Steve Webster MBE – Sidecar Steve rides again!

 

Steve Webster – the most successful sidecar racer in the world – has rescued and restored the outfit in which he had a lucky escape at the start of his international career, when he crashed heavily at the 1985 Dutch TT.

It’s one of the most-viewed sidecar crashes in history and you can see the footage here [https://youtu.be/q0xClP_frok]. Webster and passenger Steve Hewitt clip the kerb at high speed and slide along the grass infield, before hitting a drainage ditch and cartwheeling out the other side. Both were lucky to avoid serious injury, although they missed most of that season.

Undaunted, ‘Webbo’ went on to win no fewer than ten FIM Sidecar World Championships, from 1987-1989, then 1991, 1997- 2000, 2003 and 2004. The only other British rider to win ten world championships is the late, great Mike Hailwood, so Steve is in good company.

By the 1990s Steve was firmly established as one of Britain’s most successful competitors across motorsport. He was awarded an MBE in 1991, and in the same year received the Segrave Trophy for “Outstanding Skill, Courage and Initiative on Land, Water and in the Air”, joining a roll of honour that includes Geoff Duke, Donald Campbell, Barry Sheene and Jackie Stewart.

The restored outfit is an LCR-Yamaha, originally built in 1982, resplendent in Fowlers/Silkolene livery, and powered by a Yamaha TZ500 2-stroke motor, as used by Kenny Roberts in the late 1970s. Steve found the outfit rusting in a Kent garage, minus its motor and exhausts. Fortunately, he’d kept the original engine himself, so it was reunited with the chassis, although the bodywork was beyond repair, and a replica fairing had to be produced in Switzerland.

Now restored to its former glory, Steve can be seen driving it at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Fowlers has a long association with sidecar racing, through Bristol-based team manager Dennis Trollope. Prior to sponsoring Steve Webster, Fowlers supported the late great Jock Taylor [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jock_Taylor], 1980 World Sidecar Champion, four-times TT winner [link: https://www.iomtt.com/tt-database/competitors?ride_id=4896] and twice British champion.

Read more about Steve Webster’s incredible career at https://www.motorcyclenews.com/news/2016/february/mcn-plus—whatever-happened-to-steve-webster-mbe/

What type of biker are you?

Ask any member of the general public to describe a typical ‘biker’ and their answer will almost certainly involve an unshaven man in an open-face helmet, wearing a classic black leather jacket and sitting astride a Harley-Davidson. As seen in just about every TV series, movie or advert where a generic ‘biker’ stereotype is required.

Which is odd, because less than one in ten new bikes sold in the UK is a custom/cruiser style machine. Scooters outnumber them by more than two to one, as do adventure-sport bikes. Way more full-face and flip-front helmets are sold than open-face designs and textile clothing is far more popular than leather, probably thanks to its ability to cope with the ever-unpredictable British weather.

Come to one of the popular Bristol Bike Nights, held at Fowlers from May-September, and what strikes you is the sheer variety of motorcycles crowding the car park. You’ll see superbikes and scooters, classic British thumpers alongside old-school Japanese 2-strokes, and customised rat bikes, choppers and bobbers too. And much more besides.

It isn’t only the machines that look different – their riders do too. Sure, some are wearing black leather jackets, but others are dressed in more colourful modern designs, technical fabrics or even traditional waxed-cotton.

In fact, you’d struggle to find a ‘typical biker’ among them and perhaps that’s because one of the main reasons that people ride motorcycles, is because they don’t feel a need to conform. Unlike sports fans, who will tend to wear their team’s colours at a match to demonstrate their allegiance, it’s the bikes that unite motorcyclists. Anyone who has broken down at the side of the road will tell you tales of passing motorcyclists who stop to offer help, regardless of whether they’re riding similar machines or dressed the same way.

Here’s a fun game to play to prove there’s no such thing as a ‘typical biker’. Come along to the next Bristol Bike Night, or go along to any place where motorcyclists gather, and award yourself a point for every stereotype ‘biker’ you see, on a big V-twin cruiser, in a black leather jacket, unshaven and wearing an open-face helmet. If you get to ten, start counting the number of other motorcyclists present and see if you get past 100. Or just have a mug of tea and chat to everyone about their bikes!

How green is my motorcycle?

Motorcycles are more environmentally-friendly than cars, right? They take less raw materials to produce, burn less fuel, do less damage to the road surface and don’t get stuck in traffic pumping out fumes. End of argument, or so you might think.

The problem is that, in the bid to improve air quality in our polluted cities and towns, private motorised transport is being discouraged, and that includes motorbikes and scooters along with cars. Instead, the authorities want us to switch to public transport. We no longer need to argue that motorcycles are ‘cleaner’ than cars, instead we must prove that they’re better than buses.

That isn’t easy, because emissions from buses are measured differently to smaller vehicles, so it’s difficult to make direct comparisons.

Fortunately, Transport for London published details for their eco-friendly hybrid Routemaster buses, which were introduced in 2013. These pump out 690g of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometer – is roughly half that produced by equivalent diesel-engined buses.

Meanwhile Honda’s PCX125, one of the country’s best-selling scooters, emits just 48g/km of CO2 and the hugely popular CB125F is even better, at just 45g/km. That’s 93% less than an eco-friendly design of bus or, to put it in real-world terms, a bus would need to carry more than 14 passengers to be ‘greener’ than a 125cc motorcycle/scooter.

Average bus occupancy in the UK was 11 people in 2012 – the last year for which the government published figures – which is far short of the 14+ needed to offset the emissions from such a big vehicle. And that’s a hybrid bus – a diesel-engined model would need to carry 25 passengers!

It’s a slightly different story in London, where 19 people travel on the average bus, so the hybrid designs are marginally better for the environment, but the full diesel models still fall short of powered two-wheelers, by some distance.

