Wheel alignment

Thursday 10 February 2011

Ageing motorcyclists - a follow-up

Just thought I'd add a wash-up to the recent post What's age got to do with it?.  As well as having some fantastic direct feedback on the blog itself, there was a similar response from a number of bike forums I put the link on to help David Hough get as much info as possible.

David has found the replies to be a really valuable insight to how a wide spectrum of “mature” riders think about riding as they age so thanks so much for the comments, it really is appreciated. Whilst there’s some common themes, there are also significant differences. I guess this comes from particular traits of each national motorcycling scene - the level of training, type of roads, types of bikes, age of riders and so on.

Whilst “Acts of God” can’t be planned for, the common insights to keep riding into old age are: ride regularly, keep your skills up through formal training, keep healthy/reasonably fit and if you need to get a lighter or smaller bike at some stage, just go and do it and forget about “Little Dick” Syndrome! And the other important thing is that when the time finally comes to give up bikes, have a fall-back to put your passions and energies into if you haven’t already got one. Having plenty of interests is one contributor to a rich and hopefully long life.

If you haven't seen all of the comments below the previous blog post about ageing motorcyclists, fellow blogger Julian Pearce of Tarsnakes  fame gave some valuable insights on a holistic approach to the whole business of riding safely.  I recently had an email from him and in it, he also gave a couple of really interesting, indeed valuable links to radio transcripts about the ageing process.  In them, there's reference to the concept of "successful/exceptional" ageing which has close parallels with  a lot of the items raised in the discussion on how to continue riding as we age.  If anyone is interested, here are the links:  Linda Fried 1  and Linda Fried 2.  It seems to me that the more we read on successful strategies and internalise them, the more prepared we are for a long future on 2 wheels!

I previously mentioned David’s huge riding pedigree so his thoughts are well worth chewing over. I have his permission to publish his comments to me when we were shooting the breeze on this topic. I haven’t edited them at all and it’s both valuable and interesting to see David’s take on the subject. Hope it stirs what grey matter we have remaining and lets us ride longer in safety!  From a personal viewpoint, I'm extremely grateful to him for the opportunity to think more deeply about the topic than I might otherwise have done.

Where to from here?  Well, we're still chewing the fat and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that David will produce either articles or a publication which may be of benefit to "mature" riders everywhere.  I certainly hope that this is the outcome. I'm also in the process of seeing whether I can persuade one of our national bike mags to run a piece on the topic.

Y'know, just thinking on the fly from David's chance contact and how it's evolved, including great feedback from a small selection of bike forums; this approach with some sort of central clearing house for universal motorcycling issues could be a real winner!

David L Hough

I had a chance to review the various sites you listed. You can quote, reference, or post anything I've sent to you. Your stirring the pot is producing some valuable feedback.

One important bit of feedback is riders recognizing the important concept that there is no "light switch" moment when that guy in the mirror is suddenly too old to ride anymore. Younger riders seem to depend more on testosterone, and some "western movie" fantasy that they can slap leather now without looking back, and then somewhere way down the road (and too far to think about) get shot out of the saddle at the old age of 65 or 70.

My experience has been that the body ages much like an old bike, a part rusting here, a bearing seizing there. There is no point in parking it--or your body--just because of some partial failure. You get your knee meniscus pruned, your hip replaced, prescription eye glasses, etc. Yes, it's possible for some of us to continue riding aggressively beyond age 70 or 75 or 80. But we can't ignore the continuing degradation of our physical and mental skills. Why do so many posts refer to a lighter, lower bike? Because it's typical for leg strength, mobility, and nerve feedback to degrade, reducing the ability to hold the bike up.

What few seem to have commented upon is that attitude typically changes, as well as physical ability. Where at age 35 or 40 it seemed very important to ride swiftly, I've discovered at "over 70" that riding swiftly doesn't seem as important anymore. Speed is relegated to just one factor in the experience of riding. I can putt along at the speed limit, or even slower on a vacant road, listening to the birds, gawking at the farm animals, or just enjoying the smell of a freshly mown field. I realize that younger, less patient riders might think this is a cop out; that I'm trying to come up with justification for being a wuss. No, it's actually a change in my mindset. So, I'd ask the question: are you prepared for your attitude about motorcycling to change? Do you think you'll get to a point--10 or 15 years down the road--where you'll get just as much joy out of sitting in your garage running your eyes over your machine, or your fleet, without having to start an engine? Would it be fun to trailer a vintage bike to a rally and just ride it around the grounds? Or, do you think you'll always have that need to get on the bike and go somewhere, perhaps even at aggressive speeds?

