Posted On 23 Feb 2024
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This entry is part 23 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#23


I’ll never forget my first trip to Phillip Island for the MotoGP. If it wasn’t for a pair of huge, smelly, bearded men, I would be dead – a frost-blasted cadaver bobbing in Bass Strait.

Mick Doohan was busy winning his fifth world title and I was wedged between the warming bulk of Brother Silverback and Uncle Paint in the Bass Strait stand as a feral ice-gale lashed us from the bowels of Antarctica. I was wearing everything I had brought, including my helmet, in an effort to fend off death. And had I not been compacted between these two vast blokes and feeding off their body-heat like a tick between two bears, I would have surely died. This is no doubt how Vikings survived crossing the North Sea in their row-boats.

Anyway, I didn’t die, Mick won his fifth championship, and that night in Cowes, as madmen climbed the greasy fl agpole outside the Isle of Wight pub, and lunatics did burnouts and wheelstands up and down the main street, I resolved to always return to this wondrous cauldron of motorcycling joy.

Thus I became a pilgrim of sorts. Twice a year, for both the MotoGP and WSBK, I would load up my bike, and with good men and true, make my way to the Holy Island.

As the years passed, things changed, as things tend to do. I changed. Not that much in terms of evil-eyed intent; more so in terms of my physical capacity to wreak harm upon myself with substance abuse.

But the biggest change was in the vibe on the Island. The watershed that marked the passing of an era, where Cowes was a free-fire zone of revving engines and cheering crowds, was the year the locals (and it’s invariably the locals) took it to the next level. Car-loads of pissed-up teenagers would careen about the main street in cars, or stagger around throwing fire-crackers at people. Which was great, until someone lost an eye and some shop windows got smashed.

The following year, whatever Sturmbahnfuhrer was running VicPol decided to “crack down” on the heathen biker scum and flooded the Island with riot police, mounted police and large, angry police armed with long black batons of good behaviour. It had the required effect. Everyone bitched and moaned, but we all fell into line. Cowes became a pale and peaceful shadow of its earlier self.

But that calm was a double-edged sword for the town’s businesses. Crazy drunks tend to spend money, and when there are no crazy drunks around, money does not get spent. MotoGP and ASBK attendance figures were declining, and apart from the expected spike when Stoner and Bayliss ruled the track, have been heading south irrevocably.

This year was one of the lowest attendances on record. Fully half the usual weekend house rentals were vacant.

It’s going to get worse and this is why. In response to dwindling crowds, efforts have been made to jazz up Cowes on Friday and Saturday night.

A stage is erected at the bottom of the street and fourth-rate bands are employed to peddle their wares. The local restaurants and pubs fence off areas on the street and serve alcohol to the punters at hugely inflated prices. Clearly, their greed glands have been tickled, and they are carping the diem for all its worth.

The poor punters half-heartedly buy the $10 beers and $15 cans of mixer because they have been traumatised by the psychotic police harassment that now attends the MotoGP and the WSBK like their own doom. If you’re riding from interstate, as many do, VicPol will be up in your shit like priests at a boys’ camp. You will be booked for three kilometres over the limit. You will be lectured and questioned and your details recorded by cops who’ve been given carte blanche to practice social engineering the Third Reich would be proud of. As a NSW Highway Patrol officer said to me as we shared a petrol bowser in Holbrook on my return from this year’s MotoGP: “You’d think they (VicPol) don’t want people to go to the races.”

Which is the same conclusion my friends and I have come to, along with pretty much everyone we spoke to on the way down and on the way back.

We will not go where we are not wanted. And we will not be price gouged by greasy shopkeepers and harassed by deranged stormtroopers.

We will, however, continue to watch the best racers in the world on the best racetrack in the world (the track, not the rubbish facilities for the punters) ply their craft.

But we shall do it where we are welcome, our money is appreciated and where there’s a big screen TV.

Because I’m never riding to the MotoGP again.

About the Author
Australian Motorcyclist Magazine is Australia's leading motorcycle travel magazine.
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