjusted headlights

Simple one, this. Next time you’re out at night behind a car at a reasonable distance, have a look and see where your dipped headlight beam cuts off relative to the car’s rearview mirror. If it’s below, fine. If it’s above, your presence will be irritating the hell out of the driver because they’ll have the undiluted power of your headlight burning holes in their retinas. And if it’s constantly flickering as you get on and off the gas, or the front goes over bumps, that’s even worse. It’s like having someone with a ship’s lantern sitting in the back seat flashing Morse code into your eyes.

And just imagine how irritating it is for oncoming drivers. 

4) Pre-overtake tailgating

There was a time when overtaking needed a run-up; the manoeuvre started way back, took a bit of planning, built up to speed and swooped past the intended vehicle in a calculated manner. It gave everyone time to recognise what was going on – the overtaker had time to assess the situation, the overtaken had time to see them coming. Traffic was less dense back then, so there were more gaps to go for.

These days we have instant power on tap; even a 600 has the torque to squirt past a car with minimal run-up (When I overtake on a litre bike I often shift up a gear as I pass to keep the noise down. And because I can).

This performance has led to a new phenomenon and negated an old one. In the old days, when bikes hung back, they often found themselves in the car mirror’s blind spot, which was why so many accidents occurred when the car suddenly turned right.

Today, bikes tend to sit much closer before overtaking, usually slap bang in the mirror. So close, in fact, the driver gets an eyeful of wonky headlights (see #5) and starts to feel harassed. It’s why they dive out of our way as bikes approach from behind. It’s not out of politeness, it’s out of irritation. 

3) Speeding though built-up areas

When you’re 17 on a two-stroke 125 or 250, or a scooter, it’s the law you have to bomb around all over the place blithely ignoring speed limits. That’s just the way it is. You’re 17, you can do this stuff.

When you’re in your forties and you’ve got a job, mortgage, pay taxes and presumably contribute in a meaningful way to society, it’s not so clever. You’re not 17, you’re an adult so behave like one. Slow down, shut up and go (quietly) away. 

2) Make drivers jump on overtakes

I’ve ridden bikes on the road since I was 16 – so that’s 30 years. I’ve suffered hearing loss from repeated exposure to high-speed wind-rush. So it takes quite a lot to make me jump, not because I’m hard but because I’m hard of hearing.

Yet there are times when I’m out in the car – family runs to Ikea, that kind of deal – when a bike comes past so close, so fast and so loudly, it scares the bejaysus out of me. And that’s me and my cloth ears. God knows what it does to old grannies and nervous mums.

You can look at this two ways. You can either say well, that bothers me because I’m a human being and everyone likes to think they’re the good guy – maybe I’ll think a bit harder next time I’m out riding around like Meatloaf on a bad day. Or you can say well, who cares, they should have seen me coming, serves them right.

In which case your loud pipe’s not really working, is it? (see #1)

1) Make lots of noise

Loud pipes save lives – if the snoozing fekkers can’t see us, at least they’ll hear us. And who doesn’t appreciate the sound of an internal combustion engine doing its thing anyway? Bikes aren’t noisy, they’re symphonic.

Not how everyone else sees – or, more pointedly – hears it. You might think making a loud noise alerts vehicles in front to your presence, but it doesn’t. The racket from your race pipe mostly travels backwards, so the only people you’re likely to awaken are the ones you’ve already gone past. And they’re not the dead-eyed morons whose attention you wish to draw. Besides, these days, drivers are safely entombed behind a thick layer of toughened glass so chances are they wouldn’t hear your open 4 into 1 even if you parked against their door and pinned it.

And, hard though it is to believe, not everyone wants to hear a race-tuned 998cc DOHC 8v inline four breathing through a titanium 4-2-1 system. I know, mad, isn’t it? Still, people are weird. Some of them buy houses next to race-tracks, then complain about the noise. Can you imagine the titanic levels of narcissistic self-absorption required to lack that degree of empathy? I think, technically, that makes them psychopaths.

Anyway, I digress. Loud pipes really, really piss punters off. Sometimes they need it – we can’t be too civilised. But sometimes you can’t help thinking, just button it off, please. 

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