Everyone cannot but have noticed – and it is starting to be documented – that bikers as a breed are getting older, the average age of club members and rally goers is climbing as no new blood is coming in. Why?
I will split my views here into three as each has its’ own reasons – being bikes, events and music; I am writing this after the August Bank Holiday weekend which saw me take in a pub rock disco, Rock City at Nottingham and a Classic Bike Show.
Bikes first then – when I started riding, as most of us did, we rode what we could afford, fixed/ customised/ tuned them ourselves. We dreamed of huge machines – litre+ – machines we would one day buy. As we got older and earned more money we moved up the capacity ladder until we got to our dream bikes, or maybe you’re still climbing?
Buying a big bike is no longer a prerequisite to going fast – and the new blood we are seeking is buying the modern 600’s as they will thrash a GSX / GPz / XS 11 in every department except one – acceptability.
Taff the author in his band Slingshot
In a conversation with a teenaged lad at Rock City this weekend (more of that below) he said he was doing his test and was looking at either a CBR 600 or a Hornet, which would be the best one to buy to fit in? That young people are worried that they will be ignored or looked down on at a club or event due to their ride is a worrying discovery.
I was in various local clubs for around 7 years and in the end walked away from it all as it had nothing left to offer me – but every club of that ilk has at least one who looks down upon people who have less rally badges than him.
I have also had that attitude from people who were at junior school when I did my first rally – the ‘new blood’ of biking – who are copying their elders for the most part. So it is no wonder that young people considering the biker lifestyle go elsewhere; It is bad enough to get through your multistage test now without having to follow rules from someone old enough to be your father – the last thing you are looking to do when in your late teens / early 20’s.
Which takes us nicely on to events – attendances down across the board and why? As everyone is older and has wives and kids, they just come down for the Saturday night – so now you know why the numbers on Saturday night bear no relation to the number of tents in the field.
Young people are not coming for a very simple reason – we have nothing to offer them, in the main. Some of the larger events are waking up but the ‘disco on Friday, rally games / bike show / rock covers band / raffle on Saturday’ formula is still the norm – this hasn’t changed since I started rallying 15 years ago.
Rock festivals now are no longer limited to the stage and a beer tent – popular add-ons include Internet café’s, Skateboard ramps, Playstation tents…and they take the people we are looking to attract away from us.
And while we’re on the subject – the Internet. This can be nicely summed up by two versions of the same question I am commonly asked at biking gigs with our band, Slingshot. Older persons ask “Have you got a flyer with some info?”. Younger persons ask “Have you got a website?”.
We do have a website and don’t have paper flyers – but when this is imparted to the older petitioner approximately 70% aren’t online and don’t want to be. To the younger people, not being online is as alien to them as being without a bike is to us.
We find our weekend party venues in magazines – they find theirs on the ‘Net or via mobile phones. The chap at Rock City mentioned earlier tapped me on the shoulder for one reason – for my sins I was wearing a Bikersweb t-shirt and he had clocked the web address on the back, asked me what was on the site. Now I am pretty confident that without the w3 & .co.uk bits either side of it he would have walked past oblivious.
Clubs are starting to get online as they usually have one member clued up enough to get it together – but once again usually nothing to catch a young person’s attention, just the usual “This is us, our bikes and us pissed at a rally”. It’s not enough.
Music. Slingshot is one of the aforementioned rock covers band – and as such should have a sell-by date. In pubs this is rapidly approaching as we run out of local pubs who book rock bands – but biker gigs just get bigger all the time. Now we play a wide variety of music including 90’s stuff, but once again this is the exception. The rule is still the bog standard covers or blues band for a rally, with one of the club members doing a rock disco of sorts. If I had a quid for every time I’ve heard a band do “Paranoid” at a rally I’d be shopping for a gold-plated Hayabusa.
Bulldog this year got in on it – Kill II This, Therapy?, Fun Lovin’ Criminals up there as headliners – and drew in younger punters because of it, but so far they are in isolation.
Again not enough. Think you can relate to the younger audience cos’ you know the words to “Enter Sandman”? Wake up, Metallica’s black album was recorded 9 YEARS AGO. Take a look at your record collection. What, you’ve got one? Most young people don’t even own a turntable. Got any Fear Factory, Static X, Slipknot?
On Friday I took my classic rock disco out to a local pub and had a handful of 30 somethings requesting Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Def Leppard et al. Saturday at Rock City we were queuing to get in and feeling very old when we did due to the overwhelmingly teenaged persons inside. And all because of the music being played.
The rave tent is now a staple at the larger events – who are starting to draw in the younger punters. The older bikers moan about it but they are packed out when the bands finish. Drum and Bass kicks like metal never did – with my rock disco I play metal all night but it is always ‘Firestarter’ that takes out my speaker cones…
To quote a Thin Lizzy song -‘What fate the future holds? It ain’t pretty…’ What we are looking at here is plain and simple extinction. Currently it is recoverable but natural wastage of the “marriage / house / baby forces sale” variety coupled to young persons going elsewhere is going to change 30-somethings trying to appeal to teenagers into 40 and 50-somethings before you know it. Who are going to have NO chance. Do you get down and party hard with YOUR grandparents?
So, let us choose a model for our salvation; Cher. Now I’m not exhorting us all to have plastic surgery and prance around in body stockings (although some bikers already do) – but how does a 54-year-old singer score platinum album and single sales worldwide in the late ’90s? Answer: Reinvention.
Cher took a long hard look at the rock ballads, turned her back on them and went into the studio with some trendy young things and turned out the “Believe” album. Some of her older fans went ‘Urrgh’ but she is still touring 2 years later on the strength of the sales.
We have to do the same – we have to tap into what the new generation wants, integrate this with the current fare – like Bulldog this year – how difficult would it be to bring a club members’ kids’ Playstation along for the weekend? There are endless teenaged bands out there who have a peer following and can be booked to play for pocket money.
Or we can just simply pat each other on the back about how great things are without all this modern rubbish and sit back and watch our numbers dwindle away until we are a sufficiently easy target to be legislated out of existence.