Issue 16 May-Jun 2008
Back Issues

David Taylor interviewed

Long-standing MAG member talks with Ian Mutch

The former MD of Harley-Davidson UK and BMW motorcycles UK, long-standing MAG member David Taylor went on to head up BMW's car operations in the Americas before taking up his current position as Chief Executive of the Motorcycle Industry Association.

The ROAD - Are there any iconic figures in motorcycling who have inspired you?

DT - Hmmm good question. I guess it has to be the likes of Barry Sheene and Paul Smart who were racing in my formative years. Plus witnessing Mike Hailwood's return. I did race then myself when I was very young, on an Yamaha RD 400.

The ROAD - Were bikes in the blood?

DT - My father had 34 motorcycles over the years, so yes it was in the blood and that's something we've sadly lost in today's world. There isn't quite that father to son connection via motorcycling that there was in the 60s and 70s. More competing diverse youth interests exist today.

The ROAD - Do your responsibilities take you into the political arena?

DT - Absolutely in fact as you came through the door I'd just finished a strategic review for our industry that considers the political implications for us. What I have learned since returning to the board here is that we remain a threatened species.

The ROAD - Does the bias in the UK market toward the recreational end of the spectrum rather than the utilitarian end give you a problem? I am thinking here about the Swede who recently described our bikes as 'toys' with no place on the public highway.

DT - The Department of Transport's own figures reveal that the majority of motorcycle miles travelled are between Monday and Friday which really flies in the face of that claim. The problem is that the perception of us is that we are mainly a leisure market. Not true. Yes, people buy a bike for leisure use, but then find commuting on it pretty neat too. There are more headlines to be had in describing us as a minority breed which is heavily self indulgent. It's understandable when you think of some of the antics that give us the problem, whether its stunts, excessive noise, or large gatherings that are viewed negatively.

The ROAD - Do you think that bikers are their own worst enemies?

DT - Yes and in certain sectors of the market they just haven't got the point yet. From the 70s we had what you might call the Barry Sheene effect which has driven demand for sports bikes resulting in supersports market dominance through the 80's 90's and even now. Manufacturers and importers have clearly benefited from this over the years, but now I can see that it's bought its own problems. A projected negative image of biking used to be Lee Marvin or Marlon Brando from the Wild One, but today it's as likely to be a wheelying leather clad sports bike rider reinforcing that poor public perception.

The ROAD - Is the sports phenomenon a particularly British thing?

DT - Yes, I often think it would be great if our market was like the German market. They buy 300,000 new bikes a year (double the UK market) and the motorcycle is acceptably ingrained into the German psyche. You're not a social pariah and the motorcycle is accepted as a legitimate instrument of fun that is socially acceptable. It's the same in Italy. Take Rome, the city is full of teenage kids buzzing around on scooters totally adept at handling the traffic where motorcycling skills become ingrained for a lifetime. Italy's accident ratio for bikes is relatively superior to the UK's too. I've just come back from Rome where I had a scooter on hire. It was perfect for getting around and I could place all my gear in the space under the seat. It's practical economic transport and that is good news for the future of biking. We need a sea change in the politics of motorcycling in this country. We need to find ways to pull in all those extra people who might conceivably ride a motorcycle if they saw it as fun and congestion busting practical transport just like in Rome..

The ROAD - Is there too much competition from cheap cars?

DT - Maybe, you look at the price of a Fireblade. Ten years ago they were £9000, today they are still £9000 but cars have gone down in real terms even more.

The ROAD - Talking of costs, do you think VED should be scrapped in favour of an extra charge on fuel?

DT - We pay so little in VED at the moment that it's hard to see that working in our interest. Talking of road tax though and that evasion issue, I listened to Steve Berry on the Jeremy Vine show and he did us no favours. He just reinforced all the negative stereotypes that give bikers a bad name.

The ROAD - How big a problem is this issue of the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) test centres not being ready for the deadline this year?

DT - It's serious, it's a significant government failure and a threat to the market. The DSA are aware of our concerns and we are still working with them to try and get this back on track.

The ROAD - Where do you think our severest critics lie, is it in the environmental lobby or the safety lobby?

