If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 22 March 2010

Born Again, or Novice?

As anyone who knows me will be completely unsurprised to hear, I have been doing a fair bit of reading-up on the subject of a new bike. And I have come across something that shouldn't concern me, but does concern me. A few posts ago, I gave a list of my probable requirements for a new bike to replace the Pan:
  • Able to cruise at 70-80 mph
  • Comfortable for at least 300 miles in a day
  • Single or twin cylinder
  • No enclosing plastic bodywork
  • No complicated electronics or gimmicks
  • Looks like a real motorbike
  • Sounds like a real motorbike
  • Useable pillion accommodation
  • Room for luggage
  • Character, soul, whatever you like to call it.
Now, a lot of the bikes that fulfil that particular set of demands (the Harley Sportster and the Triumph Bonneville are the most obvious) are regarded in the bike press as one of two things: either a 'first big bike' for someone who has recently passed their Direct Access, or a suitable steed for a 'Born Again' biker, i.e. someone who last rode twenty years ago, and has now decided to get on two wheels again, now that the kids are bigger. They are described as 'easy to manage' and 'unthreatening'. They may well be, but I don't want to hear it.

(The 'Born Agains', by the way, are the participants in the vast majority of fatal bike accidents, especially the ones that baffle the Police, where no other vehicles were involved. These guys last rode when quick bikes had 60 bhp, and 90 bhp could win a Grand Prix. Today, for under ten grand, they can buy a bike with 170 bhp and ride it straight from the dealer's showroom to mid-Wales and into a stone wall.)

Now, I passed my test in 1972, and apart from a couple of bikeless periods where other things took precedence, I have been riding ever since. In no way am I a recent convert, or someone who needed to be Born Again because he folded at the first slice of wedding cake. But if I ride one of these bikes, people will think I am a noob!



  1. I don't know what it's called in the U.K. but it's called the kawasaki versys here in the States. I have not the chance to ride one, but all I hear are good reviews. Could be right up your alley.

  2. There's a perfect bike for you - a BMW R1100/1150/1200R.

  3. @Gymi - we have the Versys here, and a friend has one. He's very impressed with it. The styling is a bit too modern for me, and there is no Kawasaki dealer for miles around, so I hadn't considered it, but I will have a further look. Thanks.

    @Nikos - I hadn't considered a Beemer, either, but you could be right. Another one to add to the 'possibles' list. Cheers.

  4. Procrastination is the key to flexibility. You should not be setting test rides so close together. They should be strung out over a gentlemanly period. This will prolong that nice feeling of anticipation and allow other suggestions and temptations to come into play and prolong the wooing still further.

  5. Heh - it's a bit like speed dating at the moment. Let's hope I don't pick up anything nasty. I have a test ride of a Bonnie today. My expectations aren't high, but if it feels good I might come to some deal with the chap. If not, the Pan is going on eBay and the search widens ...

  6. My barber (?!)complained about the Bonnie saying that it was not possible to grip the tank with his legs...he subsequently bought a Ducati Monster and rides a (proper0 Harley too. Great place Knutsford to get your hair cut and talk bikes!

  7. You have a barber? Reeespect! He's right, though - the Bonnie is quite a small bike, and I am not a small fellow. We shall see on the test ride, which I am going to have when the rain has stopped. A Monster would be a distinct possibility if one came up at the right price.

    I shall visit Knutsford forthwith.

  8. Love to know where your idea that BAB's are responsible for the majority of SVA's came from. The data that is collected by the police (on the Sats 19) doesn't have a space to remark on that at all.

    However the most common component of SVA incidents does appear to involve sports bikes, adult males and warm weekends though.

  9. North Yorkshire police Collision Investigation Unit study in (I think) 2007. Majority of riders involved in fatal bike SVAs were male, 30-49, and either recent Direct Access or returnees after >10 years off. Around 70% (again, from memory) of the incidents were either failure to take a bend or misjudged overtake. And one in the eye for the 'speed kills' brigade: almost all riders were travelling within the posted limit.

  10. respect indeed...I have my beard trimmed there!

  11. As they say round here: there's posh now! I'm afraid a home trimmer and a pair of good scissors have done me for several years now, both beard and whatever is left on the top.

  12. Versys, yes - we like the Versys. A lot. Wouldn't recommend it as fully user-serviceable, tho' - like all modern bikes, it's got enough onboard electronics to keep mechanics in business. Great little workhorse, though, and a lot of fun to chuck around.

