By @Gareth_UK (guest author)
TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER! Just kidding, but I have always wanted to say that and I thought this was my big chance, since I’m taking over The Desk of the Thirsty Biker for Episode 7. My name is Gareth and as a Brit living in the United States, I’m going to shed some light on the big differences between biking in these two far-apart lands.
Motorcycling is somewhat different in the UK compared to the USA. Certain similarities are evident, but for a variety of reasons the whole concept is so different. These reasons revolve mainly around the police, the weather, alcohol and the types of motorcycles used. So no matter which side of the pond you call home, read on to expand your horizons and add another adventure to your bucket list.
The UK Police
Let’s start with the police. My experience with U.S. police is that unless you’re motorcycling at 150 mph whilst riding totally naked and playing a flute at the same, they tend to leave you alone. In the UK, this is totally different. Police see motorcyclists as the scourge of the nation, the enemy, the people who must be put to the sword, and they do their very best to make life miserable for the bikers. There are over 7,000 fixed speed cameras in the UK, bear in mind that the UK is approximately the size of Florida and that should give you some concept of just how prevalent they are. Fixed speed cameras are large yellow boxed on posts at the side of the road which record everyone who passes by. If you’re doing 34 in a 30 zone, then you get flashed by the camera and the local police will empty your wallet of your hard-earned cash. It’s impossible to speed on UK roads without incurring speeding fines.
These cameras are in every town and city in the country and are placed strategically in places where it’s natural to want to twist the throttle. An allowance of 10% is normally used before the mandatory fine drops into your mailbox. The costs are little to run and are electronically and wirelessly controlled, meaning that 30 seconds after you’ve inadvertently crossed the lens at 34 in a 30 limit then the photograph is being printed and mailed directly to the owner of the vehicle. As if these ‘GATSO’ speed cameras are not enough, there are thousands of ‘civilian police’ who are equipped with laser cameras/speed monitors who sit in the back of small vans (a little flap drops down on the back door of the van exposing a laser camera) on remote stretches of road. As soon as the driver/motorcyclist pops over the brow of a hill or emerges from a corner then the nice policeman zaps him with his electronic device and the fine is forthcoming.
Fines, by the way, run from $120 to $400 dependent on the number of offenses and speed (%) over the limit. These vans change location about every 30 minutes so that they cannot be plotted successfully. Each transgression costs the rider not only the cash fine, but also puts between three and six points on his/her license and if 12 points is totted up in any four-year period, then an automatic loss of driving license is given (12 months). These fixed cameras have become so unpopular that the Government have promised that no more will be added but none will be removed.
The attitude of police is so very different in the UK than that of the USA. UK police are polite, address you as Sir/Madam and don’t do their work in gangs. They do not wear guns and have only a small stick in their pocket to defend themselves (they never use them). They do however hate motorcyclists (in general) and do all they can to rid the roads of this unwanted vermin. At least they are polite when they fine you.
The UK Weather
Let’s move on to the weather. Britain (and much of the rest of Europe) is cold and wet. Motorcyclists have to dress for the occasion and it’s quite feasible to enjoy all four seasons (in terms of weather) in any given day. Sunshine cannot be guaranteed, but rain certainly can. An average serious motorcyclist will wear a one-piece leather suit with leg and arm armoring. This suit will have a large back protector which is comfortable to wear whilst in the prone riding position, but makes it almost impossible to walk normally when off the motorcycle. Over the one piece leather suit the rider will also probably be wearing a waterproof over-suit, protective armored gloves, boots and a full face helmet, which is a legal requirement in Britain. All this equipment makes it almost impossible to do normal things when he ceases riding and gets off his motorcycle.
The places that cater for such people are few and far between when compared to the U.S. market. This really means that a motorcyclist takes off on a Sunday morning for the weekly ride because he wants to ride his motorcycle, not simply wants to bar-hop. My experience of USA riding is to start off at 11 am at a friends house where several alcoholic beverages are consumed. We will then go from bar to bar enjoying the friendly hospitality of like-minded individuals and making sure our thirst is quenched at each stopping point. At five in the afternoon my friends are normally giggling like schoolgirls, blipping their throttles and doing wheelie burns in the bar car park as they set off for home to prepare for tomorrow’s hangover.
This DOES NOT happen in the UK. Riders would never take alcohol and ride their motorcycles. They would be too scared of the penalty imposed by the police and also the whole culture of the Brits is to not drink and drive. In the 1970s when I was a teenager, I would ride pissed as a fart and not worry too much about it. These days are gone now thankfully. A motorcyclist would be horrified if he thought someone was riding under the influence of alcohol. This means that bar hoping is a rarity and only those bars who sell Cola are entertained. The culture in the UK is to have certain stopping points where they can get a coffee and a “bacon buttie,” 30 minute warm up and then off to the next stopping point. The average rider will on any weekend day ride up to 400 miles with maybe two stopping points along the way. The enjoyment is riding the motorcycle and not the experience of bar hopping; however, Thirsty Biker can come up with many places to check out that aren’t bars.
