Sunday, March 22, 2015

The dangerous lure of motorcycling – and why I decided to make Charlie Fox a biker

Friday heralded the first day of Spring, and with it budding flora, lengthening days, and reckless thoughts of being unpicked from the winter underwear.

It also prompted thoughts of getting my Triumph Street Triple out of hibernation and shaking the dust from its wheels. In fact, apart from days that were icy or actually snowing, it was only the disgusting amount of salt they spread all over the roads in the UK during the winter that stopped me riding it right through.

Once you get biking into your bloodstream, it’s very hard to get it out again. This is the first British bike I’ve owned, and there’s something rather satisfying about riding a machine from a company whose heritage goes back to 1902. I’m also in some very good company.

Steve McQueen

Marlon Brando in The Wild One

When we first meet Charlie Fox in KILLER INSTINCT, she’s riding a 250cc race-replica Suzuki. Not surprisingly, it’s the same model of bike I had when I first passed my test.

It was important to me that the character be a motorcyclist, and not for the girl-on-a-bike sexy kind of cliché reasons that seem to have become the norm these days.

Motorcycles are dangerous. A glance at the statistics confirms that. In the UK bikers make up only a tiny fraction of the overall road traffic, yet they account for twenty percent of the fatalities.

You are forty times more likely to die in a road accident on a bike than in a car. A recent European study concluded that seventy percent of motorcycle accidents involved another (four-wheeled) vehicle.

"Er, 'scuse me, pal, but I think you're following too close ..."

There’s also the state of the roads to consider. A pothole that might cause Mr Travelling Salesman to spill a bit out of his Starbucks to-go cup is probably big enough to bring down a rider.  In the last few years I was doing high annual mileage for my photography work, we broke two front springs on the car hitting substantial holes in the road.

But it’s not just road hazards that interested me when it came to Charlie. Riding a motorcycle implies traits about the character which I felt were important. Not only when it came to risk assessment and management, but how it constantly shaped her view of the world around her.

You have to be constantly alert on a bike on the road. For weather, for road surface condition, for natural as well as man-made obstacles. You never know what might be just around the next blind bend. I usually work on the theory that I’m invisible and everyone else is out to kill me. Even the pros can get it wrong in a big way.

Toyota Prius 1, police motorcyclist 0

Charlie’s been through a few bikes over the course of the series. After her Suzuki meets a brave but untimely end, she ends up with a Honda FireBlade after the events of the third book, HARD KNOCKS. And later in the series she rides a Buell Firebolt which also, strangely enough, meets a brave but untimely end. (In FIFTH VICTIM, although if you count the bike there were six victims …)

There’s also the view of guys involved with motorcycles – it seems to have eased off now, but when I first passed my test back in the early 1990s, it was still very much in evidence. If you were a woman near a bike, this was the likely scenario:

Whereas Charlie Fox is far more likely to see herself – and other female riders – in this kind of self-sufficient, tough-without-being-a-guy-in-nylons kind of role:

It about sums up the character. Brave without being reckless. Tough without being butch. Aware without being timid. Independent, strong, prepared to take calculated risks if the rewards are good enough. And not about to be told by ANYBODY that there’s something she can’t do just because she’s a woman.

As for her reaction to the pix below, well, she’d probably laugh her arse off.

Right, I’m off to hit the open road and come back with a grin on my face.

This week’s Word of the week is thrasonical meaning bragging or vainglorious. It is taken from the character of a boastful soldier, Thraso, in the play Eunuchus by the ancient Roman playwright, Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence. Nice way to insult someone to their face without them realising you’re doing it.


  1. I don't know, if you ask me, I think you were incredibly brave to pose for that last picture, Zoë. I mean... 3" heels? Really? Just not believable.

    And as for insulting someone without their realizing, where's the fun in THAT? :-)

    I understand your love of bikes, but I'm afraid you'll never find me on one. A close friend of mine, who was a firefighter chief, VERY prepared, VERY aware of risks (in most all walks of life) had a woman pull out RIGHT in front of him. He went over the top of the card, totally smashing one hand, a number of other broken bones, very bad concussion, damn near died. He made it back from the edge, but ohhhh so barely. He told me once that the fire department refers to motorcyclists as "organ donors." Too often, too true. May you enjoy it SAFELY for many many years!

  2. I think from reading the statistics, 55% of motorcycle versus car accidents happen at junctions. I always assume the car waiting to pull out is going to. Saves time that way.

    And is the last picture at the bottom of the blog really how you picture me, EvKa?

    Oh ...

    1. Well, of course, not, Zoë. If that were REALLY you, it would be a BLACK bike. Silly.

  3. Although there are few photos in your piece that tickled my fancy, Zoë, my absolutely favorite Triumph image is the one from the Jack Nicholson classic film, "Five Easy Pieces."

  4. It's one of my favourites, too, Jeff!

  5. You are much braver than I am! Motorcycles kinda scare me. My dad had one for a while. He wrecked it a couple of times before he finally admitted that he really wasn't skilled enough to be riding one.

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