banner homeweb


Call to extend the club permit scheme to all road riding recreational motorcyclists


Victorian Government
Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety


by Heather Ellis, independent motorcycle safety advocate on

Wednesday, 3:45pm, 19 October 2011


Thank you for the opportunity to present my verbal evidence to support my submission to the Committee* of the Victorian Government Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety. (*Committee: Victorian government MPs Bill Tilley, Telmo Languiler, Murray Thompson, Andrew Elsbury and Jude Perera).

My submission to the Inquiry is for the VicRoads club permit scheme to be extended to all road riding recreational motorcyclists.

I speak to you today as a concerned motorcyclist and as an independent motorcycle safety advocate. I am a motorcyclist with more than 30 years experience riding both sealed roads and off road. I travelled alone through Africa and Central Asia on a Yamaha TT600 – an enduro off-road bike. I was also a motorcycle courier in London for 12 months ‘on the same bike, it was all part of the journey’. In total, during my world motorcycle travels, I rode my motorcycle everyday for nearly four years.

There are two categories of motorcyclists – those who ride recreationally and those who ride to commute. Some, of course, do both. My submission addresses the rights of the recreational motorcyclist, specifically the road riding motorcyclist.

Presently, the club permit scheme can be utilised by members of VicRoads-authorised motorcycle clubs who own motorcycles older than 25 years. The scheme operates as road registration for the motorcycle. The club permit allows holders to ride for a maximum of 90 days per year and not just on club-sanctioned rides. A club permit costs $123 per year for a 90 day permit plus approximately $50 for club membership.

On a quick search through Google, I found listings for 50 recreational motorcycle clubs in Victoria (for both road and offroad motorcyclists), I estimate, assuming each club has an average of 250 financial members,  there is a total of about 12,500, most likely more, Victorians who are members of recreational motorcycle clubs.

I presently ride a 1984 Moto Guzzi V50 which is registered under the VicRoads club permit scheme and overseen by The 59 Club – a 1960s-rocker inspired motorcycle club. I am also a member of the Moto Guzzi Club of Victoria, the MRA, the VicRoads-lead Motorcycle Advisory Group and the Victorian-based IRG – an independent think tank on motorcycle safety. Professionally, I am a journalist previously employed by News Ltd and have worked in PR for the international development organisation Plan International.

Motorcycling for me, as well as a large number of other motorcyclists, is not just a form of transport. In fact, from my own observations it appears that most of these recreational motorcyclists only ride their bikes on weekends during dry weather. They mostly drive cars for transportation. Motorcycling is our recreational activity. And for many of us, it is also our lifestyle. It is what defines us.

This is the changing face of motorcycling. A change that is rapidly growing. A change that this Parliamentary Inquiry has acknowledged in its Terms of Reference . A change that has also been acknowledged by the TAC, stating in its 2010 report that 2/3rds of motorcyclists ride recreationally. According to the TAC, this changing face of motorcycling represents nearly 110,000 of the 160,000 road registered motorcycles in Victoria in 2011.

If we can assume recreational motorcycling is equally as high nationally, this represents over 460,000 motorcycles of the 700,000 registered motorcycles as stated in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census on Motor Vehicle Registrations 2011. This represents a national growth of 47% and a growth in Victoria of 40% since the previous census in 2006.

However, our government, through its motorcycle safety advertising campaigns and by its own departments’ recommendations submitted to this Parliamentary Inquiry appears to be on a mission to portray motorcyclists as risk takers; as people who live outside the law; as temporary Australians that need to be protected from themselves.

This could not be further from the truth. In fact, motorcycle fatalities have dropped significantly over the past 28 years nationally from 482 in 1982 to 224 in 2010 as reported in the Federal Government’s Road Deaths Australia 2010 Statistical Summary. During the same period, motorcycle registrations have increased dramatically. In just the past five years, motorcycle registrations have increased by nearly 50%. Reports suggest that by 2016, there will be over one million motorcycles registered in Australia.

Motorcycling is here to stay as are motorcyclists who are passionate about motorcycling and their right to ride. For example, I am here today speaking to you to help bring about a positive response to increasing motorcycle safety that is based on community values and cooperation rather than control and conflict.

