PRESSURE groups are there to fight for our rights. They understand the things we care about and the issues that wind us up.
That’s the idea, anyway. But a recent demonstration against toll charges at Dartford tunnel, organised by the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), attracted a grand total of four riders – and one of them was an MCN reporter.
It’s not just riders who are staying away, either. A MAG meeting with members of all the main political parties attracted a similarly poor turnout in March, while the other main pressure group, the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF), failed to receive a reply from anyone in the Government to a questionnaire it sent out asking for politicians’ views on motorcycle policy.
We constantly moan there’s no-one to fight for our rights, but if pressure groups such as MAG and the BMF are really battling over issues close to our hearts, why aren’t we interested enough to turn up to offer support? And is it any surprise the powers-that-be ignore our interests if we obviously don’t care either?
One theory is that it’s the groups themselves that are at fault. Some believe they are so out of touch with today’s rider that we no longer regard them as kindred spirits.
As the landlord of the Bassetspole Inn, in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, Chris Wright has regular contact with the thousands of riders who regularly visit his pub for a Tuesday night meet. He believes the problem for both groups is that they’re simply not in the same places that riders are.
He said: " I think there’s potentially a lot of interest in the BMF and MAG – after all, it’s organisations like that which will fight to ensure bikes are never banned from our roads. But I think awareness of the groups needs to be raised. No-one from the BMF ever comes here to give the organisation a presence at the meetings. I think if I asked riders who I needed to contact and what I had to do to join, they wouldn’t know. "
Barry Starkey the landlord of the Wild Ox, in Six Hills, Leicester, thinks the problem is more fundamental. He said: " Times change and things move on. Younger riders aren’t interested in the same things as older riders. I’m not sure some younger riders even know what the BMF is. "
Sue Weston is the owner of the Squires Milk Bar, in Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, which attracts thousands of riders to twice-weekly meets on Wednesdays and Sundays. She said: " A rep from MAG comes in here regularly, but we don’t really know much about the BMF, and I think the riders who come in probably feel the same. MAG had a bit of a militant image, which may have put some people off, though I think that has begun to change. "
Weston thinks that if the average rider was asked what MAG and the BMF had achieved in the last 10 years, the response would be a blank look. She said " I’m sure he’d say he didn’t know. "
MAG and the BMF are both quick to defend what they have achieved. Jeff Stone, spokesman for the BMF, said: " We fought off 100bhp power restrictions in the early 1990s. We fought off compulsory protective clothing legislation in 1995, but at the same time introduced our own CE-approved labelling system for leathers and gloves.
He added: " We developed the BMF show from attendances of around 30,000 to nearly 90,000 in 10 years, making it the biggest of its type in Europe. And membership has grown to 115,000 through 340 affiliated clubs, plus 25,000 individual members. "
Phil Neale, director of public affairs for MAG, also listed fighting power restrictions as one of the group’s successes. He said: " In 1992 we organised a European demonstration which forced Eurocrats to think again about new noise limits. In 1993 our national lobby day secured UK government opposition to a European-wide 100bhp restriction.
" Today, we represent over 45,000 motorcyclists through individual membership and 220 affiliated clubs. We represent Britain’s million-plus motorcyclists on a wide range of issues that affect all aspects of motorcycling. "
Neal accepts that awareness of the group may be a problem for MAG. He said: " We need more people to support us and more volunteers to go to places like Bassetspole and the Wild Ox to represent us and help us engage more riders. "
Stone agrees the BMF isn’t particularly visible, but argues that its most important work goes on behind the scenes. He said: " Our greatest achievement is one of influence. It’s what people don’t see that really matters – political lobbying, the hard, unglamorous backroom work of sifting through draft legislation and consultation documents. By working within the system, the BMF has been able to influence policymakers in the early stages, so preventing draconian, misguided laws.
" The BMF has been so successful at working with the authorities it itself is seen as being part of the establishment. This probably has a downside where some riders are concerned, but nevertheless it gives the BMF credibility with the powers-that-be. "
That claim is supported by Richard Addison, spokesman for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. He said: " They do have influence. They’re an integral part of the Government’s Advisory Group on Motorcycling. We have a good relationship with the BMF and they are of notable influence in policymaking. The same would apply to MAG. "
Perhaps it’s worth joining one of them after all.