Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hogging The Road: Motorbiking in Mallorca

"This used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it." So commented George Hanson. The country, the countryside is different to that of America's "Easy Rider". Not so much has gone wrong with it. Especially if you're on a motorbike. It's probably the best way to see Mallorca.

Despite the drugs and the violence, "Easy Rider" did more than any cycle grand prix to give the motorbike, and the Harley Davidson in particular, a prominence in popular culture, both good and bad. The descendants of Billy and Wyatt ride the world, and they ride Mallorca every year.

It was the motorbike tour of Mallorca at the weekend. 5,000 bikers, fewer bikes, but still some thousands of noise. You know when the "volta" is taking place, if you are anywhere near its route. For minutes on end, the roar of engines shatters the peace of a warm Sunday afternoon.

The tour is not the only motorbike event. Last October, what was described as the largest concentration of bikes in the history of the island celebrated the Mallorca Hogrock. Riders from mainland Spain, the UK, Germany and elsewhere. Motorbike tourism is popular and it's getting more popular.

In the endless quest to limit the impact of seasonality, bikers are being welcomed with the same open arms as other riders on two wheels - the cyclists. The president of the association of motorcycling businesses (AEMOT) has said that biking tourism should be considered in the same way as cycling tourism.

And in the same way as biking tourism affords a certain sense of freedom as cycling tourism does, so also it is viewed as a source of not insubstantial revenue generation. If you ride a Harley, chances are that you've got a wad or two or several that Mallorca's businesses will be happy to take off your hands. José Hernández, the AEMOT president, has said as much. Biking tourism attracts a visitor with high spending power.

It is opportune, to say the least, that the Palma-born Jorge Lorenzo is the current Moto GP world champion. In fact, it should be a God-send of good luck. More than Rafa Nadal, here's a sportsman who is firmly identified with one thing - the bike. Nadal is too diluted, while tennis is not directly a type of tourism that is promoted. Lorenzo is different. He's not glamorous in a Nadal-on-a-boat way, and he deals in noise.

Lorenzo's success and the growing interest in biking tourism have prompted President Antich to call for a purpose-built circuit in Mallorca, one that would bring benefits not just to motorcycling but also to the hotel and bar and restaurant sectors in seeking to reduce seasonality. The chances of this happening are probably rather greater than the pie-in-the-sky idea that a Formula 1 circuit might be built.

What all might sound positive has a drawback. Cycling tourists are not welcomed by everyone, in particular by impatient car drivers. A biker does not pose the same dawdling obstacle, but what he or she brings, or rather the bike brings, is something else that might not be welcomed - the sheer racket. The peace of the Sunday afternoon was shattered, torn apart and ripped to shreads. It doesn't last long of course, but there is something of a double standard here.

Noise pollution is being taken seriously enough for a speed restriction to 80 kph to have been imposed on a stretch of motorway from Palma. Some would have it apply to the whole of the Via Cintura. Motorbikes tend to make more noise than cars. And were there far more of them, then how would the desire for greater biking tourism fit with a wish to reduce noise pollution? It wouldn't. A typical Harley generates 85 decibels, but it can run at 110 or higher; 110 is twice the level considered acceptable for normal residential living.

Biking is a great way to travel around Mallorca. There's no question about this. It should be encouraged, but if it grows in the way that it might, then the words of Jack Nicholson's George Hanson will start to take on fresh meaning. "I can't understand what's gone wrong." It'll be easily enough understood and it'll be roaring along a road near you.

Any comments to please.

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