What’s happening to our pastime? A plea from the heart

In the June OBM ‘Pete’s Prattle’ discussed an important matter – the decline of riding numbers. It’s a subject that is on everyone’s lips at present, and clubs, organisers, riders and the press all mention the ever-mounting problem.

If we have too few riders, there can be no events, and that means the eventual atrophy of the old bike movement.

Like all similar problems, there is no single reason but many contributing factors. When the premier club for vintage, veteran and classic bikes, the Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club, reports that one of its main annual events faces being cancelled because of lack of support, and in the same June issue a small club talks about disbanding because of having too few members, it becomes clear that this is a widespread problem – so what is causing this demise?

Once upon a time, motorcyclists couldn’t wait to take part in long-distance rides, even in the middle of winter. A city of tents springs up as visitors make their pitches for 1960s’ a Dragon Rally at Glyn Padarn, North Wales — but conditions weren’t always this inviting. Mortons Archive photo.

These are some of the reasons that I believe are fuelling the decline:

  1. An ever-ageing population of riders.
  2. Too few new enthusiasts coming into the pastime.
  3. The ever-rising cost of
    old machines.
  4. The atrocious and even dangerous state of our roads, especially smaller rural ones.
  5. The less tolerant attitude of other drivers and riders.
  6. The economy in general, including the cost of living and ever-increasing fuel prices.

If we look at each sector separately, there is no doubt that many long-time riders are now ageing at the same rate, and each year for me, riding becomes a little more difficult. Once it seemed no effort to put the bike on its stand, but now I struggle, and other functions get more difficult. I’ve tried to overcome some of these difficulties by buying lighter bikes, and thank heaven for my Triumph Terrier, MV Agusta and Calthorpe 2¼ hp, but this isn’t always an option for everyone.

Few new people are coming into the sport. This has been an increasing worry for some time, and seems to defy all attempts to attract significant numbers.

That takes us on to the ever-increasing cost of bikes. This is driven by supply and demand, and is a double-edged sword. It’s nice to think of the nest egg sitting in the shed, but many riders think twice about taking them out in case they are involved in a pile-up. Even more importantly, younger members think they can’t afford an old bike, but many are still available at quite reasonable prices.

You can have wonderful fun on an old BSA, AJS or one of many Villiers-engined bikes.

The terrible – indeed atrocious and downright dangerous – state of our rural roads is a problem for us all. These are the very roads we prefer to use for our runs. I live in Shropshire, and you take your life in your hands when you ride a girder-fork, rigid rear-end bike. The potholes will bend frame tubes, burst tyres or damage rims.

The attitude of other drivers, and even some motorcycle riders, leave much to be desired. Once, some consideration and a friendly wave was extended, but now it’s more likely to be an aggressive move, a foul-mouthed expletive and a two-fingered gesture.

Finally, there’s the cost of living. There’s a lot less money about than Members of Parliament want to admit to. Food costs go up every week, insurance costs rise exponentially, and as for fuel, that’s just a joke.

I know our bikes aren’t usually too thirsty, but we have to get to events, shows or even just club meetings. As I have pointed out, many of us are pensioners, so our attendances at events have
to be rationed.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to all these problems, but unless we understand the reasons behind the main ones, we have no chance of tackling them. Many are outside our control, but that makes it all the more important to get to grips with those we do have some influence over.

Also, we need joint action including the press, clubs, larger organisations and individuals. Don’t leave it to someone else all the time. If we need to lobby councils or government, put your name to it. If it involves meetings, go to them. Be prepared to write a letter or do your bit in every way possible.

Remember, use it or lose it.

Alan Dignan,
Worthen, Shropshire

Read more Letters, Opinion, News and Views in the July 2018 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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