Explained: how motorcycles can be part of a sustainable transport plan in NI

GRAEME COUSINS talks to Martyn Boyd, NI rep of Motorcycle Action Group, who explains how bikes can be part of a sustainable future

Monday, 31st May 2021, 8:00 am
Motorbikes can be part of a sustainable transport solution argues Martyn Boyd

When the Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon recently announced her sustainable transport strategy for Northern Ireland it got motorcyclists’ engines revving.

Her department’s plan involves increasing urban infrastructure to encourage and facilitate walking, cycling and public transports as part of a more sustainable and healthy transport strategy.

“It seems to be that local and regional governments feel that anything to do with a combustion engine cannot be considered to be sustainable – we believe that’s not true,” said Martyn Boyd, Northern Ireland rep for MAG (Motorcycle Action Group).

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Martyn Boyd, NI rep of the Motorcycle Action Group

He went on to outline how motorbikes have been overlooked in terms of their contribution to the environment.

Martyn said: “Within the UK central government transport strategy they have accepted that motorcycles can be part of the solution.

“We take up less road space for a start, motorcycles have a much lower carbon footprint in their manufacture and they’ve got a lower carbon footprint in their use.

“They are generally more fuel efficient and they weigh less, that’s important.

Motorbikes and cyclists are permitted to use bus lanes. Photo courtesy of Federation of European Motorcycle Associations

“You could have half a dozen motorbikes on the same stretch of road that would be the same weight as a car. It causes less damage to actual infrastructure, to road surfaces.”

Of the ease of movement provided on a motorcycle he said: “We can filter through congested traffic, which is brilliant, and perfectly legal.

“We’re also permitted to use bus lanes, certainly everywhere in Northern Ireland and a growing number of places in GB. That makes urban riding safer for motorcyclists.

“There is great conflict over in GB, especially England, about allowing motorcyclists to use bus lanes.

“Motorcycle Action Group along with the British Motorcyclists Federation, we campaigned together to the DFI to allow that access.

“Belfast was the first UK city to allow full access to motorcyclists to bus lanes.”

Martyn pointed out the motorbikes required less parking space than a car or larger motorised vehicle and that MAG had campaigned to DFI to put in free motorcycle parking in Belfast city centre.

He commented: “It’s been worked out that a 10% shift from people using cars to motorcycles – that is all powered two-wheelers, scooters, 125s – could reduce traffic jams by 40% and reduce emissions by about 6%.”

Martyn said being scared of riding a motorbike was an “irrational fear”.

People will say to me ‘I don’t like motorbikes’, they say they’re not safe, they say you’re easy hurt and killed.

“I say, ‘that’s true, on a motorcycle or on a bicycle in any given adverse situation the rider is more likely to come off more hurt and more damaged than the driver of a car, no matter whose fault it may or may not be, but that doesn’t mean that a motorbike is dangerous’.

“Motorcycles are not inherently dangerous. The rider of a motorcycle is more vulnerable and this is a key point.

“Motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians are the four officially designated vulnerable road users groups but it only seems to be cyclists and walking that gets the consideration when it comes to various policies.”

He added: “I think it would be a better, more rounded strategy if it included motorcycles, not just concentrating on cycling, walking and public transport.

“Motorcycles can be part of the solution, but I feel a lot of people who make decisions are blinkered because it involves something with a combustion engine.

“We’re endorsed in that belief by the fact the UK government’s National Transport Strategy recognises the contribution that motorcycling can make to a more sustainable transport environment.

“Right now, the minister for transport in London is working with MAG nationally to draw up protocols that will encourage motorcycling to be a real part of that sustainable strategy.

“I just think regional governments like here are missing a trick if they ignore that aspect.”

The Department for Infrastructure responded: “The minister is very keen that, in developing the future of transport, we take account of the sustainable transport hierarchy. In this modal approach, consideration is given, first of all, to walking and wheeling. This is followed by cycling, then public transport and subsequently other forms of shared transport. Private vehicles are the final element of the hierarchy with motorcycles preceding other private motor vehicles.”

MAG was formed in 1973 as a civil rights group for motorcyclists.

Martyn said: “The initial impetus for founding it was four or five guys who disagreed with the mandatory helmet law that came in that year.

“We’ve moved on vastly from then, we no longer campaign against mandatory helmets.

“Our principles of ensuring fairness for motorcyclists and looking after motorcyclists rights continues. We really have become the go to people, the voice of motorcyclists to regional, local and national governments and agencies and organisations.”

He said there was evidence to suggest sales of motorbikes have gone up due to coronavirus: “Over this past pandemic period of about 15 months or so there has been in increase in the number of people moving to motorcycles.

“MAG did a straw poll around dealerships across GB. I did one here in NI. Over here of the eight or so dealerships that I contacted, every one of them reported an increase in the sales of scooters and 125s.

“A lot of them were new sales to people who had never ridden before.

“They’re now finding a shortage of quality used motorcycles, they cannot keep up with the demand.

“One dealership in Bangor where I live told me he had doubled his sales of scooters and light motorcycles in the past 12 months.

“MAG saw this coming when the government advised people not to use public transport. Riding a motorbike provides straight away built-in self-isolation. On a motorbike you provide your own PPE, under my helmet, I wear a balaclava comforter which can also come up over my mouth and nose.”

He said a modern 125cc twist and go scooter was a good starting point for someone who has never ridden a motorbike before.

Retired photographer Martyn, now 59, got his first motorbike when he was 18, for purely practical reasons.

While he has enjoyed riding bikes for more than 40 years he hasn’t become part of the biker culture.

Martyn recalled: “My first bike was a Yahama RS 100, second hand, bought from Owens Brothers, long gone, on the Woodstock Road.

“I was 18 when I got it. I only got it because I needed it for my first job.

“Where I lived in Dundonald, my first job was two buses or a mile and a half walk each way. It took forever, it was okay in the summer but not in the winter.

“I didn’t drive, I couldn’t afford a car so my dad bought me a wee motorbike. That’s where I started.”

He continued: “I’m not in to biker culture, I’m not a member of any clubs, but I enjoy motorcycling as a leisure pursuit.

“For 25 years I used it on a daily basis as a mode of transport, I don’t do that anymore, it’s purely a leisure vehicle.

“I’d go and watch some of the North West 200, it is an exhilarating and exciting event, the skill that you see in those riders is incredible, and it’s free. Apart from that it’s a nice ride up and a nice ride home.

I don’t follow it particularly, I’m not into the cult hero worship, but as a form of transport it’s brilliant.”

Before he retired in 2015, Martyn worked as professional photographer, taking photos for Queen’s University and before that Harland and Wolff and Forensic Science.

“Being NI rep for MAG is something that keeps me occupied,” he said.

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