Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Quad’s own country

I have bought a farm. There are many sensible reasons for this. Land is a better investment than any bank can offer. The government doesn't get any of my money when I die. And the price of the food that I grow can only go up. But there is another, much more important reason: I can now have a quad bike.

I have always loved the idea of such things. They are like motorbikes but they don't fall over when you leave them alone, they look great and they bring a bit of civilisation to Britain's rather dreary green and brown bits.

I am aware, of course, that quad bikes have killed more people than all war and famine combined, and even those who survive a brief ride usually emerge from the experience with no functioning limbs and a distressing habit of dribbling.

Ozzy Osbourne led a wild and reckless life, eating bats and generally pretending to be the king of darkness. But despite this, he remained in good health until one day he thought "I know, I'll go for a ride on a quad bike." Moments later, he had eight shattered ribs, a broken collar bone, bleeding lungs and no blood supply going to his right arm.

Then you have Rik Mayall. In the Eighties, he was on every single television show in the world. But then he climbed onto a quad bike, banged his head and hasn't been seen since.

In 1998, 1,200 people were admitted to British hospitals after accidents on their quad bikes. By 2002, it was 4,200. No figures have been released since, but if that rate of growth has continued, we can say that in 2008, everyone in Britain was killed by an ATV.

If I were in charge, I would make these figures known to the public and allow everyone to make up their own minds about a sensible course of action. But I am not in charge. Mr Brown is. Which is why quad bikes are now covered by all sorts of legislation.

No child may ride a quad bike of any kind even in their own garden until they are 13. Afterwards, they may ride a quad, but only after they have received instruction from one of Mr Brown's safety agents. You may drive a quad on the road, providing it is classified as a tractor, when you are 16. But not if you are Nicholas Soames. And so on and so on and so on.

Meanwhile the Health and Safety executive has all sorts of guidelines about helmets and carrying passengers and generally sucking the fun out of life. In short, they say you may only drive a quad bike so long as you are always solo,  you are dressed up like an ice-hockey goal keeper and you are at least 85 years old.

Sadly, I really don't like people in cheap suits telling me what to do in my own garden, which is why, when I bought the farm, I decided immediately that despite the certain death, I should have a quad bike.

Where do you get one from? No, really. Just stop for a moment, and think. I bet you can buy all sorts of things in your local town: fridge freezers, colanders, garden sheds, pornography. But can you buy a quad? No.

Naturally, I went on the internet, where there are many sites advertising snazzy wheels for your ATV and various power ranger outfits that can be worn while aboard. But as for a site where ordinary quads may be bought. No, again.

I am aware that many different companies make such things but since most of them also make motorcycles, I don't know anything about any of them. Is a Suzuki better than a Yamaha? No idea. It'd be like asking whether I prefer Tampax or Lil-lets.

“It wasn’t just fast. It was idiotic. I have no idea how quickly it could get to 60, but I would hazard a guess at about no time at all"

In the same way then that I always buy Sony televisions, I decided to stick with a brand I understand and called Honda. A man I know there said they did make quads and that I could borrow a couple to see which one I liked most.

One had racks on the front and the back and a semi-automatic gearbox, which sounded just the job. But in order to change the gears, I had to lift up a lever with my right foot. This made my toe hurt.

The other was quite the most stupid thing I've ever seen in my life. Its wheel arches were about six feet above its wheels hinting at suspension travel that simply wasn't there. And it had a clutch on the handlebars which is about the most stupid thing I've ever heard of.

It remained the most stupid thing I'd ever heard of until I climbed aboard and went for a ride. This wasn't just fast. It was idiotic. I have no idea how quickly it could get from 0 to 60, but I would hazard a guess at about no time at all.

As you may know, I like a fast car. I love the surge of acceleration as it pushes you back into your seat, and therein lies the problem with the quad. The acceleration does not push you back into your seat because there isn't one. So every time you go near the throttle, you fall off the back.

Once, I opened it up in the Big Field in third gear, imagining that all would be well. But no. I didn't have a stop-watch but at a rough guess I would imagine it did 60 to 100 in about no time at all as well.

And so, since I need the quad bikes to plant buddleja, kill trees and dig bore-holes, I decided to buy a brace of the plodders; one for me and one for my children, who will be riding around on the farm, despite what Mr Brown says, because when it's three in the morning and a sheep has got its head stuck in a fence up on Partridge Covert, I'm buggered if I'm getting out of bed to go and rescue the damn thing.

Honda did some checking and found that Chipping Norton does have a quad bike shop. It's called PA Turney, and it lives, like a sex shop, far from passing trade, in a brown paper bag, on a little-used and less well known industrial estate.

And so now I have my quads, and I'm simply amazed at what damage they can do to a man's bottom as they move about. Fields are not flat. They are ripply, and these ripples are transferred directly into your buttocks, so that after a surprisingly short amount of time, you are in agony. I know that motorcyclists, such as James May, enjoy this sort of thing but I don't. So now I have taken to riding while standing up.

This looks very cool, but it does mean that very often, especially in the woods, I hit my head on branches that I haven't seen coming because I'm too busy looking over my shoulder to make sure my gun or my daughter hasn't fallen off the back.

Couple this to the pain in my toe every time I want another gear, and there is much discomfort, but having talked to other farmers round these parts, this is what life's going to be like from now on. Early starts, massive disappointments, financial ruin and then, when you are loading something with spikes onto the back of a tractor, an unforeseen amputation of your arm.

Then, of course, while hurrying home on my quad with my severed arm on the rack on the back, I will ride too quickly up a hill, the damn thing will roll and I shall become another statistic. I have bought a farm. And soon, it seems, I will buy the farm.

This article was first published in December 2009.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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