At The Trade Show
On the poorly-lit outer reaches of the Grand Bike Show hall, a small booth can always be found with a business-suited woman in it. She has been sent there to represent Perineal Insurance Services® (Stalybridge) Ltd but the look on her face suggests that she, being a new hire, and not a biker, has been sentenced to the gulag. She has no freebies, beyond half-hearted flyers, and nobody goes near her all week. Nobody other than the families with prams who are forced to camp in the space beside her, briefly hunkering over packed lunches and cow&gate. There are never any chairs at a bike show – even a national level, premier prestige event like this. Hence all those ridiculous ‘Don’t Sit On This Bike’ signs.
Prestige equates to three, maybe four halls, each big enough that your TomTom may need a back-up battery. This is not a beer festival-in-a-rutted-field thing. Bike marketing departments will have been planning it since as long ago as lunchtime yesterday.
I’m remembering my latest trip to gawp and shuffle at a Really Big Bike Show. In the very centre of my mind’s-eye exhibition, I can see what looks like a favela of Formula1 hospitality containers, jostling on a starting grid. Suffering from Moto Fomo, I always discipline myself to adopt the ‘spiral clockwise inwards’ algorithm. After a minute, I’m stumbling into an exit gate, guarded by several paramilitary-vest-and-walkie-talkie men. I decide that slightly more random walking may be excusable. Time for a beer.
From the bar, I can watch people queueing to use the automated carpark ticket machines. These are so innovative that each needs two employees explaining their intricacies. Charging for parking is, in fact, the actual raison d’etre for everything here. I remind myself to write a business plan to charge people to park themselves whilst waiting for the machine. One guy is not happy. He thought he was buying a can of Sprite.
Not that I can talk. I’ve just paid £10 to leave my helmet and riding gear behind some counter. Given their rattiness, I might just treat it as a sale. Sweaty Kevlar is fine on the motorway but it seems that no, I can’t leave my trousers at reception.
What? No, thanks, I really don’t want you to spray my cotton plimsolls with Wonder Shine (show price £9.99). Nor am I that interested in “natural energy bracelets with medical grade ions to promote a healthy lifestyle”. The sales staff here look like cultists. I suggest, as an act of kindness, that they talk to the insurance lady.
I’ve paused at Abrasive Jake’s Garage Gear. He has supermarket trollies stacked with random Guages (sic) and a sea of T-shirts. Within a stone’s throw, you can buy officially licensed ones at £50, but who would? Beside Jake is that family from Wakefield who used to own a circus. They have a 200m2 display of obscure tools (and T-shirts). Also, they have an enormous dog. I’m pretty sure it’s not a wolf.
Then I spot an outside tent that seems to be some kind of POW camp. They have generic stuff for sale like garden chairs and hotdogs and the rusted contents of a hundred stolen Transits. Strewn about on card tables. I find it tempting to buy a smoke-damaged walkie talkie (‘LAST-ONE!’). A slightly singed man is selling DIY laser sintering equipment. It’s the UK economy at full throttle.
Eventually, the sound of low level (public domain) rock music leads me back to those big brand stages. All spotlights and plasma screens and free brownwater machines. Their carpet tiles aren’t so sticky. You can tell whose patch you’re on by the prevailing colour. That sales manager on the red stand looks at me with the the eye of a ruthless predator. We both know that I have no idea what evoluzioni sul manubio means but it’s just a matter of time before I hand her my life savings.
A seven year old boy is being suspended by his father, legs dangling over a 1279cc Dumobili Diabollico, whilst his mother holds all the coats (Dad saved a tenner at the entrance). She wonders about those people buzzing about with limbs in casts.
Suddenly there is a public address announcement that the world famous Hmummarrahhg Mmummmerhhh will be giving a display of advanced adventure bike control. An ancient guy thrashes his machine up and down an impossible plywood ramp without falling off. “That’s amazing mate” roars the teenage compere who just missed the cut for Blue Peter presenters (‘It was the tattoo. It’s always the tattoo’). I engage the sales staff in conversation but they explain they are knitwear models, hired only to hand out maps of how to find the stand and stop people from sitting on the bikes.
The car park is almost as much fun as the show itself. You get to see the enormous variety of things actually ridden – which matches the enormous variety of things actually riding. I pause to stare in awe at the balletic Gary Dodd and his stunt rider display team. I swear they can wheelie – backwards. Even more amazingly, none of them has limbs in casts.
Lastly, I find myself envious of a pack of tiny children on tiny dirtbikes, all racing each other over a tree bark course. They have perfected the art of losing control and bouncing back immediately. Motorcycling offers useful general lifeskills. There will be tantrums and icecreams later when, like me, they have to be dragged away exhausted.