    What about a TDM? Pre-2k are still carbed: quirky styling rather than ultra-modern and also a lot of fun. In fact, if you want one, you'd be welcome to the tricked-up one in my garage - no charge, but it does need a new engine (or at least a serious strip down and replacement of all the bits that exploded)!

    Honda Transalp might fit the bill (Africa Twin'd look better but most normal people struggle with the 8'2" seat height). I'm not a great fan of BMWs but they do sound like they'd fit the criteria - actually, I almost bought an F650 instead of the Versys (largely because it was big and military-looking, with ally box luggage thrown in). Maybe even a Suzuki Freewind, which was rather thrown in head to head with both of the above?

    Of the ones previously posted, I love the looks of the Guzzi V7: that'd be my pick of 'em.

    And there's always the option of randomly trying anything outside the requirements list, just in case - after all, it's a bike. There's not always logic to be found in the decision to buy it (KTM, perhaps...)!

  13. I had a number of trailbikes on the list (XT660R and Tenere, and also Africa Twin, Dominator and Transalp) but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I would then have two trailbikes, and would logically have to get rid of the XT. And that ain't gonna happen! I think the Versys and TDM take themselves off the list because they lack - I dunno - character? Individuality? History? Nothing wrong with either bike, but it would be a decision from utility, not from desire. And I have a car for utility.

  14. I'd be really interested in reading how the North Yorkshire police Collision Investigation Unit discovered the history of the riders for their report and how many riders were studied for their research - do you know of a link to it?

  15. OK, I've actually looked it up :)

    Research was by PCs Steve Kirkbright and Pete Mason of North Yorkshire Police's Collision Investigation Unit and North Yorkshire BikeSafe. You're right, it is anecdotal: "While the statistics don't reveal the experience level of these riders, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are a mixture of returnees and those who've recently completed Direct Access."

    Anecdotal isn't data, but these two are Police motorcyclists and I would tend to think their speculation would be correct. The article was in RiDE magazine (GB) of Spring 2008.

  16. The trouble is you are using the opinion of some copper, transcribed by a journalist (and potentially subbed by an editor) to justify a stereotype that has never really been identified outside the bike press.

    This BAB/returnee label is an entirely made up construct. To be able to accurately label someone like this we would need to know what length of time an individual would need to ride before 'giving up', and the length of time without riding that the ex-rider would need to have and also define how long would that rider need to ride after 'returning' before being considered 'experienced' again.

    I suspect the vast majority - if not all - incidents on North Yorkshire roads are from inexperienced riders (and these riders may have had full licences for some time) and are from outside the area and crashing their sportsbikes (that have loud pipes fitted) on warm, dry days.

  17. Your point is taken - the basis for the remarks I made is not firm and reliable data. Accepted. But it does tie in very well with my own experience of the riders, both young and older, of all levels of experience, that I have known. What I wrote above was "The 'Born Agains', by the way, are the participants in the vast majority of fatal bike accidents, especially the ones that baffle the Police, where no other vehicles were involved." I think that is broadly true - SMIDSY incidents and general traffic accidents can happen to all riders, but the baffling ones, where there is no apparent reason, generally seem to happen to inexperienced riders on fast machines. There is, to me, no real mystery about why they happen. "These guys last rode when quick bikes had 60 bhp, and 90 bhp could win a Grand Prix. Today, for under ten grand, they can buy a bike with 170 bhp and ride it straight from the dealer's showroom to mid-Wales and into a stone wall." Your last paragraph suggests that you agree with me here. It seems to me your problem is with the label 'Born Again' or 'returnee', and I agree that this is hard to define accurately. But as a general decsription of the problem, it isn't far off the truth.

  18. It is not 'broadly true' - 'born agains' do not exist in the stastics. They are simply not measurable. If by 'born again' you actually mean unskilled riders - I'd agree. Generally the people who are involved in SVA's are not experienced riders.

    But I don't think your comments about the power of the bike is particularly pertinent and nor do I think the reason for crashing is 'unknown'.

    The speeds people crash at are not (generally) using a fraction of the potential 'power' of the bike - given that you only need around 35hp to do 100mph. The reason for SVA's is (again generally) a loss of control - this is simply due to a lack of experience, a failure to understand the consequences perhaps, and an inability to react correctly when they get into trouble.

