Mark Graham Column - Jul 2005

Unplanned bike/animal interfaces are a threat to us all. Don't let Thumper or Bambi ruin your day

Now that spring is fully sprung, it is my solemn duty to remind myself that as I move swiftly through the realm on my powerful MZ motorcycle there are other beings doing likewise (though not necessarily on powerful utilitarian two-strokes). To wit: all creatures great and small (though not all with glowing colours and tiny wings fashioned by the Mighty Redeemer).

Hitting birds, bees or beasts on a motorcycle is never good. It often results in death or serious injury to one, and sometimes both parties. On a sobering, and tragic (in the true sense of the word) note, let's first remember poor Gene McDonnell who died at the TT in 1986 when he hit a pony on the approach to Ballaugh Bridge. The rescue helicopter had been scrambled to attend to Brian Reid who'd crashed at Ballaugh, and as it landed in the (correct) field to put Reid on board, a pony nearby got spooked and bolted out of its paddock - into the road and onto the track. What could McDonnell do at 150mph? Both he and the pony perished.

There have been less awful encounters between man and beast on the Island. TT oracle Mac McDiarmid told me of an encounter between Dave 'Crasher' Croxford and a pig. Crox was on a Cosworth Norton in 1973 when he met a pig. "I got away from it though," he said. "The Norton had more acceleration." Even the immaculate John Surtees collected a cow at Sarah's Cottage in 1956; the cow was okay, Surtees was okay, but his MV was an udder wreck...

The number of seagulls culled at Phillip Island runs into triple figures and nearly every racer from Jack Findlay (pigeon at Spa) to Barry Sheene (earthworm at Silverstone - and it had him off), Leandro Beccheroni (hare at Silverstone) and John Kocinski (fish at Hockenheim) has experienced some form of unwelcome wildlife interface.

One of the more memorable incidents was 125GP runner Gino Borsoi smacking a cobra in the back of the head at Johore, Malaysia, in 1998. In 1992 Juan Garriga went out for a couple of laps at Shah Alam and, according to his crew chief Trevor Morris, returned in a state of distress, shouting 'Cocodrilo! Cocodrilo!' "My Spanish wasn't brilliant but he seemed pretty agitated," said Trevor. "We went out to have a look and there was this lizard, a sort of iguana thing - not what you need, but not quite a crocodile."

Deer are a hazard at Austria's A1 Ring, stray dogs a speciality in South America. Both these species will do for you here, too. I happened upon a dog on the A1 some years ago. Me and the R80GS just missed it, a big, lost, messed-up Weimaraner thing. I looked in the mirror just as it exploded into a Citroen BX. I stopped for a cigarette at the next garage and the old boy in the BX hauled in with dead dog debris all over his bumper. Not pretty. "I don't think he could have felt much," he said, with some compassion.

Avoiding unpredictable critters at large on the highway is a bloody lottery. Hit even a small bird on a bike and you'll remember it. TWO's Gordon Ritchie was hit by a bird, "Slap, bang on the heed at aboot 90, a grouse or something, orphaned the chicks and just aboot bloody knocked me oot."

Maybe riding experts have some theories on how to deal with animals on the blacktop, but I'd like to know when any of it plans on straying too far from the 'toads crossing' sign, or 'slow down for horses and livestock'.

As we share this wonderful world with all things bright and beautiful, spare them a thought, afford them some room and give yourself a chance of staying bright and beautiful too.