The Meeting Places
There are many thousands of mid-week motorcyclist gatherings and meetings. This involves not a lot of riding (as per weekend run out) but somewhere where maybe a couple of hundred motorcyclists will meet from between 6pm to 9pm. They would all park up on a large car park, admire each other’s rides and generally have a chat over a coffee and a buttie (normally catered from a mobile truck). My local meeting was each Monday at Lytham-St.-Annes, a small town in the North West of the UK about 20 miles from where I lived. Another meeting was at Fleetwood (another local town) on a Sunday morning where possibly two or three hundred bikers will attend.
There are several ‘meeting points’ in all areas of the UK where at any time in daylight hours on any day of the week you will find a group of motorcyclists gather either before their run, mid-way through their run or maybe as a finishing point. One such point is Devil’s Bridge near Kirkby Lonsdale in the County of Lancashire. It’s in the middle of nowhere, just a bridge over a river and thousands of motorcyclists meet there every week (don’t ask me why, but I’ve spent many a happy hour there). These places are in evidence all over the UK, they really just take the place over, a substitute for bars in the USA.
The roads and countrysides are so different from the landscape of Florida. Roads here are straight and I get a twinge of excitement when I see a bend or a curve in the road up ahead. Motorcycling in Florida is about going in straight lines whereas in the UK it’s all about scraping your kneecaps on the black-top as you wind round tight and narrow curves. I guess that’s the reason why approximately 95% of motorcycles in the UK are ‘crotch rockets’ with incredible handling and frightening speeds (if only the police would allow it) whereas my U.S. riding friends all chug about on their 1940s-designed Harley monsters (yes I’m one of them). A normal Sunday run for a motorcyclist in the UK will involve hundreds of miles over hills and moors with winding bends and beautiful scenery. Sadly, that’s one part of being in America that I miss. Someone said to me recently that “all roads lead to Arcadia” and how true that is. Whenever we set off on a weekend jaunt, we always seem to either pass through or end up in Arcadia. Florida definitely needs some mountains and some roads that don’t lead to Arcadia.
I lived in the North of England, close to a beautiful area named “The Lake District” – a National park of thousands of square miles. It was beautiful but it couldn’t hold a candle to the beauties of Scotland. I would compare the beauty of the north of Scotland to that of the Rockies or possibly the Smokies. Bear in mind that you can ride from the North of Scotland to the southern most tip of England in less than a day, then you can see some wonderful scenery whenever you want. I was a regular rider into Scotland and the normal meeting point would be The Green Welly in Tyndrum (Scotland). It’s a bit like Arcadia in that every road leads to The Green Welly. Whichever route you take from Tyndrum leads you to the most wonderful scenery and roads in Britain. Great way to spend the weekend.
Motorcyclists is the UK often travel further afield from their normal routes. Europe is only a train or ferry ride away so many UK motorcyclists will spend a few days each year touring the roads of Europe. In 2019 I rode with my wife around Europe and it’s so easy to see so many countries in one day. On day one of our short tour we crossed from the UK into France (Channel tunnel). We rode through France, Belgium and into Luxembourg. Day two we crossed into Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It really is that easy. Just think what benefits having the Thirsty Biker app can be when you’re touring through so many countries – and so many of European riders do it each year.
Lastly, I want to touch on pillion riding – or ‘riding bitch’ as it’s called in the U.S. I would hazard a guess that when a guy goes riding on any weekend day, he will normally take his wife or girlfriend on the back (as a pillion rider). However if he hasn’t got a wife or girlfriend then he’ll normally take his buddy along for the ride. Two males on one motorcycle is so common in the UK and is seen as totally normal. I recall taking my buddy from the UK on the back of my Harley a few years ago here in Florida and was subjected to a lot of sexist comments from both people who I knew and many who I’d never set eyes on before. I hadn’t realized that ‘nut to butt’ riding on a motorcycle was so unacceptable in America. In a similar vein, once when my motorcycle was busted and laid up, I sat on the back of my wife’s Harley whilst she rode and the comments and looks of amazement when we arrived at several bars was incredible. It’s just one more example of two completely different motorcycling cultures. Thankfully women riders in the USA are a common sight, in the UK they are almost non-existent.
One thing is common throughout both countries, however, whenever you’re riding and you see a group of motorcyclists at a stopping point, whether it be at a bar or simply a car park, just pull in and you’re instantly surrounded by like-minded people and friends. Motorcycling is a great world to be in.
Ready for the ultimate ride through the English countryside and beyond, open up your Thirsty Biker app, plan your route, tag some mates, and let’s get rollin’!