DT - It's got to be the safety lobby - we've reduced the numbers of riders with serious injuries but we've hit the buffers on the numbers of deaths. We keep hearing this mantra that we account for just 1% of road miles but 20% of road deaths. If we could change that to say 2% of road miles and 10% of deaths that would be significant. Imagine the impact of that.

The ROAD - How do we get there?

DT - All the importers and manufacturers need to take the safety issue more seriously. We have to work with the government centrally and locally, we need to work with road engineering departments and cultivate a more motorcycle-friendly road environment. More importantly though we need to look at training, including secondary training with various levels of recognition. The MCIA's Motorcycle Safety Committee is working on initiatives to push this change.

The ROAD - Is your gut reaction that the bulk of the single vehicle accidents lie with lack of skills or bad attitude?

DT - I think it lies with a lack of training in the first place. The skills are there to be realised if trained correctly.

The ROAD - Do you have any evidence that training works in reducing accident rates?

DT - Research is not very conclusive. Logically taking more steps to show riders better ways of operating this complex machine called a motorcycle should bring benefits. Training of other road users in motorcycle awareness also needs pressing home. We need a more structured approach with a post test training syllabus being critical in future use.

There's also an attitudinal element about how you sell motorcycling more safely. If you sell it on the basis of the joys of the countryside, engaging the environment and the spirit of adventure in the world for example versus the supersports interpretation of riding, then that might well provide benefits too. Whilst some parties persist in pushing supersports as their only proposition we will continue to be challenged.

The ROAD - Do you think daytime headlights offer safety benefits to bikers?

DT - No not necessarily but if it had any value then it's going to be lost if cars were to be manufactured with lights on too.

The ROAD - What is the industry's view of the application of technology to enforce zero tolerance on speeding

DT - We would resist legislation of that nature as it impacts the freedom of the experience.

The ROAD - The defeat of the 100bhp limit appeared to be followed by a power race between manufacturers to produce the first 200mph road bike - what's your feeling about that?

DT - You can't help wondering if we would be facing the problems that we are with criticism of extreme bikers if the power had not climbed to these heights.

The ROAD - Is there any kind of formalised agreement to cap power or top speed? DT - It's talked about but if it exists it's a voluntary one.

The ROAD - Is it a relief to you that we've seen this Ewan McGre gor re-interpretation of motorcycling?

DT - It's a fantastic thing, very healthy. The number of people, many of whom were not into bikes, who engage with that identity is encouraging. What we as an industry have to do is mine that and to encourage more non racing heroes. The industry has to continue to work hard to promote that kind of machine use. The heroics of McGregor are lighting a blue touch paper for us. They're not the only ones of course. Look at Kevin and Julia Sanders on the National Geographic channel.

The ROAD - Was KTM's decision to not back The Long Way Round the worst marketing decision you've ever heard of?

DT - I suspect they probably regret it.

The ROAD - Do you get to do much riding?

DT - Yes absolutely. I've ridden on and off road over the years. I've sold my KTM recently which I used to ride off road having come to the enduro scene quite late really when I was 37. A recent 50th birthday suggested I leave it behind me. I've got a BMW Adventure now, which is a fantastic all rounder. Of course I get the opportunity to ride many bikes, but I have a strong preference for shaft drive, I'm a little anti chain, sorry.

The ROAD - You've done plenty of distance I understand, where do you like riding most?

DT - When I was with BMW I spent a lot of time in South Africa. I really cant' think of a more fantastic country to ride a motorcycle. The roads, the space, the lack of road clutter. Riding out there feels like a real adventure.

The ROAD - You've been a MAG member for years, how do you feel about our recent changes in style?

DT - I think MAG absolutely has a critical place within motorcycling and now you've got a 'gamekeeper turned poacher' (ex Chief Superintendent of Police David Short) that's very positive. I'd like to think we can always co-operate though we always have to be aware of what is most important to each of us. You have to remember that I'm not here running the MCIA for riders, I'm representing the commercial interests of our members. Now those interests should complement those of the rider and I would hate for us to come to a point where we had contradictory views.

The ROAD - What do you think of The ROAD?

DT - Ian, like all the titles you've edited and produced over the years, it's a cracking good read. The thinking man's bike mag! Long may that continue.

The ROAD - Very kind of you David but it would be really conceited of me to leave that in.

Interview: Ian Mutch

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