by Ian Worral

Ian Worrall has been my companion of many philosophical, artistic and historical conversations. For decades Ian has been my reference as a teacher in riding on/off-road and an unreachable source of experience in the mechanics of two wheels. in the summer of 2009, I was writing a set of articles that I listed under the title “MC Knowledge series”. I a hot afternoon, while tinkering around Ian’s old Triumph Tiger I told him that I wanted to approach biking from the speed angle, he just murmured “Speed, the mistress that you never bring in public”. I immediately begged to put this cameo into writing, and it was initially published in OMM bulletin in June 2009. Be warned: the script, over time, can sound politically incorrect… not only we forgave Bill Clinton, but most of us forgot him…

“Speed is our guilty mistress; there is no reason for legitimate marriage because society has deemed her an unnecessary and risky indulgence, an irresponsible harlot. She will never have dinner on the table at six. She will never impress the parents with the racy cut of her lingerie. But she is certain to thrill.

When stopped by the police, the apprehended speeder’s response is the motorcycling equivalent of “I did not have sex with that woman” or in real terms:  “I had no idea my bike was even capable of 200 KPH officer” or “there’s a speed limit in this country?” and any number of other cunningly conceived if not somewhat disingenuous explanations.

The excuses for wanton unbridled speed are as manifold as motorcyclists themselves, we’ve all been there once, or more likely a 100 times.  I was recently let off a fine by claiming I’d seen the radar car but couldn’t slow down because the idiot car driver behind me was dangerously close.

Did I, a self proclaimed ethical man feel guilty about being economical with the truth, did Bill Clinton? They let me off, Bill is now a peace ambassador, there is no semen stain on his political record and I have no points on my licence. However…he may have kept the dress as a souvenir.

But we know what we have done, even if we are not so clear on why.  My desire for a universal cut and dry justification for excessive speed is thwarted by paradox seasoned with hypocrisy and garnished with double standards. The kind that every good government likes to keep handy for those occasions when doing the right thing needs to address opposite ideals at the same time.

So, why is the speeding bike rider increasingly on a collision course with the state in so many countries?  Is it because I might hurt myself? If so, I accept the risks and it’s my life.  Is it that I may hurt others?  I don’t care; life is cheap – only joking! Okay that’s a trickier conundrum, I promise to close the throttle a bit for those troublesome others, those annoying pram-pushing mothers and octogenarians poised to spring-like lemmings off the edge of the road, into motorcycle front tyre oblivion.

But I’m a competent rider; we all tell ourselves and can take appropriate evasive action. The proof of my ability is in how fast I can ride. A bit like making love for virginity, you may say. Those octogenarians look a bit blurry as I zoom by competently dodging their suicidal onslaught, like a barbiturate fuelled toreador.

We bikers are a demographic group that cherish our freedom, so naturally we chafe at the one- size-fits-all approach of safety legislation. The Government is only concerned with our safety on the road, it’s all for our own good, so we are told. But all this is from the same people who tax us into the next century, send us to foreign lands to kill people we have never met, and bury us alive in bureaucracy.

Even birth and death is certified, recorded and ratified. It’s no surprise we open the gas and try and put some asphalt between us and all that soul eroding nonsense.

We may be forgiven for feeling perplexed by the fast bike vs. the law paradox. Here is a legal retailer selling us the key to our petrol driven freedom. Brightly painted Bristling with carbon and titanium; leaning eagerly forward; pointy at the fast end like a balconette bra and just as inviting. The speedo on this baby reads speed limit: X4. the rev counter features the kind of numbers we would like to see in our bank account  The rider’s posture is forced forward by rear-set footpegs and low slung clip-on, his head is thrust back to help him see the future rushing at him at warp drive velocity. It even looks like it’s going fast when it’s parked by the kerb.

Hmmmmm…comes in handy to take little jimmy to karate I hear you say, a little disingenuously. BUT does a bike like this make you drive fast? It’s not mandatory.  Don’t forget, Bikes have a fast and slow adjustment cunningly disguised as a rubber handle bar grip – look behind the front brake lever – see? So theoretically, it will go as slow as a golf cart but obviously without the white hatted man sporting absurd trousers.

The thrill of speed aside, going extremely swiftly is the universally accepted proof of motorcycling ability, it’s because so many people think so that a few lucky individuals like Rossi can make a half decent living out of doing it, I don’t recall anyone ever saying I’ve had a great season with Repsol wobbling around plastic police cones …mail me at my Lake Como home if you wanna see me do it again.

If one accepts that two wheeler speed is proof of the pudding to others and ourselves. Then the guilty pleasures of our mistress must be indulged as a way to test our skill level …but as with any mistress, judiciously and only when the coast is clear.

Does motorcycle training make you ride faster? Certainly not! does it allow you to ride faster? absolutely! The trained rider that acquires the necessary skills to ride very fast will find more moderate high speeds easier than before because now he can ride safely in the centre of his ability parameters.

Why must we sometimes ride so fast? … its fun obviously… it’s a disciplined meditation the riders determination to avoid the grim reaper on the ring road sharpens and stills the mind like nothing else (ask any war veteran). 

It’s a skilful ballet of the senses performed with metal and horsepower instead of Tchaikovsky.   

It’s an ass kicking testosterone fuelled macho fest where no prisoners are taken……. I could list endless perspectives on this subject taken from popular culture.  

High speed is necessary to biking like cake is to healthy eating…… maybe there is a quantity component more speed = more corners more braking more everything per hour …… the hedonists approach.   

Another equation states: more speed needs excellence to achieve and creativity is born out of excellence. The human spirit soars we write requiems in C minor, invent dental floss and fridge magnets, the Wright Brothers leap off a small hill in south Carolina strapped to some sticks and cloth… Neil Armstrong takes one small step etc.

Clearly we can’t have beaurocrats putting an end to this kind of advancement with rules and radar. Ok so the last one borders on the improbable.  But you get the point.

Am I advocating speed as a way of transcending the humdrum ……excuse me; this is trying to be a responsible piece of journalism so you can think what you like!

As for me, I’m off to see my Mistress – Ciao”