Friends in Woking, England had moved up to a BMW KLT a few years ago. At about age 75, he bought a Suzuki Bergman scooter, and for a few years they continued to tour Europe on the scooter, doing whatever they would have been doing on the LT but with much less effort and expense. I've lost contact with them. I believe the wife's health was failing, and it just wasn't acceptable for the husband to go riding without her. I suspect if they still own the Bergman, but it only gets ridden into town.

Another friend in the UK rode for years, and at about age 70 dropped his Triumph on some slick paving. He sold the bike, and purchased a sports car. The condition of road surfaces in the UK were too much of a crap shoot to risk on a bike anymore.

Having ridden in NZ, including the Coromandel Peninsula, I'm aware of the great twisty nature of the roads. If I were riding NZ, I'd probably not be on a rigid three-wheeler, because it just takes too much energy to stuff a rigid trike or rig through tight turns all day--even with power steering. A Piaggio MP3 might be a good alternative for those wishing for better stability. Yep, a Miata will take corners as well as a Spyder. But the Spyder is (just about everywhere) a motorcycle, if it's motorcycling that floats your boat rather than just taking corners fast.

My point of raising the issue of aging is that there typically isn't a sudden point where you realize and accept that your current style of riding is over. We like to talk about those aging parents and grandparents who are a danger on the road, and should wake up and turn in their keys. We don’t like to think about being the aging parent or grandparent who needs to give up the keys. I think it would be helpful to come up with some guidelines to assist aging riders to judge their fitness for duty. If you have a nasty crash at age 68, is that a good indicator you are necking in on your riding career? Or will it take two crashes, or three crashes before you get the message that it's time to hang up your leathers? It's not just the pain and recuperation I'm thinking about, but the expense and bother to your family. Here in the USA, I'm covered by Medicare, but there are deductibles. A decent crash might cost me $8,000. When I had to be evacuated by air from my crash in the California desert, the original bill was $38,000, just for the 40 minute helicopter ride. Fortunately, Medicare whacked that in half, and paid 80%. But running up big medical bills is definitely a bigger concern when I hop on a motorcycle than when I'm hopping in the truck.

Into that discussion, we need to remember the role of prescription medications. Prior to my most recent crash, I had been on pain killers for a painful sciatic nerve, in addition to my usual diabetic meds. I have to believe that the optical illusions I was experiencing as the crash happened were a result of the medications. Perhaps I had to learn the hard way, but I'm now aware of the importance of really evaluating yourself prior to a ride. Maybe the ride should be scrubbed, or at least shortened. Definitely I should not have ridden with others who would set a more aggressive pace than I would have ridden on my own under the circumstances.

We might also wonder about the relationship between motorcycling and mental health. Brain researchers are beginning to understand that the aging brain doesn't just lose capacity, although it typically loses processing speed. What's most important is that not being mentally challenged by problems allows the brain to lose thinking capacity. And motorcycling is definitely an activity that requires lots of thinking--both conscious and subconscious. Maybe that old saying is right, after all: "You don't give up motorcycling because you grow old, you grow old when you give up motorcycling."

Speaking for myself, carrying on dialogue such as this helps me keep my brain working.

One of the responses to your aging blog referred to "crossing the bridge when I come to it." That assumes that the aging process is like a road, and the bridge is a decision point, although a bridge is really just a means to zip on across a chasm with impunity. I think it's a natural reaction of younger people to be fearful of addressing the future, not only because it's uncomfortable, but because it’s such an unknown.

I think that attitude is a parallel to motorcycling, where in our youth we tend to throw caution to the wind, and as we grow older we can't avoid remembering all the pitfalls we've seen along the way. The young rider doesn't want to think about the risks. I suspect the issue of aging is like any other--we tend to go into denial when it gets uncomfortable. Let's see, what are the steps of denial? It won't happen to me. If it does happen to me it won't be as bad as they say...etc.

Please do keep up the pressure on this issue. I think we can glean some great ideas from the dialogue. The naysayers are just as important as those who nod sagely.

Several years ago a friend and I were strolling around the grounds of the BMWMOA International rally, pondering what might happen in our motorcycling futures. I asked if there was anything "wrong" with transporting a smaller or older machine to the rally, to provide an opportunity to rub elbows with fellow owners. IOW, would the experience of sharing the passion be just as much fun as actually riding a bike cross country?

