Bill Jamieson: Bike thrills that lead to deadly spills

Another death prompts Bill Jamieson to ask why motorcyclists are so attracted to the most dangerous of roads

Motorcyclists are significantly more likely than car passengers to be killed if they are involved in an accident. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Motorcyclists are significantly more likely than car passengers to be killed if they are involved in an accident. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

My roadside house in Lochearnhead is right on the A85. Around lunchtime on Saturday I noticed a group of motor cyclists chatting on the other side of the road before heading off eastwards to St Fillans and Comrie.

The bikers love this lochside road. Its sun-dappled twists and turns offer some of the most beautiful views in Scotland. But it’s the twists and turns the bikers like. As the bends straighten out the road offers enticing brief bursts of speed – enticing, and all too often, fatal.

Through the trees you can see the sparkling waters of Loch Earn and Ben Vorlich beyond. On a warm August day there are few pleasures greater than catching sight of the loch and the loveliest scenery that this spellbinding stretch of Strathearn has to offer.

The bikers revved up and took off. The quietness of summer closed back in. But the quietness did not last long.

Barely 20 minutes later the first police car sped by heading eastward, its siren blazing. Then came the fire engine. Then the ambulance. Before long, traffic police arrived to block off the road at the junction with the A84: the tell-tale signs of another biker fatality.

Just before 1:15pm the group of bikers heading east would have passed Scott Forbes travelling westward towards them on his white red and blue Honda CBR Fireblade about a mile and a half out of Lochearnhead. They were not to know they would have been among the last to see him alive.

A woman pedestrian was the first to see his body lying in the middle of the road, the bike having careered to the side. He was treated at the scene but died a short time later. The road was closed for more than six hours.

How we have become inured to motorcycle deaths on Scotland’s roads. For this was the third bike fatality over the weekend.

His death occurred barely an hour after a 27-year-old father-of-two died after being involved in a collision with two cars on Great Northern Road in Aberdeen. Three days earlier, in Ayrshire, 23-year-old Ross Quin died after his motorbike collided with a Mercedes Sprinter and a BMW 3.

Less than a month ago a 31-year-old motor cyclist died following a collision with a Ford Transit van on the A907 in Fife. And in June a 45-year-old biker was killed after a collision involving a tractor and trailer four miles west of Galashiels.

Last year saw the death of motorcycle racing veteran Ewen Haldane from Greenock, killed in a bike crash in Argyll and Bute at the age of 86.

All this forms part of a relentless biker death toll that seems impervious to road safety campaigns. The year 2014 saw the number of motorcycle casualties rise 6 per cent over the previous year to 819 while the number of deaths climbed by eight to 31.

And latest figures show the number of motorbike fatalities in Scotland rose in 2015. Transport Scotland figures show bikers make up only 1 per cent of road traffic, but account for 15 per cent of fatalities. The figures prompted the Scottish Government, along with Road Safety Scotland, to launch yet another safety campaign.

This is a scandalous toll that surely merits more attention than is given. Yet the fatalities barely receive more coverage than a down-page paragraph or two in the local paper.

Occasionally, a small wreath of flowers is left by the roadside.

How easy it is to regard Scott Forbes as just another statistic. But behind every statistic is a life lost and a family devastated.

Scott, a 49-year-old from Dundee was a passionate biker. A photograph on his Facebook page posted barely a week previously showed a little girl sitting astride his immaculately polished bike. This was Scott Forbes’ world.

He had taken up biking after serving in the Gordon Highlanders in the 1980s and 1990s and had completed several tours of Belfast with his friend Kevin Bruce. Kevin paid tribute to Mr Forbes, saying he always had the biggest smile for everyone. “Scott was someone who always had the safety of other motorcyclists at the forefront of his mind. Safety was always very important to him.”

Of the circumstances of his death there are few details. He came off his bike on a relatively straight stretch of road, though one bracketed by particularly sharp bends. No other vehicle had stopped at the scene and police have appealed for eye-witnesses. An autopsy report is being prepared.

On this spellbinding lochside road there is no trace of an accident. Only the continuous series of twists and bends give a clue as to what may have happened. What is a constant mystery to non-bikers is why they do it, every day, despite those repeated campaigns and the commendable work of police patrols at popular biker meeting places in offering roadside warnings and advice.

It cannot be said that the bikers are impervious to the risk. It’s the risk that makes it so alluring - a truly fatal attraction.

The bikers seem to like nothing more than the bends and the rush of adrenalin that comes as they tilt into them at speed. A road that does not twist holds nothing like the thrill. And across Scotland we have no lack of twister roads.

I used to think that, because of its evident dangers, this part of Scotland was the most popular spot for thrill-seeking bikers. Whether you are heading along the A84 from Callander up to Killin, or on the A85 to St Fillans, Comrie and Crieff, all travellers have to proceed with caution.

A journey of any speed is rare. Around every corner there is a hulking logging truck or a supermarket lorry or, arguably worse, the 25 miles-an-hour pootering caravans with their Belgian number plates and bicycles strapped precariously on the back.

And then there are the swarms of bikers, the motorised wasps of our Highland roads, tilting and weaving through the traffic before they speed off into the distance. Little wonder middle-aged motorists cooped up in their Vauxhall Astras yearn for a burst of motorbike speed, envious of the thrill but feart of the spill.

But the most dangerous roads for bikers in Scotland are not in fact those in the northern Trossachs where accidents seem so commonplace.

Research into the deaths of 32 riders in 2011 showed the most likely areas for motorcyclists to be killed was in the Central Belt and the east coast.

Almost all fatal motorbike crashes happen during the summer, when bike riding peaks. Motorcyclists are roughly 38 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than car occupants, per mile ridden.

The death of Scott Forbes is surely worth more than just another statistic. It points, amid some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, to a merciless, pitiful and unrelenting Scottish tragedy.