Royal wedding: A motorbike is the perfect way for Prince William to get away from it all

imageYou don’t have to be a disaffected Hell’s Angel to appreciate life on two wheels , writes Stephen Bayley.

Mildred (a local girl): “What are you rebelling against?”

Johnny (a gang leader): “Whaddya got?”

This fine exchange is cinema’s source of the now universal idea that the motorbike is a symbol of rebellion. It comes from the 1953 movie The Wild One, which starred a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T (and Marlon Brando). Just as Brando’s fictional Johnny – in his Schott Perfecto leather jacket – inspired many real-life imitators, The Wild One had its origins in fact.

A 1947 biker meeting at Hollister, a one-horsepower town in California, was reported – by an enthralled and horrified reporter – in Life magazine. And the following year, the Hell’s Angels were founded. Here was the holy writ of rebellion: jail tattoos, bandanas and hot metal confronting suburban mediocrity. An amalgamation of biker clubs, Hell’s Angels founding members included The Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington. Machinery was used as symbolism by these machine-age dissidents. It is a pattern that has often been followed.

William and Harry are routinely photographed on snarling motorbikes. Only on Wednesday, William was pictured roaring away from a five-aside football match on his Ducati superbike. It makes the following conversation spring to mind.

Prince of Wales: “Eck-tually, what is one rebelling against?”

Princes William and Harry : “Whatever you’ve got (and you’ve got a lot).”

The mind makes a ready connection between power and authority. In – or on – a motorbike, this connection is suddenly apparent. A high-performance motorbike has a power-to-weight ratio way in advance of even the most flatulently bloated supercar. And from the distribution and control of authority and power via a twist-grip, other interesting ideas emerge: there is an explicit erotic element in having so many horsepower whizzing between your thighs. The display and control of such mechanical power is a thrill way beyond the hobbled limits of constitutional monarchy. Anyone who has ridden a motorbike knows this, even if they are not a prince. If I were William, a noisy racing start in my Ducati 1198 down the main drag of Poundbury-Dullsville, laying a strip of melted tyre, would be an essential rite of passage. I would do it often.

Many people cruising the motorways of southern England, sometimes close to Windsor, sometimes Cirencester, know the spectacle of a dark-clad biker rushing by, followed, at a disrespectful distance, by several hi-viz- caparisoned police wingmen. Maybe this was William or Harry. Whoever knows? It was certainly impressive. Solitude. Speed. Danger. Control. These are powerful aphrodisiacs.

Part of the romance of riding a motorbike is the ambivalence in the attitude. You squeeze into the leathers, wiggle your head into the full-face helmet, straddle the throbbing beast. Immediately, you achieve a sort of anonymity, but it is also an assertive presentation of self. You are, dressed as an earthbound astronaut, robbed of personal identity, but at the same time you have acquired an aggressive and assertive persona. Who can say how appealing this might be to the Royal princes? Protocol denies William and Harry powers of expression… except on the M40.

Then there is the fascinating question of brand. Ever since, circa 1994, Diana was inserted into an A4 cabrio, Audi has been supplying the Royal family with cars. This has been a painstaking and deliberate piece of brand management. Now the Princes are on Ducatis, the Ferraris of motorbikes. Ducatis have sophisticated engines, with desmodromic valve gear and transmissions with multi-plate dry clutches: they are mechanical royalty. This year, they are raced by Valentino Rossi, a dangerous and brilliant Cupid with an ear-ring. It would be unthinkable to find William or Harry on a Honda: efficient, but proletarian. Or Harley-Davidson: wonderful machines, but with an appeal restricted to middle-aged men who feel psycho-sexual disorders can be averted, or disguised, by a leather saddle-bag with tassels and a burbling Milwaukee rumble. Only the truly disturbed would want one.

And, after today, is it imaginable that Prince William will ever again be out on his bike with his wife on the pillion? I like to think, yes. Rebellion may no longer be a priority for a married heir to the throne, but it would be a dull citizen who was not impressed by a future king who took delight in beautiful machines and the personal freedom they offer.

It’s too late, they haven’t asked, but in my alternative wedding ceremony, I would, while sitting astride my Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle, play William and Catherine the 1969 Steppenwolf hymn to the open road, Born to Be Wild. The lyric goes

Get your motor running.

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

In whatever comes our way.

Yeah, darling,

Gonna make it happen.

Take the world in a love embrace.

Fire all your guns at once and explode into space.

I like the idea of a future king who knows what “heavy metal thunder” means. William may not have been born to be wild, but in life, it’s the struggle that counts.

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