The reality is that the road recreational motorcyclist is often middle-aged and owns a car. As well as paying car registration, they also have a registered motorcycle or even two or three motorcycles, all of which are mostly used recreationally about 60 times per year. These motorcyclists may also be a husband and wife   - boyfriend / girlfriend or any other combination. They mostly own their own home, work full time and may also have teenage or adult children. They are often members of a recreational motorcycle club or group and when they ride on weekends they eat, drink and sleep in many small towns throughout regional Victoria.

They also support Victoria’s motorcycle retail sector through regular servicing of their motorcycles as well as purchasing motorcycle parts and accessories. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide statistical research to support my views as no such research on road-riding recreational motorcyclists has ever been conducted.  I can only go on my own observations as a motorcyclist and as a 10 year resident of Healesville at the foothills of the Yarra Ranges where hundreds of motorcyclists ride every weekend, particularly when the weather is fine.

So what has all this got to do with improving motorcycle safety? 

Within this changing face of motorcycling, lies an opportunity for our government to help improve motorcycle safety now and well into the future.

Extending  the club permit scheme to all road-riding recreational motorcyclists would operate the same as the present club permit registration system. That is motorcycle and even scooter riders (yes, some ride them recreationally!)  would be required to join a club that is authorised by VicRoads to issue club permits as their motorcycle registration.

In keeping with the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry, my recommendation is ‘a new initiative that will help reduce motorcycle crashes and injuries, particularly amongst novice riders’, for the following reasons.

When novice riders complete their learner permit training they would have the option to join a club and register their motorcycles under the club permit scheme. 

As clubs oversee the scheme, there is an expectation that members participate in club rides. Members registering their motorcycle under the scheme also must abide by road rules and if they do not, they can lose the privilege of their club permit registration. The safety benefit, as for all recreational riders, would provide safe opportunities for novice riders to participate on organised rides with experienced riders.

Organised club rides or just a ride to a regular club meet-up for coffee are usually held on weekends, particularly on Sunday with ride departure at 9am or 10am, one of the safest times for a learner rider to be on the road and riding to the departure point. The drunks are long gone, the shops are mostly still closed and church services have not yet ended. Learner riders and even those that have moved to a probationary licence can use the ride to the club meeting point to gain on-road riding experience in a relatively safe traffic environment. They can then participate in an organised ride and gain further riding experience on this group ride.

Channelling learner riders into the club plate scheme is also a more realistic option than the presently proposed supervised riding component of the Learner Phase of VicRoads proposed Motorcycle Graduated Licensing System.

For many of those on Learner plates, who do not know a licensed motorcyclist, it would be very difficult for them to ride on-road under supervision. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this would deter only the very keen from getting a motorcycle licence. Loop holes in the system would soon be found, new riders would still get their licence but with even fewer on-road riding skills.

But if novice riders on a learner permit were channelled into the club permit system they would not only be legally able to ride to the starting point of a sanctioned club ride, but would then participate in this club ride where they could concentrate on improving their riding skills and not on the route as they would be following a ride leader who also controls the speed of the group to keep within the speed limit.

By participating in a club ride, novice riders can also benefit from the advice of experienced riders on road safety, particularly on awareness of potential road dangers. It would be a sort of informal mentorship because after all when you get a group of motorcyclists together the topic of conversation is mostly all things motorcycling and this includes how to stay upright. Many clubs also hold regular service days where members can do basic maintenance on their bikes benefiting from the mechanical knowledge of other members and thereby ensuring safety components such as brakes and steering are operating properly.

 These learner riders once they have graduated to a probationary and then open motorcycle licence will do so with improved on-road riding experience. They then may also use their motorcycle for both recreation and as a form of transport and as such opt out of the club permit scheme and get full registration for their motorcycle.

Under the Terms of Reference, the Inquiry is also keen to learn of the attitudes of riders ‘to safety and risk taking including drugs, alcohol, travelling at inappropriate speeds, the use of protective clothing and fatigue’.

I can only speak from my own experience as a road-riding recreational motorcyclist with a motorcycle registered under the club permit scheme. On club sanctioned rides, riders follow a leader who controls the speed. Most experienced motorcyclists do not take drugs or drink alcohol over the legal limit while riding. This is why they have reached this point ‘of experience’  in their life.  To ride a motorcycle requires constant awareness. Awareness that is not possible if one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Club rides usually often have a stop for lunch at a country pub with one or two light beers consumed with a hearty pub meal. On the return ride back to Melbourne, there is always an afternoon coffee stop allowing riders to rest and avoid fatigue.

