|The Spinnaker Tower, as viewed from Old Portsmouth.|
Last weekend I got a chance to spend a little time in South Downs National Park and the surrounding environs, including my old stomping grounds of Portsmouth — where I attended university in the late 1990s. It was that year in an exchange programme that initiated my love affair with Britain and eventually resulted in my moving back here just shy of a decade later.
I feel inclined now to do a bit of self promotion and point out that I used a number of my experiences from that exchange year in my first novel, The Way Forward, which you can buy for Kindle from both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
But I digress. The point is simply that while I was in that particular part of the world I couldn’t help observing it contained a hell of a lot more motorcyclists than Wales. And it was not just that Southern England appeared to have more riders but also a greater diversity of them. Whereas Wales is the land where Bandits and Fazers come to die, Southern England delivered sights of Moto Guzzis, top-tier Ducatis, the first VMAX motorcycles I’ve ever seen on actual British roads, and a great contingent of Harley-Davidsons, as well as the usual parade of Triumphs and BMW R1200GS machines.
Meanwhile, there were signs of greater acceptance of motorcycles. Cars were quicker to shift over in their lane to give me space when I was filtering and more businesses had motorcycle-specific parking. At Gunwharf Quays, for instance, they had provided not just special motorcycle bays but lockers for helmets and gloves, as well as chains to secure your bike against theft. Oh, and parking for motorcycles was free. It all made me feel like a welcomed and valued customer — not something one necessarily feels in South Wales.
All of this got me to thinking: what makes one area more rider friendly than another? Are there certain factors that lead to an environment that is more conducive, more welcoming to motorcycling? To some extent, these are questions fellow blogger MotoCynic asked himself after a recent visit to New York City. There, he found far more riders than he sees in Los Angeles, despite the latter being theoretically a better place to ride (legal filtering, year-round sun, etc.)
|Rockers were once a common sight on Britain’s South Coast.|
To some extent, motorcycling is just naturally more entrenched in Southern England than in Wales. After all, the South Downs borders the town of Brighton: home to the famous mods and rockers fights of the 1960s. And, of course, ever encroaching on the South Downs’ northern border is the London metropolis: the culture king of the British Isles for roughly a millennium. It seems somewhat logical to think that cultural richness would result in a higher rate of motorcycle ownership. That would certainly back up MotoCynic’s observation of New York City having more riders than Los Angeles (a).
Though, it wouldn’t explain why New Hampshire, Iowa and South Dakota are the top three states for motorcycle ownership in the United States. Nor would it necessarily explain why I encountered so many riders in Hampshire and West Sussex — counties that are well outside of London (b).
Possibly it is another kind of richness that comes into play. The average income in Southern England is considerably higher than in Wales, so perhaps a motorcycle-friendly community is borne of a people with a good deal of disposable income. But, again, that doesn’t seem to fit terribly well with U.S. figures. Los Angelinos are not exactly impoverished compared to New Yorkers, and I can’t think of a great many wealthy South Dakotans. Tom Brokaw and Brock Lesnar, I suppose (c).
(Though, perhaps it is worth noting that in the United States, none of the 10 poorest states are in the list of 10 most motorcycle-owning states)
Similarly, statistics in the UK also don’t seem to back up the “wealth = motorcycles” theory. Yes, four of the top 10 motorcycle-owning postcodes in the UK are in London but three other top postcodes are in far-less-posh Leicestershire (d).
To that end, population density doesn’t seem to have much to do with things, either. I had thought it might, since Southern England has the highest population density in all of Europe. And certainly there are more people crammed in per square mile in New York City than in Los Angeles. But it doesn’t explain South Dakota nor why nearly 1 in 10 people in Southport (in northern England) own a motorcycle.
Generally, the only constant I can find is geography. It would appear that, contrary to what you might think, motorcyclists live in areas that aren’t terribly hilly. There are some exceptions to this rule, too, and clearly it is not the only factor, else Indiana would be the motorcycling capital of the USA.
So, what is it? What makes a city or region motorcycle-friendly? What magical thing or things need to exist to create a true motorcycle-enthusiast scene? Is it just random, inexplicable luck? Or is there something to it? Of the places you’ve been where motorcycles and motorcycling were popular, what were the commonalities? I’d like to know, if not simply to help me choose where to visit.
(a) Los Angeles may be big and may be home to Hollywood but it is nowhere near as culturally rich as New York City.
(b) Distance is always a strange thing in the UK. In actual terms, no part is so very far away from another. But things can feel far away. Perhaps the best way for an outsider to understand this distance is to add a 0 to whatever mileage exists between point A and point B. For example, Cardiff is only 150 miles from London but it feels 1,500 miles away. So, physically the South Downs may be just 50 miles from London’s centre but they feel 500 miles away.
(c) Both of whom were born in Webster, South Dakota — a town of 1,800 people which is also, strangely, home to two different women I have dated.
(d) Possibly there is a connection here in that Leicestershire is home to the headquarters of both Triumph and Norton, as well as two of Britain’s most famous motorcycle race tracks: Donnington Park and Mallory Park.