    The people who crash are just under-skilled. The trouble in labelling them as 'born agains' means that a lot of real unskilled riders think they are better than they are - because they don't think they fit the pattern.

    (I know I've made a lot of generalisations in this simply because it is simpler - individual incidents you know of may not fit - but I understand that the overall picture of PTW SVA's in the UK is made up of events as suggested by these generalisations.)

  19. 'Born again' = unskilled rider, yes, Crucially, not a recent test-passer, but someone who passed the test when it was laughably easy (as I did), rode for two years, didn't touch a bike for another 20, and then thinks he can get back on, without any training, and handle 100+ horsepower. Many get away with it. Some don't.

    Reason for crashing = 'unknown' because the accident investigators couldn't see an obvious reason for the crash. Failing to take a corner on a dry empty road, and pulling out to overtake 5m from an oncoming vehicle are two examples in the article.

    In summary, I would say that the cause of a lot of these accidents is over-confidence combined with a lack of basic machine handling. Experienced riders, and especially those with years of continuous experience tend to be confident, but not over-confident. Would you agree with that?

  20. Sorry but I think you are still mistaken about what constitutes a 'born again biker' and that they feature in the UK crash data in any way.

    You do seem somewhat confused by the timeline. I, like you, did the round-the-block test (back in '79 in my case) this was superseded by the early '80's by the requirements for the two-part test and it was not until 1989 that the DSA examiner started to follow the student! The 'part 1' test became the CBT as we now know it a year or so later. So I'd suggest the numbers of 'returnees' you think are involved in incidents that have not had any meaningful training is doubtful – of course there will be some – but I don't think that the numbers are that high here in the UK – the 'BAB' effect may well be more prevalent in the USA where training and testing requirements are more lax and is where the acronym is almost certainly derived.

    But we (in the UK) still have no method of identifying those who are 'returning' or are just occasional or low competency riders involved in incidents. My own opinion – from talking to those in the trade, training and involved in road safety - suggests that returnees are not over represented. They are not even overly common riders. I suspect the 'typical' returnee gets a scooter or second-hand mid-sized bike to replace the car on a commute – not straight into a chrome and leather mid-life crisis on wheels.

    Where I do agree with you is that the people crashing are 'novices'. They may have had their licences for years or for only months - but (and very generally again) their skillset is very low. They may think they are even 'advanced' riders – but simply parroting the blue book does not a skilled rider make.

    I don't think I have seen any information that suggests many riders crash due to 'unknown' factors. Not making a corner and failing to judge an overtake are not 'unknown'. You and I may not have made the same mistakes but the cause of the incidents are usually attributable – and the cause is the lack of skill of the rider to avoid getting into a situation they could not get out of.

    A lack of imagination and failure to accurately predict the future is the cause of the vast majority crashes – just to state that 'born agains' are either responsible (or even significant) is grossly mistaken and a way of ignoring the real problem.

  21. A few more questions.

    What bikes do you think 'born agains' actually buy? You say that the new Bonneville is seen as a 'born again' bike (easy to manage, low power) and yet suggest that the crash figures are caused by 'born agains' riding 170mph bikes 'straight from the dealer's showroom to mid-Wales and into a stone wall'....

    How long were your 'couple of bikeless periods where other things took precedence'? Because that makes it look as if you were a born again yourself at least a couple of times.....

    And why does it matter what you think people will think about you on your bike?

  22. Voyager: you're making a big deal out of a casual remark that wasn't even the main point of the original post. I was making a general observation (which I still stand by, as it reflects my own experience), not a detailed analysis supported by verified and peer-reviewed published data. This blog is a pub conversation rather than an academic debate.

    Having said that, I think we are in broad agreement on the relevance of experience and training to accident rates, so if you wish me to withdraw my rather rash remark about 'Born Again Bikers', I hereby do so.

  23. 'Born again' could hardy be a less of a 'casual remark' - it is in the TITLE of this topic and you made a point of explaining what you imagined a 'born again' was.

    And I don't think I did suggest 'training' was a requirement for avoiding incidents. I'm not even sure that outside mastering basic skills and understanding road laws that it is.

    What might be missing from the majority of those involved in SVA type incidents might best be described as the 'right attitude'. And that is always going to be really hard to explain to those that don't get it.

  24. "This blog is a pub conversation rather than an academic debate".

    I agree. (and really like your blog by the way).

  25. Why thank you! Your feedback is very welcome.


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