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Swapping Bad Boys for benefits

In a series of columns, the MCIA’s Jenny Luckman introduces BDN readers to the seven themes of the Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework. The framework is a collaboration designed to make roads safer for riders through a partnership between MCIA, National Police Chiefs’ Council and Highways England. This month, she elaborates on the theme of ‘Better motorcycle industry engagement in society’



Jenny Luckman writes:

Before sitting down to write this column I decided to do a survey among my non-riding friends to see whether they harboured a “stereotype” when thinking of motorcyclists and whether there was a common thread. There was, but it was not what I was expecting. Overwhelmingly the word “sexy” was used, twice coupled with the word “Harley rider” and always with “leather”. I didn’t fully appreciate the fantasy value of motorcyclists up until now and am beginning to suspect many of my friends spend most of their lives watching re-runs of Sons of Anarchy.

Though the bad boy image is obviously appealing to some, summed up by one friend as “1970s Hell’s Angels – but in a good way”, other clichés were also in evidence, including the words “beardy”, “mid-life crisis” and “needs a good wash”. Speed was also mentioned several times, female riders were never mentioned and, interestingly, none could come up with any “typical” characteristics of a car driver. Not a single one. In fact, they thought it was a stupid question. This was not unexpected. 

These descriptions, whether accurate or not, are irrelevant. What they reveal is that people (non-riders) are ready to assign labels to motorcyclists but struggle to do the same when they think generically of drivers. This is surely because motorcycling is largely associated with lifestyle, whereas driving is more closely linked to utility. This needs to change in order to position motorcycling as a credible transport option and it is the specific benefits which only motorcycles and scooters can offer that are important, not current perceptions of who riders might or might not be. 

Theme six of the framework challenges the idea that motorcycling is little more than a risky hobby and concentrates instead on the benefits of motorcycling to UK plc. It calls for “Better motorcycle industry engagement in society” and proposes new markets are created, targeting commuters.

The theme is “owned” by [MCIA CEO] Steve Kenward, which means he has the job of making sure its objectives and actions are met. Steve is an excellent ambassador for motorcycling and I have been to countless meetings where he has disarmed a hostile audience by asking them to “park the stereotype”. He asks them instead to see motorcycling in terms of its specific benefits: how it can help cut congestion, improve air quality, how parking is easier, running costs lower, the fact that a small motorcycle or scooter is more affordable and accessible than a car, particularly for young riders. He also highlights how motorcycles and scooters are the “go to” vehicle of choice for life-saving and emergency services and how they help reduce transport poverty, with the example of Wheels to Work schemes. 

How can we make sure this new representation of motorcycling reaches a wider audience? The majority of PR and marketing effort focuses heavily on the leisure sector. We know the leisure industry is and will be a major market, but it isn’t the only one. The framework positions motorcycling as a transport choice, rather than a lifestyle choice, and so it is important the stories surrounding utility are shared by the whole industry. 

One of the actions in theme six was to hold a seminar for MCIA members’ PR and marketing staff and the external agencies that work with them. We did this in February when we introduced the audience to the framework and members were asked to incorporate its messages into their own PR. We have followed this up by creating a new category of membership for PR and marketing professionals, to make sure those working at the sharp end of motorcycling image-making have direct access to MCIA and its resources. This will be continued through regular meetings, with the first one in April. In the next few weeks we will introduce the Guild of Motoring Writers to the framework too, to make sure journalists are also up to speed on this new image for motorcycling.  

MCIA does not want to interfere with individual brands in any way but instead is looking to encourage PR and marketing professionals to take their brands to new markets and find creative ways of telling stories which show how motorcycles and scooters can help improve society and reduce congestion. The message seems to be getting through, as I notice two major manufacturers made commuting the focus of their PR this week. 

Ride to Work Week, Get On “try out” opportunities and Wheels to Work all offer “pegs” to tell positive stories around motorcycling. Becoming involved with your local Wheels to Work scheme provides a fund of human-interest stories about how a motorcycle or scooter changes lives. 

We know that more people are getting on to motorcycles and scooters, evident in the rise in bikes licensed for the road, which is at its highest for seven years. We also note that stats from the MCIA’s Two Wheel Data Centre suggest the number of riders who don’t own a car has been growing during the past two years. 

Nearly 40% of those insuring used bikes and around 45% of those insuring new bikes say they do not own a car. This is a sharp rise from 26% and 29% two years ago. If we want to engage with this growing sector of the market and continue to develop it then we need to make sure it is reflected in our PR and marketing. 

If you wonder whether it is possible to change people’s minds about motorcycles then be assured that it is. MCIA was contacted by a parliamentary researcher last month who wanted to know the average price of premiums for young moped riders. The reason she was asking was because the Petitions Committee was examining the comments made in the “free text” section of a petition about the prohibitively high cost of car insurance for young drivers. The comments revealed that a significant number said they now rode a motorcycle, moped or scooter as that was the only insurance they could afford. It was clear from the researcher’s initial enquiry that this “unintended consequence” was a bad thing. By citing several bits of evidence from the framework, and inserting a good dose of common sense, we were able to change her mind. 

We pointed out how mopeds are restricted to the same sort of speed that can be reached on a bicycle, for which the user will not have a licence, helmet, any compulsory training, insurance or a certificate of road worthiness. That definitely had an impact. We talked about the growing body of evidence to back up what every motorcyclists knows – that they become better car drivers, specifically that one insurer examined accident records to find that when motorcyclists claimed on their car insurance it was less often and for smaller amounts. We also found an insurance company which was willing to transfer a no-claims bonus earned on a moped or motorcycle to a car, for a young rider/driver. 

We also explained how Wheels to Work schemes have very low accident rates, considering the demographic they serve, which proves that riding can be safer, and as a result the Wheels to Work Association was invited to speak to the Petitions Committee. These are the types of conversations which help replace stereotypes with facts and we are inviting everyone in the industry to help take them to a wider audience in any way in which they can.

You can read more about theme six via the website


Jenny Luckman is programme manager of the Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework



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