Several years later, I found myself in distress just weeks before my scheduled departure for a rally in Wisconsin, give or take 2,500 miles away. My left ankle had gone south (plantar fasciitis or whatever). I could barely hobble around, let alone shift the transmission a few thousand times. Finally, I ended up loading the sidecar outfit on a trailer, and towing it behind the Toyota 4Runner (auto trans). During the several day journey I had lots of time to think about the situation. Basically, I decided that whether riding or driving, I was no longer up to the challenge of traveling thousands of miles to a rally. Too much money, too much time, too much fuel consumed, too much effort...The purpose of the rig was to allow me to travel long distances, so its services were no longer needed. I ended up donating the sidecar rig to the MOA Foundation, to raise money for safety projects, and towing the empty trailer home. I figured the K1/EZS outfit had been paid for by royalties from my book, so it was appropriate to give it back to the enthusiasts.

It used to be that I worried more about the machine failing than myself. Now I'm more concerned about myself than the machine. One of my reasons for getting the paddle-shift Spyder was to allow driving it even if my shifter ankle went out. There's a laugh in this. I haven't had any debilitating ankle problems since buying it. And I'm aware that my left thumb could stop working, or my back goes flooey, or whatever. Last summer (prior to my Triple R crash) I had agreed to attend a BMW rally in eastern Oregon. Then because of sciatica, I just couldn't travel at all. I reluctantly had to cancel my seminars. The decaying of my body is prompting me to not agree to be a guest speaker anywhere. I'm trying to resolve this, maybe by agreeing to appear, knowing I might have to cancel (as I did with the OR rally) I suppose as long as they want me to appear, I should continue to make plans, figuring out ways to politely cancel.

Maybe I should encourage the event to have a computer and Skype connection handy, as a fallback plan.

Racing Ducati Desmosedici RR rider in NZ - age is no barrier!


  1. An excellent and stimulating post Geoff.

    I feel that you and David have just scratched the surface on what is becoming a very important line of exploration and thought.

    It has certainly stimulated me to reflect on 'where I'm at' and 'where I want to be' in the future with my riding.

    Motorcycling is so much a part of me, and has been since I was a boy, that I don't even want to think about a future without it!

    Cheers Jules.

  2. Cheers Jules but you've made a huge contribution and I'd like to think that David and Dr Gordon will lead us all forward. I'd certainly love to help in some modest way if it helps to ease the load.

    Riding is the same for me although I've been practising one of my "fall back" positions today in the shape of a successful fishing trip :-).

    Thanks for everything so far mate!

  3. Geoff, you are well versed on my thoughts and opinions and what I took out of this, so there is no need for me to reiterate........But.........please don't tell me you caught another load of fish!!? There won't be any left for me when I finally get around to retiring......no doubt the red shorts, big fish, and rather large grin will appear shortly......

  4. Hello Roger! Wasn't wearing the lucky red red shorts today so just caught 5 decent snapper. Just one cooked for tea tonight - fillets coated in breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, sautéed in the pan, then a sauce of butter, garlic and parsley drizzled over them. I'm grinning and you're raising your middle finger........

  5. Hi, Geoff.
    While I too am a bit younger than you, your comments about plans for the next 5 years, 10 years... etc. made me take stock. I've never been a planner (I've got Karen for that!) but I realised I'd never really thought about where my motorcycling is taking me. After a few years break, Karen's just recently (2 weeks ago!) started riding with me again. We went to Croz's book signing at Cycletreads, and bought her some new gear, so she's effectively committed to riding with me in the short to medium term at least. Means we'll be taking the bike more frequently instead of the car (so you can expect to see us soon!)
    But back to planning... I'll need to give some thought to doing more than just commuting to work on the bike, and how we can have more fun. (Also need to scrub in my first ever set of Michelins!)
    See you soon, Sir!

  6. Geoff
    I recall an incident some years ago where I was drinking coffee at an airfield cafe whilst a privately owned Gnat jet trainer was streaking low over the runway, knife edge flying.
    It landed and the owner hobbling bet almost double came into the restaurant - he appeared to be in his 70s but unfortunately he had tightened up the straps on his G suit too much and had almost crippled himself! I suppose he wasn't interested in prducung more children at his age...
    Regards from up over, N

  7. Geoff,
    I read this post last night and although I enjoyed it I decided not to comment. I woke up this morning with it on my mind. I can’t help but put my two-cents-worth in. I write this with a tone of brotherly love and kindness although I know that some will scoff at what I’m about to write. In my 62 years I’ve come to believe that we’re each created by our loving God with a “God-shaped-hole” right in the center of us. We try to stuff as many material things in that hole as possible but because He has created us this way no one or nothing can satisfy us the way that He can. Until we get right with Him our efforts to find fulfillment are futile.

