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A valid complaint. 10/4/2005

Late last night, I was raiding the cupboards for something to eat. At something like 3 a.m. I found the remains of a box of cornflakes. Kellogg’s. I refuse to eat anything else. I saw a carton of full cream milk standing on the kitchen counter and fell upon it like a hungry wolf. Full cream milk is a rarity in the castle, with low fat being the bovine beverage of choice. So whenever I see the real deal, it usually doesn’t last very long.

I settled down at the dining table, and in between mouthfuls of cornflakes, decided to fire up the laptop. I did the usual checking of the various forums I frequent, idly surfing away, and going through the links in my sidebar. When I came across this posting from a good friend of mine.

I read it. And I read it again. And was rather upset. He had very obviously been intimidated and bullied by someone riding a large motorcycle. He was coming off a slip road onto the highway, when a ‘convoy’ of bikes, lead by a marshal, wanted to go past. Since he couldn’t give way, he stuck to his lane, and did the correct thing. And these bikers wanted to intimidate him. But he stuck to his guns.

There have been many times, when people find out I ride large and super bikes for a hobby, ask me whether I ride in ‘Convoys’. ‘Convoys’ are a particularly favourite thing for a certain type of biker on local roads. They think that heading down the road, in a long line of motorcycles, is cool. It certainly is impressive, I don’t deny that. The noise and fury of a long line of bikes can be rather spectacular. But it should not be done at the expense of other road users.

I don’t ride in convoys. I did join a couple, but gave up on the whole thing, for several reasons. First thing is that convoys travel at a set speed. This is good when everyone needs to get to a certain place at a certain time. It ain’t no good when you start holding up traffic behind you that’s trying to get past.

Second, convoys usually attract all sorts of riders, with varying degrees of skill, and different types of motorcycle. And riding in close proximity with someone whose degree of control of his motorcycle is unknown to you is frightening and dangerous. You do not know how this person is going to react to any particular road condition, and believe me, the road can throw many surprises at you.

Third, convoys are large, unwieldy things to manage. They take up a huge chunk of road real estate. Any pack of more than 6 riders on the road is going to be a nuisance to everyone else on the road. And themselves. I’ve have ridden for many years, across many thousands of miles, with many different kinds of bikes. And I know what I’m talking about when I say that the ideal size for a group riders on the road is 6 bikes or less. The ideal figure is 3. Anything more than 6 is going to cause problems like lane filtering when you reach the traffic lights, and over taking.

Take this for an example. 4 riders are travelling down a B road, and they come up to a slow moving vehicle up ahead. The average overtaking time for a 750 c.c. motorcycle going past a 44 foot container/trailer with prime mover is in the order of 3 seconds. Thus, all 4 riders can get past this trailer in about 15 seconds. Not a lot of time is it? Very fast you think? Wrong. 15 seconds at 100 km/h translates to 416 meters of road. You try finding a stretch of B road about 500 meters long that’s clear enough in the oncoming direction to allow the entire group of 4 to get past.

Now multiply that by the number of bikes in a typical convoy, and you begin to see the problem. About this time last year, someone organised “The largest convoy in the country”, ostensibly to get into the self serving, completely useless local book of records. I was asked if I was going for it, and I replied that I had better ways of committing suicide. A thousand some bikes, all heading for a specific place, at the same time. The traffic logistics would have been a fucking nightmare. Plus various bikes, of various capacities. All congregating at one point on the map. Not my cup of tea.

And so, to actually make a convoy manageable, they use marshals. I’ve attended marshal training. I’ve marshalled convoys. Many times, in the group I ride with, I’ve been designated the Ride Master. And the one thing I’ve always emphasised to marshals is that we are not Police outriders. We have no authority over other road users. None. Our job is to ensure the safety of the riders in the group, not clear the way for the convenience of the convoy. But that doesn’t stop a certain segment of the riding community from thinking that just because they ride a large capacity motorcycle, pay a higher roadtax than most other road users, and wear a reflective vest, they can dictate the rules of the road to others.

The argument about marshalling, and their authority, has been the subject of many a bench racing session and argument in various clubs in the community. I am very much against the idea of organised ‘convoys’. They are dangerous things, both to themselves and other road users. But it looks cool. Because that is how fucking Hollywood portrays bikers. Because that is how some screenwriter who has never ridden a motorcycle before perceives that to be the behaviour of bikers. And this has translated to real life, because everyone wants to be ‘cool’, just like in the movies.