CHAIRMAN’S ADDRESS, 2020
I recently have been pondering the apparent health of the club and our section in particular.
We, or at least I imagine most of us, voted a few days ago in the club national AGM. There was a couple of things in this process which stood out for me. The first was that every one of those seeking election sought to promote his individual talents in respect of halting the decline in club membership. This is a fine aspiration worthy of support. But again in every instance, it was claimed that the remedy for the our ills in this regard is to be found in the club embracing younger generations. This I found rather disturbing.
We are dying off – that’s disturbing too! - and it has been clear for a long time that this natural wastage is not and will not be offset by younger people signing up. It seems amazing now, but the Japanese have been here since the late ‘fifties, firstly with small, utilitarian machines that Edward Turner and other manufacturers’ board members (notably those at BSA) thought would never offer any challenge to the British industry. Well, they got that a bit wrong! Not only did the Orientals conquer British Industry but have all but annihilated that of the rest of the world as well.
Just as, by and large, we now ride the machines we would like to have owned when we were young but could not then afford, so younger people, quite naturally, behave similarly. But in their case, two generations of them have grown up since the appearance of the first Japanese machines in this country. Due to the rapid demise of the British manufacturing industry, these people have had little choice but to buy Japanese. As a consequence and not surprisingly, membership of the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club is burgeoning whilst that of the VMCC is declining. All very predictable.
There just is no appetite among younger people to engage with older bikes of a European tradition wholly alien to their experience, so it is pointless the VMCC chasing what for us is a non-existent market. I regret that despite the copious amount of writing on the wall, Allen House still fails to recognise this. In my view, pursuing the current course will have the same level of success as King Canute’s confrontation with the tides.
As is well known, I have long been a detractor of the 25 year rule; the rule being introduced to address the problem of declining membership. But as will become increasingly evident with time, this merely tries to mix oil with water. Ultimately we shall see the complete eclipse of the type of machines we currently enjoy. It’s partly natural evolution and partly the influence of such instruments of change as the Greta child and the obsessive green lobby.
The second observation arising from the national AGM was the extraordinary spectacle of a recently-joined candidate putting himself forward although never having attended any club event. Regardless of whatever commercial expertise he may have offered, he failed to get my vote.
It was with all this in mind and with wanting to gain a sense of direction that I took a look back at the degree of support attending some of our past events.
Perhaps one of the most obvious changes in the section’s involvements in recent years is the apparently reducing level of enthusiasm for club activities. Certainly, the Scrumpy Run has fallen from its position of eminence but participation in this had been declining for some years before the Committee decided to pull the plug on an over-weening Ilfracombe council.
At our last Christmas lunch, we awarded 3 trophies for outstanding performances. By contrast, in 2009, 9 pots were presented by Ray’s grand-daughter – The Chairman’s Shield, the Ron Ley Cup, the Thelbridge Trophy, the Reed’s Motors Tankard, the Woodman Shield, the Francis Cann Cup, the Les Soper Tankard, Jean’s Trophy and the VMCC Post War Cup, currently on my shelf.
A couple of years ago, the committee decided that so many trophies no longer were appropriate – few could remember who donated them or why. It has been a long time since we could field a decent turnout of girder forks and now, with Ray’s going, there are none, so the Jeans’s Trophy and Thelbridge Cup for example, can no longer be awarded. And so the obscure and forgotten were weeded out to leave the few for which we now compete. But I think this is an exaggerated view of decline.
Back in 2010, we staged 31 club runs. The average annual total for the last 10 years is 30. In 2018, we had 29 runs; last year we managed only 24, almost exclusively due to rotten weather.
So the general level of organised activity has not significantly diminished. What have fallen are the numbers attending these events. Admittedly, at 33 guests, we were fully subscribed for the last Christmas lunch but the one held in 2010 attracted 45 to the Fingle Glen Golf Club.
What has been noticeable during my time is the turnout for many of these riding events which regularly used to attract attendances in the upper twenties. Now as few as six is not uncommon. I think this is a reflection of the changed personal circumstances of many of us rather than a declining interest. Inclement weather also has been a major factor. I’m quite content to be seen as a “fair weather biker”. 60 years ago I had no choice but things are different now and I am able to avoid the wet and cold. I make no excuse for doing so and I don’t criticise others for taking the same view. We do however, need a better means of communication to alert people of ride cancellations and so on.
However, in most respects, I have been surprised to see that things generally have changed not nearly as much as I had expected. In looking back, it seems that our activities are not very different from those in which forebears like Merv Pearce, John Brunyee and Mick Glossop engaged. Steve Griffin and Mick Addison no longer ride with us and others have become absent for any number of reasons, most of which are consequences of advancing age.
But I suspect the original ethos lives on in a section largely independent of and not much interested in the goings on up the road at Allen House.
The quiescence of the rank and file of local membership might suggest that the Committee, in seeking to steer the fortunes of the section, has got the balance about right.
Turnout on club nights has followed the trend of reduction in numbers and continues to be a disappointment, but there’s not a lot we can do about that – these things are what people care to make them.
But all in all, I think we have reached a point of balance which satisfies most people and provides a platform for continued enjoyment of club activities, so I’m relatively sanguine about the section’s foreseeable future.
We have yet to have our first run of 2020. I hope this and its successors will be in super weather. Perhaps the millions wasted on the new super-computer at the Met Office in Exeter will be able to provide better than the rotten fare served up recently.
Anyway, here’s to it!
Thanks Dermot, now it occurs to me that we do not make enough use of this medium at this time so if antone wishes to have a story published here why not E mail it to me at email@example.com and if suitable I could publish, it would be a way to keep in touch until we all ride again.