Angry Al and Moody Mel – The New Biker Film Heroes

Maybe it was the example set by leather-jacketed bad boy James Dean astride his Triumph, tripped-out Peter Fonda on his chopper in Easy Rider, snarling Marlon Brando in The Wild One or cool Steve McQueen in the Great Escape but – it seems – motorcyclists never did like following the rules.

It’s long been the complaint of highway authorities that they can reach car drivers with road safety messages but somehow, bikers just seem more aloof. We don’t like being told what to do.

Angry Al
Angry Al Poster

With motorcyclists overly represented in road casualty statistics however there have been many attempts to break through this barrier over the years, with varying degrees of success. Now two inventive new campaigns might just do the trick.

The first, by The Shiny Side Up Partnership, a group of road safety, collision investigation and police traffic experts, studied the most common accident scenarios involving bikers and brought them to life in eye-catching, ‘3D’ animated films.

Aimed at all motorcyclists, the films show bikers making familiar trips in city and semi-rural landscapes, while analysing their interaction with the road and other traffic. Sometimes all goes well and – by riding skilfully – they avoid the hazards and ride on. In other scenarios it all goes horribly wrong and the resulting crashes make for uncomfortable viewing.

The second campaign, ‘Ride Better With Angry Al’, is altogether more light-hearted – while building in serious road safety messages aimed at younger riders on smaller machines.

Angry Al
Angry Al poster based on overtaking

Darkly comic cartoon character ‘Angry Al’ – cleverly superimposed over real-life films of motorcyclists negotiating London traffic – gives riders fresh insight into some of the common dangers, often psychological – facing motorcyclists in every-day situations.

Shiny Side Up

According to Heidi Duffy MBE, the Director of Shiny Side Up, their training aids previously appeared in shiny, laminated folders. But they wanted to bring them right up to date and reach a wider audience, so turned them into those computer-generated films.

“Paper and laminated sheets were old hat – we wanted to bring collision scenarios to life and let riders actually see the manoeuvres,” says Heidi. One of the films, ‘Filtering SMIDSY’ (Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You), shows a rider on a naked bike filtering past a line of barely-moving cars in a typical urban landscape.

Ahead, a car indicates and – encouraged by another driver ‘flashing’ them out – suddenly pulls right out from a turning on the left. Fortunately the rider’s going slowly enough to react in time when the car bursts through the line of traffic. The motorcyclist has enough time to take evasive action and avoids a crash.

Superimposed messages – aimed at car drivers and motorcyclists – appear on the screen. Drivers should ‘edge out slowly’, bikers should be prepared to take evasive action and remain visible. The messages aren’t novel but the presentation method is – and the films draw the viewer inextricably in, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. This could be you on your way to work…

“SMIDSY isn’t good enough,” comments Heidi. “You have to expect the unexpected.”

Knocked off

Chillingly demonstrating this, ‘Filtering’, another short film, ends very differently. A biker – complete with hi-viz vest – also overtakes a line of slow-moving traffic in town. But he’s going faster – and his view ahead is blocked by a van in the queue. The biker fails to spot a car at the head of the queue that is about to turn right. When it does, he’s knocked off his bike and is sent cartwheeling under a truck. It doesn’t make for pretty viewing.

“It’s really clear that the rider cannot see the vehicle, let alone the indicators from his line of sight,” says James Rees of Koala TV, a motorcyclist, who created the film. “We tried to make the biker as visible as possible, with hi-viz – what we were saying was that even if you’re this visible, it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be able to see you. The aim of the films was to let riders see themselves in something that is immersive, with real perspective.”

There are seven short films in the ‘Know The Dangers’ series and they are being sent free of charge to training and educational organisations with the aim of saving riders’ lives, part funded by Road Safety Trust. Heidi says each scenario is based closely on police statistics and collision investigators’ data. There are two versions of both sets, one with superimposed messages and one without that comes complete with a guide that prompts discussion as a training aid.

Stressing that they’re ‘on the side of the biker’, Shiny Side Up has distributed more than 500,000 ‘THINK! Bike’ stickers to riders and drivers to reinforce the message that it’s vital to look out for bikers.

Angry Al

Younger riders seeking a laugh – and hoping to learn some vital tips to keep them safe – should tune into the ‘Ride Better With Angry Al’ campaign.

It features eight videos encouraging riders to use the roads in a way that gives them the best chance of staying safe and avoiding a collision. Developed in consultation with riders, animated ‘Angry Al’, is the ‘devil on your shoulder’ encouraging bad riding behaviour.

Angry Al
Angry Al

It’s genuinely funny as – sitting on the shoulder of an L-plate rider, filmed on the streets of Lewisham in London – Al shouts at the rider to go faster, take revenge on motorists who cut him up and yells abuse at car drivers. “What – no indicator on your hunk of junk?”, he yells. “Chase that punk down!”. The rider refuses to rise to the bait.

The films, developed by 2WheelsLondon and backed by several borough authorities in the capital, highlight areas that contribute towards collisions including speed, poor observation, overtaking and positioning on the road.

Angry Al Poster
Angry Al Poster

Debbie Huckle, Vice Chair, 2Wheels London & Road Safety Officer, London Borough of Brent, says the campaign was inspired partly by the ‘alarming’ motorcycle casualty figures in London, and that it is aimed mostly at young men riding 50cc – 125cc bikes. “Despite interventions, there are still high casualties,” said Debbie. 2WheesLondon is also distributing posters, and lobbying councils to open up bus lanes to motorcyclists, as this has been shown to make riders safer.

In a twist that’s a million miles away from The Wild One, 2WheelsLondon is aiming to introduce ‘Moody Mel’ – a new film cartoon character reminding motorists to look out for bikers. Marlon Brando and co would surely approve.

More on Shiny Side Up: https://shinysideup.co.uk/

More on 2WheelsLondon: https://www.2wheelslondon.com/

The campaigns were revealed at Road Safety GB’s online PTW event, ‘PTW Riders: improving safety and reducing collisions and casualties’, sponsored by Devitt: https://roadsafetygb.org.uk/ptwevent/programme/

David Williams is a freelance journalist who specialises in road safety, transport and travel. He’s been the London Evening Standard’s motoring correspondent for 26 years, also contributing to the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times and various magazines. He is a Prince Michael of Kent International Road Safety Awards judge. 

Twitter Handle  – @djrwilliams

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