Politicians and their motorbikes
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It will be good news for bikers, if Phil Goff is announced Auckland Mayor this month.
Reason: 63-year-old Goff has been an avid motorcyclist since age 15.
Goff is more than merely a politician who likes to be photographed on his motorcycle.
He knows what we bikers need and we’ll be expecting him, as New Zealand’s second most powerful politician after the PM, to stick up for us.
For example, Goff will, no doubt, have something to say about those “cheese grater” motorway median barriers; he will likely vote for burgeoning numbers of bikers to retain free parking areas in the inner-city and — as the world lurches toward an uncertain energy future — will understand that two-wheelers occupy a vital and essential transportation niche.
John Banks and his Harley. Picture/ Supplied.
You may just see some footage of Goff riding his Triumph at Mount Roskill to raise money for a charity called BRO-CCAAB, which is organising a Christmas concert for muscular dystrophy kids.
This kind of thing is commendable I suppose, but Goff’s commitment to biking goes a lot deeper . . .
He rides for pleasure at least once a week; straddles a bike whenever summoned into the CBD for the likes of TV interviews (finding this the best way to cut through gridlocked traffic between his destination and his family’s Clevedon farmlet); he has taken his share of spills and has generally put in the hard yards touring bikes in all weathers up and down the country over many years.
Goff knows the score when it comes to city commuting too — admitting to cautious lane-splitting (riding between the cars, which is allowed so long as you stay in the car’s lane and pass on the right) which he says “is just part of motorcycling”, so in my book he genuinely qualifies as one of us enthusiasts.
But why all the fuss?
Well, it’s it’s not that that bike-riding Auckland politicians are exactly a novelty.
Just to give a few examples: Two-term Mayor John Banks would be lost without his Harley, while the city’s longest serving and greatest Mayor — Sir Dove-Myer Robinson — sold and also raced bikes as a young man.
In his far off youth, the former two-term Mayor of the former Waitemata City and current Invercargill Mayor, Tim Shadbolt, rode a BSA 650cc. And, during her student days, the former member for Mt Albert (and three-term Prime Minister) Helen Clark used a Honda C 50 scooter to beat the traffic — a machine now on display at MOTAT.
Former Mayor of Auckland Sir Dove-Myer Robinson on his bike. Picture/Supplied.
No, but while biking Auckland politicians are nothing new, I’d argue that the part two-wheelers are having to play in our dysfunctional Auckland transport system is.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that due to free, or at least relatively easy, parking and the ability to filter through traffic — a motorcycle is one of the best ways to get around this town.
But the present situation — in which motorcyles and scooters are a presence but not an overwhelming one — is likely to change rapidly in my view:
* Expect electric bicycles capable of 80 km/h or more to make their presence felt very soon. This will raise the obvious difficulties of where to place such vehicles in the pantheon of Auckland road users.
* Following trends in Paris and London, expect Aucklanders to adopt three-wheeler scooters in droves, machines which more resemble micro-mini cars than motorcycles, as they may be ridden on a car licence and pay lower (car-level) registration fees.
* And expect Auckland’s fleet of ordinary motorcycles and scooters to expand markedly.
This will be due to natural but accelerating population increases; continued and seemingly unchecked expansion of Auckland’s city limits and the fact that prices of imported oil-based fuels (though stable in recent years) are overdue for a substantial hike.
So if Goff wins the mayoral election in Auckland, what will it mean for bikers? He answers here:
1) How did you get interested in bikes?
My dad rode motorbikes and I got my first motorbike, a Suzuki 50CC just after I turned 15. I progressed to a CZ175CC, then a Suzuki 350CC before buying my dream motorbike, a Norton Commando 750 which I had for 20 years. As a student, putting myself through university, bikes were a cheap form of transport and easy to find parking for. But I also loved riding them, the sense of freedom, the exhilaration, the smell of the countryside as you ride through it and the cult of being a biker.
2) How many have you owned -- and any favourites (you’re known for a love of classic bikes?), what do you have right now?
All of the above plus in more recent times, Triumph Bonnevilles, the latest being a 2015 T100 which I bought new as a consolation for its predecessor being stolen during University O-week last year. I also have a vintage 1964 Honda 50 moped and a four wheel Honda farm bike.
3) Aside from you, John Banks, former motorcycle racer Sir Dove Meyer Robinson and of course Helen Clark (Helen’s C50 Honda is famously now in MOTAT), one gets the impression not many politicians ride. Correct?
I am not sure whether any other MPs (or other mayoral candidates) are bikers. But I used to go touring with Rick Barker who has a Triumph Rocket 3 and Annette King’s and Lianne Dalziel’s husbands who rode a BMW and Harley.
4) How often do you get the chance to get out on your bike?
When it is not raining or the middle of winter, I try and get out once or twice a week.
5) With Auckland’s transport woes I and many others have pointed out that a motorcycles seem to have a real part to play here, being easy on fuel and able to shrink travel times so effectively -- do you agree.
With Auckland’s congestion reaching gridlock in peak hours, a motorbike is the only way I can be absolutely sure I will get to something like a TV interview on time.
6) Any views on bike safety?
The shorter the remainder of my likely lifespan is, the more sensible I have become in my riding. As a teenager, I thought I was bullet proof. Lucky to survive those years! The odd crash and cars simply not seeing you as a biker makes you more alert to what is happening around you and the knowledge that there is nothing between you and the ground.
7) Do you “filter” or “lane split” to get through the traffic?
Yes, when there is congestion on the motor and cars are reduced to slow speeds, lane splitting is the norm for bikes. You have to be careful (and not all lane splitters are) because the car you are passing may switch lanes without being aware you are behind it.
8) Is safety keeping up with the trends, bearing in mid that electric bicycles getting faster, there is a proliferation of scooters (including the new three-wheelers which can be ridden on a car licence) and ever more bikers are riding in from the city fringes?
While bicycles including ones that are electrically powered, don’t travel as fast as motorbikes, they are still vulnerable to injury if they fall off. Lycra doesn’t provide much protection. Scooters are a good way of getting around town if it’s about convenience more than style. Some scooter riders do gear up but others don’t consider the consequences of an accident. Three wheelers are about but still not common. All of us baby boomers have larger motorcycles. The bigger the bike the less you have to prove in terms of how you ride it.
9) At present bike riders seem to have a privileged position in the Auckland transport scene, with some council-funded free parking.
With the current loading of car park fees in the inner-city and talk of possible further penalties for bringing a car into the inner-city (to reduce congestion), will motorcycle riders maintain these perks?
I hope we do maintain free parking for bikers. Bikes take far less room on the road than the largely single person occupied cars.
10) Is bike riding as scary as a lot of people think -- or possibly would you encourage more fit and able-bodied folk take a bike riding course, learn to ride properly, and avail themselves of all the advantages of motorcycling?
Bike riding does entail more risk but you can manage risk by knowing how to ride properly and exercising care.
11) Any memorable motorbike tours or experiences to share?
I remember the ones where it poured all the way and we arrived soaked to the skin (West Coast South Island, West Port to Picton and Auckland to Waihi). I love touring on the mainland – beautiful rides and spectacular landscapes.