Motorcycle culture, especially within a recreational motorcycle club is all about wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and, for some, a vest adorned with patches and badges as an expression of one’s individuality. If leather pants are not worn, then it is Kevlar-reinforced jeans which on first glance appear to be ordinary jeans. I seriously question any research that states motorcyclists prefer to wear jeans instead of protective pants. One just needs to ask for sales figures from motorcycle clothing manufacturers such as Draggin Jeans.

Black leather motorcycle boots and gloves complete the look. And of course,
we all wear helmets.

The Inquiry is also concerned about riders and drivers attitudes to each other.  Recreational motorcyclists often ride as a group and as such are highly visible to drivers. This coupled with headlights on (riding as a group or individually), means that if they are not seen, it is the driver’s inattention to his/her surroundings beyond what is happening within their car that is at fault, and not the lack of visibility of the motorcyclists.

As most motorcyclists also drive cars and therefore pay car registration, they are already paying double the registration fees. In fact, it is not uncommon for a couple who are also motorcyclists to pay up to four or more registrations per household per year in Victoria. That is two cars and two or more motorcycles, which are all used recreationally. Due to this imbalance, and the fact that road safety is funded from registration fees for all other road users, the Motorcycle Safety Levy needs to be abolished.  If this will not be done, then the levy needs to go into training and  education rather than fixing potholes for the benefit of all.

The government, through this Inquiry, is seeking ways to work with non-government stakeholders (ie. clubs) to achieve motorcycle safety outcomes. If consideration were given to extending the club permit scheme, this would be a positive step to achieve this outcome.

As I have already pointed out, I do not represent any motorcycle club on my submission.  (I estimate about 50 motorcycle clubs in Victoria and a total of more than 12,500 financial members). A first step would be to bring non-government stakeholders together to determine how extending the club permit scheme may work.

I would suggest that it be a requirement that those clubs authorised to issue club permits or any new clubs that formed as a result of extending the scheme, need to hold at least one organised club ride per month and also have a regular meet-up similar to The 59 Club of Victoria, which meets every Sunday at 10am in Healesville.

Since my submission to extend the club plate scheme was lodged with the Inquiry in July this year, I have spoken to many motorcyclists. The majority feel this is a common sense approach to improving safety and rider skills after they complete training. Of course, all feel it is also a just and democratic approach as they are angry about the unfairness of the present registration system where they pay almost the same registration on a car as their motorcycle which is used only recreationally.

Then there are those that were angry with me for meddling with the club plate scheme in the first place. “You will ruin it for the rest of us” was often the comment. While undeterred, it does indicate that there is an unhealthy level of mistrust simmering in the motorcycling community toward government.

The other most voiced comment from my fellow motorcyclists and even friends who are not, was that: ‘the government will never do it because they will lose too much revenue’.
Well, let us take a close look at the likely financial benefit to the community if the club permit scheme was extended and thus further fuel the growth of recreational motorcycling.

If as the TAC states that 2/3rds of motorcyclists ride recreationally then that is 110,000 motorcyclists not including those who travel to Victoria from inter-state for events like the MotoGP. If each one of these motorcyclists spend, as I do about $50 on a day ride including petrol then this $5.5 million. But like myself, these recreational motorcyclists may also go on an average of 20 organised club day rides per year, then they could be spending approximately $1 billion per year and this does not include over night rides when the spend includes accommodation, extra meals and drinks in regional Victoria. As all reports indicate, recreational motorcycling is growing rapidly. The financial benefits to the motorcycling retail sector are an even more significant contribution.

But by far the biggest contribution if the club permit scheme were to be extended to all road riding recreational motorcyclists would be the opportunity for novice riders to gain road riding skills from experienced riders and therefore improve motorcycle safety.

I thank  the Committee for the opportunity to present my evidence to support my submission.

Heather Ellis


To read all 73 submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety.


Heather Ellis 2011
Heather Ellis advocates for improving motorcycle safety by extending the VicRoads club permit scheme to all road riding motorcyclists.


To show your support, your logo can be displayed below: