NOTE: This column originally appeared on Pistonheads.com, August 2014!
A curious event occurred at the Nordschleife earlier in 2014. A motorcycle-only public session appeared in the calendar for late May. It was totally without fanfare, marketing or PR support of any kind. Only eagle-eyed calendar watchers saw it.
I couldn’t figure it out. Was it a marketing failure? Or a deliberate ‘soft’ launch? Either way, it came at such short notice that I couldn’t get hold of a motorcycle in time. But plenty of other people could and did show up. Nearly 100 bikes turned out for a beautiful evening of motorcycling on the Nordschleife.
But what surprised me more than the next two almost-accident-free hours was the backlash I witnessed both online and locally.
Coming from a family of both two- and four-wheeled petrol heads, I was a bit miffed. Bikers in public sessions do make up the majority of recorded fatalities at the Nurburgring. But when an over-enthusiastic car driver gets a corner wrong, the yellow lights are turned on and a Bongard-branded recovery truck is dispatched. Try the same thing on a bike and you could end up with a helicopter ride and a long closure.
“Bloody bikers!” I heard from one regular. “They’re always the ones closing the track on a Sunday. And now they get their own session!”
It might be true that serious bike accidents close the track, but in amongst the rolled-over cars, gigantic graffiti phalluses and ridiculous 10km-long oil spills, I doubt they trigger the majority of closures. And if you rule out the bike accidents where a car has run over some poor leather-wrapped chap, then I bet the numbers look even more modest.
Why shouldn’t bikers get their own time?
“When do we get car only sessions?” is nearly always the next line to be uttered by these guys.
Well, apart from the mind-boggling multitude of car track days, training events and three-day schools, I’d also point to ‘NO MOTORCYCLES’ sign that frequently appears in front of the motorcycle gates during busy tourist sessions.
I really don’t think that negativity is going to solve the problem here. Surely if there’s a motorcycle only session, more bikers will be tempted by it? The funneling affect would be quite strong, I reckon. That’s as long as people know about it, of course. Which the ‘soft’ marketing isn’t helping with, I admit. But still, a few weeks on and despite some pretty atrocious weather, the next motorcycle-only evening attracted even greater numbers.
Despite that, the final suggestion I see often here is an intriguing one. “Ban the bikes,” goes the argument. “Save them from themselves! The Nurburgring is too dangerous for a motorcycle.”
Safety cars perhaps the only sensible mix
Now before you cheer them on, let me remind you. Just because you don’t enjoy something, that’s no reason to prevent others from enjoying it. Riding a motorcycle is a personal decision, and I’d like to think that all of those leather-clad power-rangers (myself included) do understand and accept the greater risks of riding a motorcycle quickly on either the road or the track.
What if regular drivers were petitioning to stop us enjoying our cars on racetracks too? We’d tell them to sod off and do one, naturally.
So if you’ve got a bike, then I’m happy to tell you that there are motorcycle-only session each month this summer (sic), the next one on August 26. And if you’ve got a car, then just come on one of the other 20-or-so driving times that month.