How green is your motorcycle? It’s probably better than a bus, in the real world, and it will deliver you door-to-door without having to wait ages for three to turn up at the same time!

Life in the bus lane

Why are motorcycles only allowed in some bus lanes?

Picture a situation in which the rules of the road varied from city to city. Imagine if, in Leeds, vehicles already on a roundabout must give way to traffic joining it; or in Lincoln, you’re allowed to park on double yellow lines for up to 30 minutes and in Leicester you may ignore no entry signs after 6pm.

For Britain’s 1.26 million motorcyclists, this mayhem is reality.

Bikers in Bath, Bristol and Belfast can use bus lanes. In some parts of London riders have access to bus lanes, which then changes when they cross an invisible border into the next borough. Motorbikes are not permitted to use any bus lanes in Oxford or Cambridge.

You’re probably wondering how this confusing state of affairs was allowed to evolve. The answer is that the Highways England is only responsible for motorways and major A-roads. All other routes are controlled by local authorities, and they all have different views about motorcycles.

Some, like Northamptonshire, embrace powered two wheelers as part of the solution to their congested roads. Others see any private transport with an internal combustion engine as a major threat to the environment that should be discouraged (or, better still, banned).

So far, every council that has run a pilot scheme, to test the effects of bikes in bus lanes, found no significant problems and allowed access. You won’t be surprised to learn that authorities which refuse to permit motorcycle use of bus lanes also refuse to run pilot schemes. It’s almost as if they’re afraid that they might not get the results they want.

If you can’t use bus lanes in your area, you might want to bend your local councillor’s ear, or even arrange a meeting with your MP. And if you need some facts and figures to back up this common sense proposal, the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) has published an excellent report on “PTW access to bus lanes” which you can read at https://wiki.mag-uk.org/images/8/89/2018_10_25_PTW_Access_to_Bus_Lanes.pdf.

Bristol ‘Biker’ Café outperforms posh restaurants

 

A Bristol Biker Cafe has scored top marks in its recent food hygiene rating from City Council inspectors, outclassing some of the city’s most stylish restaurants.

Situated on the mezzanine area of the top floor of Fowlers Motorcycles, close to Bristol Temple Meads station, Harry’s Café was given top marks under the city’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which is run in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The 5-star rating awarded to Harry’s Café was judged in three categories, hygienic food handling, food safety management and the condition of the premises, all of which were assigned the highest grades available, exceeding those of the city’s fashionable eateries. Jane Waite, who has run the café for nearly 10 years, is delighted;

“I’m really pleased with the online published results from the recent inspection by Bristol City Council and it’s fantastic to have our efforts acknowledged by the authorities. Over the past 10 years, as word has spread and ever more customers enjoy visiting Harry’s, our seating has increased from 30 to 100, and our behind-the-counter team has responded brilliantly. My great passion is to supply top-quality food to our customers, and the staff in Harry’s receive a high standard of training and are given a thorough understanding of food safety/hygiene, meaning we have the best practices in place. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved at Harry’s and how such a wide variety of customers are attracted to visit us – some have never even ridden a motorcycle! Most of our customers simply say they enjoy coming for the tasty food we prepare here in our kitchen, as well as the relaxed atmosphere and some friendly conversation.” 

Harry’s Cafe (named after Harold Fowler, who built up the successful Bristol motorcycle dealership) serves freshly prepared hot and cold food in fully air-conditioned premises, with access for disabled persons. It is open from Monday – Saturday 8.30am to 4pm and 11am to 4pm on Sundays. Find out more at www.fowlers.co.uk.

Notes – Food hygiene ratings for Bristol businesses can be checked at https://www.bristol.gov.uk/pests-pollution-noise-food/food-hygiene-ratings

Picture left to right: Popie, Alf, Emma, Jane, Jack, Tia, Beth & Emily.

Less Is More

Are small capacity bikes more fun on today’s overcrowded roads?

Have you noticed that, while Wagon Wheels are getting smaller, bikes seem to be getting bigger?

Take the BMW GS adventure sport bike for example. It started out in 1980 with an 800cc motor, pumping out 50 hp and tipping the scales at 186 kg. By 2013, engine capacity had increased by 50%, to 1200cc, horsepower had more than doubled (to 123 hp) and weight had ballooned to 238 kg.

Something else has changed; between 1971-2007, car ownership in the UK rose from 19 million to 31 million. As motorcycles grew bigger and more powerful, our roads became significantly more crowded.

Some riders have decided that it’s time to downsize and it’s easy to see why smaller capacity bikes are attractive;

  1. They ain’t heavy. Light and compact, they are less hassle to hustle through traffic or squeeze into tight parking spaces and are easier to throw a leg over too.
  2. More bang for your buck. They’re less expensive to buy and generally cost less to run, so it’s much easier to justify your hobby, especially if you only get out for a ride occasionally.
  3. Take it to the max. Apart from the track, there aren’t many places you can ride a powerful modern motorcycle at anything close to its limit, and certainly not legally. You’ll have plenty more opportunity to explore the limits of smaller bikes.

Whatever style of motorcycle appeals to you, the major manufacturers all offer their popular big cc models in a ‘fun size’. From Suzuki’s V-Strom 250 adventure sport bike to the Yamaha YZF R3 supersports machine and KTM’s 390 Duke street bike, you’ll find something small, but perfectly formed, to suit your tastes.

And for the minimalists among you, Honda recently reintroduced the Monkey Bike, inspired by the huge success of their MSX125 (AKA ‘Grom’). Originally conceived as a paddock bike, many fans will think nothing of riding serious distances on the modern versions, which are incredibly capable machines.

Could ‘pocket rockets’ be the future of motorcycling? Maybe it’s time to book a test ride and decide for yourself.