The Insider: Easy, rider
Fleets are increasingly exploring the potential of motorbikes but the risks must be taken into account, reckons The Insider.
In the Seventies, the antics of Barry Sheene brought a whole new audience to motorcycle racing, just as Valentino Rossi has done today.
Bikes once more became acceptable, drawing a veil over a few dodgy years when bikers were considered troublesome. But in the Seventies’ resurgence, motorcycles were often a principal means of transport, whereas over the past 30 years they have been widely used as hobby hobby machines. In fact, I was surprised to learn that they account for only about 1% of vehicles on UK roads.
Now it seems bikes are being taken seriously again, as the contract hire market expands into two wheels. Fleets are looking at bikes more closely since they offer tax-efficient opportunities for employer and employee alike. More than that though, is the ability to spend more time travelling, less time stuck in traffic, and thus getting where you need to go quickly, with the ability to park more easily too.
Think of working bikes today and police, paramedics and pizza will probably spring most readily to mind. But there must be plenty of other applications – maybe estate agents dashing to multiple property viewings, or engineers who carry only light tools. The ability to offer a first and fast response is key to most service industries.
For all the advantages of that fast response, there are a different set of issues to consider at the same time.
One is recruiting suitably experienced riders, and keeping them upright and healthy. There is no doubt that bikes are more physical to manage in terms of weight and manoeuvrability, and more challenging in terms of weather and traffic conditions.
As someone who commuted about 30,000 miles a year by bike, I once calculated that I crashed, on average, about once every 10,000 miles. Believe me, you learn fast in heavy traffic. On-road advanced training and hazard perception would be a major consideration if I were developing a motorcycle element to my fleet.
Aside from commercially run bike courses, there is plenty on the government ‘Think Bike’ website to educate the biker, but sadly less so to educate those habitually using more than two wheels.
If you’ve never ridden a bike, you just don’t appreciate all the pitfalls. It would be good to see the Think Bike campaign spend money with TV advertising showing video footage shot from a bike; it could show the need for care on different surfaces, highlight the reason for a better traffic check at junctions, when riders may not have positioned themselves on the road to best effect, or warn drivers to expect bikes filtering either side of them.
Yes bikers need to take responsibility for themselves, but no-one wants to get caught up in the aftermath of an accident through inadvertent error by either party. Recently our Elfin Safety team thought it would be generous to hand out ‘Think Bike’ stickers to place in our company cars. I put my foot down and said “no”, at least until we had carried out some education.
To me, seeing that sticker in the rear window of the car in front means a fellow biker, a friend; someone who looks over their shoulder before turning right (or left), uses their indicators, who doesn’t make last of the late braking manoeuvres unnecessarily on a wet road, and won’t make a U-turn unexpectedly in front of me.
I don’t need to be lulled into a false sense of security by a well-meaning but uneducated sticker-wearer. And while we’re talking risk, there’s insurance to consider.
Bikers count as vulnerable road users. Would you place bikes on your general fleet policy, or keep them separate, in case the accident statistics are worse, leading to a higher premium across the whole fleet? Provision of suitable clothing is another cost, and that cost can be surprisingly high – rather more than the cost of the average work wear uniform. Waterproof jackets and trousers with built in armour, suitable gloves and boots, plus a top grade helmet – you’ll be lucky to spend less than £1,500 per person.
Most of it unlikely to be reusable should that employee leave. Bikes can be quite hard on chains and tyres, and maintenance costs may be higher than expected, plus there isn’t a great market for second hand bikes, so residual-setting must be fun. I suspect contract pricing is pretty challenging. But I’m delighted there are people willing to offer it, and good luck to them. Anything which reduces tax and congestion has to be a good thing.
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