Have I got news for you - a classic Phil Llewellin column: CAR+ archive, November 1989

Published: 11 November 2015

► Have we got news for you
► Phil Llewellin eyes the headlines
► A zigzaggyly column from 1989

Four news items likely to interest CAR readers have caught my bloodshot eye since last we met. The first was headlined, Aufwiedersehen constable. ..at 150mph. It told how a German insurance broker was fined £800 for averaging 149.7mph on the A1(M) in his Porker. His name, believe it or not, was Herr Off. He had no idea that Old Bill was trying to catch him until the 928 slowed down for roadworks. Among those who failed to attract the flying Fritz's attention was a County Durham police force Jaguar - Coventry's pride and joy was 'left standing' according to the Daily Telegraph report - and an anonymous trundler from the North Yorkshire force.

Herr Off was found guilty of reckless driving within days of the Crown Prosecution Services deciding that prosecuting a British citizen for doing 104mph on the A1 9 in North Yorkshire would not be in the public interest. An observer more cynical than yours truly could be forgiven for thinking that the decision may just possibly have been ever so slightly influenced by the fact that this latterday Jehu was a senior police officer, Chief Superintendent Peter Metcalfe.

The third item told of a former Welsh miner being fined £50 for driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. He had caused a two-mile queue by tackling a main road near Pontypridd at 18-20mph. Instead of putting up a cast- iron defence - 'How fast d'you expect a Morris Marina to go, for God's sake!' - he said: 'Sometimes I drive at only 10mph, because I feel safe at that speed. My absolute limit is 40mph.'

Item four's source, uncomfortably close to home, was the Shropshire Tourist Development Action Programme. One can imagine Winston Smith, Orwell's doomed 1984 hero, toiling for an organisation with a name such as that. Your investigative reporter's follow-up call revealed that the Shroptodevacpro exists to 'raise our profile as a tourist destination'. One of the 143 ideas served up by the consultant enlisted to do just that is a scheme that encourages the most torpid of Sunday sloths to visit my neck of the woods. Incentives include a free Shropshire for Dawdling Drivers booklet. I suggested including a glossary explaining terms of abuse peculiar to the Welsh Marches, and a map showing the locations of what few local hospitals have survived that dreadful Downing Street harridan's butchery of the National Health Service in rural areas.

'We hope to encourage the well-preserved driver in the well-preserved Morris Minor to potter along Shropshire's by-ways. There will be a prize for the visitor who writes the best account of taking the longest time to cover the shortest distance,' a Shroptodevacpro spokesman said. He also mentioned, as an aside, that he generally favoured the middle lane when driving on a motorway. He really did.

The prospect of getting stuck behind a retired Welsh miner as he tries to win a prize by taking six months to drive from Upton Magna to Stanwardine-in-the-Fields by way of Ash Parva, Ruyton-XI-Towns, Knockin, Waen Wen, Rhydycroesau, Baggy Moor and Nant-y-Caws doesn't exactly fill me with undiluted joy. Those of us who share the opinion that the likes of the torpid Taffy should be sentenced to spend a week in the passenger seat of a car driven by my esteemed colleague, Mr Leonardo da Veloce Setright, are considering a protest.

In broad terms, the idea is to dispatch me to North Yorkshire, where the Shroptodevacpro's consultant lives, There I will wage a tit-for-tat campaign by weaving ahead of his car on a bicycle while jotting down notes for a speech to the Anti Destination League's annual dinner. By an amazing coincidence, three velocipedes designed to be folded and stowed in the boot of a car were recently tested by your pedal-pushing polemicist.

Which one should I choose for this assignment?

I liked the look of the AM2 designed by Dr Alex Moulton, the wizard best known for the original Mini's rubber cone suspension, but it's a mite expensive at around £600. That's cheap for a Moulton. The top model will set you back closer to £1500. The other reason for not short-listing a Moulton was that one of these bikes has been clocked at a record-breaking 50.21 mph. The decimal point would have to be shifted at least two places to the left for such a machine to be suitable for my mission.

The quickest time around the Castell Llewellin test circuit was set astride an award-winning Strida, which is about one- third the price of an AM2. This result of a bold, clean-sheet-of-paper approach to the folding bicycle weighs only 221b, replaces the traditional chain with a toothed rubber belt, rides on nylon wheels, and is very easy to assemble. My best assembly time was nine seconds. But a hacksaw is the only way to reduce its length, when folded, from almost four feet. It feels strange, because of the seating position and the extent to which the handlebars stick out ahead of the unconventional aluminium frame's front tube. And there's only one gear.

The fastest bike on the test circuit would have been the £279 Bickerton Country had its six-speed transmission not started slipping. This pioneering portable looks like a preying mantis as cartooned by Heath Robinson, but weighs only 271b and takes up no more space than a small-to-medium suitcase when folded. My best assembly time was just over a minute. Accessories that come with it include a nylon bag from which the bike can be produced as dramatically as a conjuror plucking a white rabbit froma top hat.

Universal Cycles sells the three-speed Uni-Sport for about £200 less than you pay for a Bickerton. Made in Poland, it's heavy, slow, old-fashioned and takes up a lot of boot space, but provides the basic value for money you expect from a country whose most influential politicians include the leader of the United Peasants Party. The handbook says; 'Do not ride zigzaggyly on the road.'

Riding zigzaggyly should do the trick in North Yorkshire. Closer to home, Herr Off may be enlisted to spearhead the campaign by driving Shropshire's length of the M54 and A5 at not less than 149.7mph. Freedom from prosecution should be guaranteed if we can enlist as his co-driver the talismanic Chief Superintendent Metcalfe.

By Phil Llewellin

CAR feature writer, traveller, raconteur, legend of the 1970s and 80s