The General Election – A biker’s guide.

With less than a week to go until the UK’s General Election, Superbike has taken a quick and dirty look at what the main parties have to say about biking so you don’t have to. The things we do for you eh?

Bit of housekeeping first. Bikers rarely vote on biking policies alone, so parties rarely fall over themselves to include lots in their manifestos. Like anyone else we’re more worried about education for our kids, social justice, the NHS and so on. But (and it’s a significant “but”), we’re vulnerable to changes in the way roads are constructed, to legislation around road safety and, of course, to attacks on our freedom to ride. All of which make bikers a little more politically sensitive than most groups of road users.

Some parties seem to have recognised this and some, well, wait and see…

So if our international audience will forgive us a bit of British navel-gazing for a moment, here we go.

First the good news. With two exceptions (of which more in a moment) none of the main parties have anything particularly significant to say about biking in their manifestos. In fact we barely merit a mention in most, above and beyond the general road safety policies.

It’s also important to know that the major threats to biking in the UK come from the EU, specifically proposals from the European Commission around sealed engines, compulsory ABS/daytime lights, power limitations, day-glow clothing etc. These are being fought daily by European biking groups like FEMA on everyone’s behalf. On that basis we’ve added the UK parties’ views on EU membership too, as that’s potentially relevant to laws affecting our riding.

Finally, we at Superbike are not in the business of telling you how to vote. None of our business, and nothing which follows is a recommendation for any party (although in one case we’re not ashamed to say it’s a recommendation against a party…you’ll see).

So, here’s what you need to know, in no particular order.

Labour:

Recognises bikes form part of a wider transport policy. Is against an in-out EU referendum. Nothing to say about proposed EU biking law changes (although Labour MP John Woodock has been a vocal opponent of them, warning of damage to the UK biking industry).

UKIP:

Party leader Nigel Farage is a member of MAG, the Motorcycle Action Group. Manifesto also recognises bikes are a positive part of transport systems. The party says: “UKIP supports people’s right to enjoy the freedom and manoeuvrability motorcycling brings, but are concerned at those who abuse these rights and with the number of motorcycle fatalities.”

Specific biking policies include.

– UKIP supports the use of bus lanes by motorcycles “where safe”, and provision of “reasonably priced” motorcycle parking bays.

– The party would consult on the “feasibility of new build motorcycles carrying identification front as well as rear to aid identification”.

– UKIP will examine new noise control legislation for bikes.

– Finally, the party is firm in its opposition to EU legislation aimed at motorcyclists. It says: “Westminster is entirely capable of dealing with motorcycle licensing and regulations on British Roads. UKIP particularly opposes ill-conceived EU plans to make daytime vehicle headlight use compulsorily. This threatens to increase motorcycle fatalities, as motorcycle daytime headlights will not be obvious and this will obscure emergency vehicle lights.”

Unsurprisingly, UKIP is for the EU referendum but unlike the other parties is politically committed to Britain leaving the EU as a policy position.

Green Party:

Where to start? The Greens make vastly more mentions of bikes than any other party in their manifesto. The results are, frankly, staggering. Were the Greens able to implement their bike policies, either as a government or as part of a coalition, most of us might as well give up and go home.

Let’s start with the generalisations and prejudice and move on from there shall we? The Greens say bikes are noise polluters (no mention of anything else on the road which makes noise) and, gob-smackingly, that we also “present a danger to other road users”. Remember that next time some bloke in an Audi runs you over whilst on his mobile. You are a danger to other road users. You selfish bastard.

The Greens do not recognise the ecological benefits of bikes, or at least larger bikes, saying that they emit less of some noxious chemicals than cars, but more of others. They do favour low capacity bikes and scooters over cars, though, but conclude: “The Green Party does not wish to see increased use of motorcycles because they emit pollution and noise and can endanger road users. The aim is to encourage much less use of high powered machines and for low powered machines to offer an alternative for those who currently use these or cars and could not transfer to more sustainable modes.”

Their policy solutions to these “problems” are as follows (and, for the avoidance of doubt, we have not made these up):

–        Large capacity motorcycles to be fitted with speed limiters.

–        Motorcycle manufacture in the UK to be moved away from big bikes and towards small ones and scooters. This will, in part, be forced through by the setting of new, ultra-strict noise limits on motorcycles.

–        Bikes will not be allowed to share “priority” facilities on the roads, including those used by public transport (which translates as bikes banned from bus lanes).

–        Bikers (along with all other road users) will have “presumed liability” in collisions with cyclists. In other words, if you and a cyclist crash, it’s legally your fault unless you can prove it wasn’t. Guilty until proven innocent.

That’s it in a nutshell. We asked the Greens to explain the thinking or show us the research for some of the statements they make about bikes. The replies were…sketchy.

A party spokesperson told us that many bikers “also drive cars, ride bikes [bicycles] and make trips on foot.” On our presenting a danger to other road users she said: “They do not necessarily endanger others but they can contribute to road danger in the way that cars, buses and lorries can contribute in terms of basic physics.  The combination of speed and mass can result in dangerous collisions.”

Finally, asked if the Party understood the economic impact of moving away from large capacity bike manufacture in Britain, and whether it had consulted with Triumph, the racing community and the huge aftermarket scene, she told us: “Moving to less powerful scooters and mopeds is a long term aspiration. Any such move would be carried out in close consultation with the manufacturers.”

The Party was unable to present or point to any data to substantiate its statements on bikes being a danger to others.

It supports a referendum on EU membership.

Conservatives:

Bikes only get a fleeting mention in the manifesto, talked about as part of a wider transport policy. However, when in government, before the dissolution of Parliament in April, the Tories had promised to examine problems with the bike test.

The party is committed to an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017.

Liberal Democrats:

Barely a word here either, although bikes are (like the other two “main” parties) accepted as part of an integrated transport policy.

The party is pro EU membership but has said that, if part of a coalition Government with the Tories, it would not seek to veto an in-out referendum.

That’s your lot. Thank God we don’t have to do this for another five years. Unless nobody can form a government in May, in which case…

This blog was written by:

A man is generally happiest in his garage, especially if he's sat on his arse doing nothing.

A man is generally happiest in his garage, especially if he’s sat on his arse doing nothing.

James Clark’s first career was in journalism, where he spent a number of years on national newspapers, latterly as Defence Correspondent of The Sunday Times reporting from war zones including The Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. He then moved in to government work and consultancy, working in Iraq, the US, and the middle east. Today he is old and knackered so works behind a desk in London, with the odd trip to Africa thrown in to keep his sun tan up. He still writes occasionally, mostly on football and bikes. His ambition is to combine the two. James lives mainly in his garage, an arrangement everyone is happy with.

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