Motorcycles represent freedom, so why are riders being treated like criminals?

It’s the start of motorcycle season with riders heading out after a winter in lockdown - but it could be a bumpy road ahead for those in the saddle if local authorities have their way, writes Mark Thompson.

A familiar sight: Motorcyclists park their bikes on the road in Matlock Bath in the Peak District in northern England. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A familiar sight: Motorcyclists park their bikes on the road in Matlock Bath in the Peak District in northern England. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The humble motorcycle is the vehicle of freedom, of that there is no doubt. From Easy Rider and The Great Escape to numerous adverts and pop songs, the image of two-wheels hitting the open road has come to symbolise the detachment from the everyday humdrum.

With that in mind, it is perplexing that the very thing these engineering marvels represent is exactly what people continually try to remove from those who ride them.

Council meetings up and down the UK have been filled with talk of curtailing the human rights of riders, measuring the noise they omit so fines can be given and outright banning them from certain areas. It is also frustrating that they are being repeatedly ignored in the discussions around a greener and more sustainable transport future, while cars continue to get bigger and heavier.

Royal approval: Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, rides a motorcycle during a visit to Triumph Motorcycles in Hinckley in central England. (Photo credit should read IAN VOGLER/AFP via Getty Images)

In the North East, Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner has demanded that legislation be brought in for tracker devices to be fitted to ALL motorbikes so their whereabouts and speed can be monitored at all times. It seems that simply owning a motorbike makes you a criminal who should be treated as if they are out on licence from a prison sentence.

While we’re at it, we should add trackers to anyone who goes out on a night just in case they’re involved in a fight, measuring the speed of their hands at all times to make sure they don’t throw a punch. What over-the-top nonsense.

We’re not all pretending to be Valentino Rossi

You may have guessed that I do enjoy putting on a helmet, blipping the throttle and avoiding oblivious car drivers every now and again. It is definitely my escape, as it is for thousands of people up and down the UK.

The future is electric: A charging port is shown on a Zero electric motorcycle being offered for sale. Zero motorcycles are the largest selling electric motorcycle brand on the market. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Don't get me wrong, there are issues to address and there is the odd idiot who thinks he's Valentino Rossi. Some riders also seem to enjoy exhaust notes that would shake the snow off Mount Everest. However, on the whole, bikers are courteous and respectful and go out of their way to ensure they tidy up after themselves, support local businesses and raise money for the emergency services that they rely on when things do go wrong. There are also those who volunteer to deliver medical supplies and thousands of bikers helped ensure services still ran during coronavirus lockdowns.

The recent lockdowns have also shown how important 'biking' is for many riders' mental health. I have seen countless posts on motorbike websites and social accounts about how people have struggled because they couldn't get out on the road. They weren't just wanting the rush of acceleration and the joy of a perfect corner; they mainly wanted to get back to being part of a big community where they feel supported and understood.This pursuit shouldn't be discouraged but welcomed at a time when mental health issues are on the rise, loneliness is rife and people are suffering from increased anxiety.

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Riding into the future

The rise of electric motors will take away environmental concerns and some of the noise complaints, creating what could be the perfect way to travel on our road network that is creaking due to the volume of car, van and lorry traffic.

Going back to those pop-culture references, the humble motorised bike has always been about advancement. That may be Tom Cruise speeding down a runway alongside a jet fighter in Top Gun or a cultural change like The Motorcycle Diaries. Motorcycles can still take us to future horizons.

So next time you see a bike pull up alongside you, give the rider a bit of space and let them be on their way. They're actually saving you time by not being another metal box blocking up the whole of the lane, they're far more alert than you are with your radio, mobile phone and Starbucks coffee and they're definitely having more fun.

I’m off to get some trackers sorted for those in public office before they come up with another dangerous and unlawful idea.