Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where Are We Now? [Musings About the Future of MAG Ireland]

Saturday the 11th of October 2014

That could have been the day that MAG Ireland ceased to exist. If not for the 15 members who turned up and a relatively animated discussion (my apologies to the board) then MAG Ireland faced a potential shutdown over the course of the next year with October 31st 2015 being the date that would have been finally chiselled onto the tombstone. Don’t be fooled though, all we really did on that Saturday was keep the lights on in the MAG offices. Though not even that is an apt metaphor as over the last two years the MAG Ireland offices has been one of the things to be closed. These last two years have seen some of the most substantial changes in the group’s history, a history that has now spanned 30 years and in which David French did a fine job of summing up in his recent Bike Buyers Guide article. If you have ever wondered what MAG Ireland does, then pick up that magazine if it is still on the bookshelves or have a read of it on the MAG Ireland website. Motorcycling as we know it today in Ireland today has a lot to thank MAG for, we actually have it pretty good compared to many of our EU colleagues. Relatively low insurance rates, among the safest motorcycling roads in the EU, and a generally positive attitude from most quarters of society. It could have been a very different scenario, but now is not the time for navel gazing, now is when we try to focus on the future and ask ourselves what should we be looking for an organisation like MAG Ireland to do for us now?

Changes are coming. Bikers have just managed to survive an extremely tense period where the focus had become on zero road fatalities and the common assumption among the policy makers was that removing motorcycles from the roads altogether was the best way to achieve that. The compromise has been a push towards more rider aids; mandatory tech that is aimed at keeping the motorcyclist safe on the roads. I am not fundamentally opposed to that aspect though, having ridden for over 17 years now I have a taste of a wide selection of machinery and ideas about how to ‘best’ approach motorcycling. I have ridden the latest generation of 160+bhp, fly-by-wire, traction, and stability controlled wizardry and hand-on-heart have to say the tech is fantastic. The tech helps break-in those wild beasts and give them some manners. Do you think that Kawasaki would be rolling out their super-charged H2 if they thought it was going to lead to a spike in owner accidents? Of course not. Modern tech gives us motorcyclist’s access to all sorts of options that we could only dream of in our youth, and in packages that allow us to enjoy all the potential of those machines without actually going over the edge.

So what?

What has any of that go to do with a small little motorcycle rights group in Ireland?

The answer is both everything and nothing.

The future of motorcycling has never looked more fun, accessible and full of options galore. But we have only got here through lots of volunteer hours, wading through lots of very technical documentation, and ultimately finding compromise with policy makers. We often get lost in the conspiracy theories surrounding the influence of ‘special interests’ in policy creation. In reality those in Brussels need little groups like us to make sure they are getting thing right. They receive feedback from us, we receive it from them and then inform the membership. The role of specialist interest groups are important, and there is little evidence to suggest that if we let MAG Ireland slip away that we could ever easily get in back up to strength again. Motorcycle sales are just starting to recover following the 2008 economic downturn. Slowly picking themselves back up off the floor and into healthy double digits. We still face the prospect of NCT for bikes as the current legislation has just been deferred. We could still face long sleeve, hi-viz jackets on all of us when we go out for a ride. Bus lanes here in Ireland have started getting automated camera’s to penalise those that should not be using them, and that means us motorcyclists. The insurance industry has gotten better, but is it anywhere near as good as it could be? What about the inconsistencies with the various tolls around the country? Can we follow the UK example and ditch the tax disc? What about using the cycle boxes at traffic lights like in Spain? Ireland may be a good place to be as a motorcyclist, but it is not the best. But it can be.

We need to take a long look at the state of motorcycling in Ireland and ask ourselves what do we want it to grow into over the next 30 years? Do we really want to be guilty of being the last generation to enjoy riding motorcycles relatively freely on Irish roads before a host of automated measures take away all the benefits of motorcycling and leave us sitting in lines of traffic. As far as I am concerned the best part about the Irish motorcycle community is that it is so diverse, that when we meet up on charity runs or the like it is a vast and varied array of machinery that turns up to take part. There is no ‘one size fits all’ here, and we see lots of crossover between groups. I like to believe at least that we are not guilty of the badge snobbery that can be seen in other countries. And this is why MAG Ireland is such a useful organisation here in Ireland, because it does not just claim to represent all the interests of those motorcyclists on the roads of Ireland, it actually does. Even for those that turned up last Saturday it was a mix of bikes, as it always is.

You may not have heard of MAG Ireland, or you may not be fully aware of what it does, but for the last 30 years it has fought for you. Over the next year it will keep working for you. They will be at the Irish motorcycle show in February and in June we will be hosting the EU wide rider rights association FEMA which MAG Ireland is a member of. But this could have been the last year of MAG Ireland, all these events would have been the group’s swan song. They could still be in some fresh life is not breathed into the group, there may not be another motorcycle show, or representation for Irish motorcyclists in Europe. We deserve better than that.

So my next step? I am going to ask MAG Ireland to find out who the motorcyclists of Ireland are. Let’s start an annual rider survey. From there we understand who we are representing. From there we start the next 30 years of MAG Ireland.

Actually maybe that will be my second step. The first really should be asking what I can do to help MAG going forward.


Peace and keep the rubber side down.