Townsend Triumph

“I was born” snarled Pete Townsend in 1966 “With a plastic spoon in my mouth”, showing the angry eloquence that would flourish over the next few years until The Who released Quadrophenia. This hefty opus described the life of an anguished teenager suffering from fractured personality disorder in the era of Mods and Rockers.

The musical scene in 1973 was dominated by Glam Rock, sequins and androgyny, all overseen by the Grand Flamingo himself. Against this background the LP Quadrophenia must have appeared incredibly dull; the four band members were just tiny reflections in a scooter’s mirrors, while the entire cover was finished in shades of grey, an unpromising advert which gave no clue to the musical storm which lurked within.

I suspect that Townsend had some lofty literary ambitions, and would have cultivated mentors in the fashionable world of London’s arts scene. While the musical ideas of Quadrophenia were fermenting, he would have shared them with other writers, some of whom may have been closer to the Establishment; and it seems possible that the Government of the day would have been faintly alarmed that a young man of such obvious talent was about to release an album celebrating the joys of drunkenness, promiscuity and street brawls between gangs of two-wheeled hooligans.

This could be one of the factors which persuaded the home secretary to introduce – for no apparent reason – the helmet law, making it compulsory for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets at all times on the road. The various senior politicians would have heard of the film Easy Rider and the mayhem unleashed by Messrs Hopper and Fonda during their odyssey through small-town America. And the effortless segue between ‘Born to be Wild’ and ‘The Real Me’ can’t be coincidence.

The compulsory helmet law was intended to make biking seem risky and uncool; and yet it had the opposite effect. The development of new grades of polycarbonate plastic, together with lightfast pigments, enabled crash helmets to become vivid and appealing; and the widespread use of helmets meant that bike designers could now produce more powerful machines, since riding at ninety miles per hour was no longer desperately uncomfortable.

Over the next few years, we may see bold developments in the use of polymers in bike helmet and clothing design; artificial leather made from a complex cellular composite material, with hollow Kevlar strands interwoven with high-tensile polypropylene to give the perfect blend of comfort and durability. And the outer layer would (of course) be finished with IR-reflective pigments to prevent overheating on sunny days.

No doubt the senior designers at Dainese and Arai have already started work on projects of this nature; and yet, if anyone is going to launch this technology, I think it should be me – because I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.


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