    We’re all entitled to our beliefs, after all He created us with a free will, and I know that this won’t make sense to some but I can’t help but share what I’ve found. Proverbs 3:1-2 says, “My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart, for they will give you a long and satisfying life.” I believe it’s our Creator who gives us length of days on earth (and on the bike).

    I just wanted to throw this out into the
    blogosphere. Thank you, Geoff, for a great discussion on an important topic. May your days be blessed and the number of them long my friend!

  8. Hi Ian - great to "see" you!
    Great news about Karen travelling with you and may you have years of fun! With Jennie's hip replacement, it would have to be a cruiser or trike to get her on the back again. however, she adores her MX5 so we do a lot of "stuff" in that together which sort of dovetails with part of my "fallback" plan. Incidentally, from your Kiwi Biker forum comment on on this topic, I'm ok with Ibuprofen, but any stronger anti-inflammatory has me seeking a rest stop sooner or later if you get my drift :-).

    Safe riding mate!

    It seems that the pilot took rather extreme measures to avoid producing more children. All he needed was a wife to write the word "vascectomy" in his filofax on every page of the year to "encourage" him not to be a wuss and get on with it. I speak from personal experience.

    I'm absolutely not scoffing, even though I'm not religious in the accepted sense - I just try to do the right thing on most occasions. Thanks so much for thinking of me, that's an extremely nice thought.

    Take care...

  9. I enjoyed reading that Geoff, it hit the nail on the head for me - in my younger days I was a bullet-proof hotshot looking for speed, the faster the better but now in my 60s it's cruising and enjoying the scenery and when I feel that I am not safe anymore it will be a sports car - great stuff, oh and by the way that fish of yours sounded bloody delicious!

  10. Geoff:

    Filofax !! Haven't heard that term in eons, but I know what it is. Perhaps I had a Rollodex instead. Although I you are a tad younger than myself I find that I am following in your tiretracks. Bluebird --> Striple --> MX5. Perhaps the Striple will be my next bike but can you accelerate your timeline a bit, I want to see what bike is next. I've already had my MX5, and before that two different RX7's, but I still have my "vette.

    Funny now that I think about it. I had sports cars, then the family mini-van, then I went wild and started on sports cars and convertibles. We used to joke about that old Grey haired guy in the JAG, smoking a pipe. Won't be long now . . .

    or maybe . . . an Ariel-Atom


    Wet Coast Scootin

  11. Gidday Andrew!
    Yeah, I think we get a few more glimpses of our own mortality through that crack in the door to the other side. The recipe is Jennie's and it IS bloody delicious. Oh, and you marinate the fish in lemon juice and chopped onion for an hour before cooking it. I might prefer a gas station pie and a bottle of water when I'm on the charge on the bike but I LOVE good food when it's time to relax!

    I didn't have a filofax either, just a generic term. Mine was similar, but called a Time Manager from the name of the course that went with ownership of the book. Top course it was too. I followed much the same course as you with station wagons and the like when the kids were growing up. Not sure I'd want an MX5 if I had a 'vette though :-). The Ariel isn't a starter as there's no room for Management, so there would be a Disturbance in the Force if I tried to buy one, magnificent as they are; especially the V8 version!

  12. Your thoughts on the subject are very much in tune with what everyone in our age group probably has on his/her mind. Young and fearless, aged and wiser.
    I'd hate to think what life without riding would be. Probably "Living Hell".
    A smaller bike or even a scooter would be better than walking with a cane or driving in a cage.
    For me it will probably be either a BMW or a URAL hitched with a side car.
    Glad you enjoyed the fishing...leave some for our friend. Great post and lots of food for though here Geoff. keep well

  13. Hi Baron!
    Cheers - David has done us all a supreme favour by raising the subject. I rode a scooter (a Yamaha 125) 18 months ago for the first time in a 40+ year riding history and was genuinely surprised just how much fun it was, even with the SPEED GOVERNOR on the back slapping my head to induce a bit of common sense. There are some rather brisk models on the market nowadays.

    My next step towards longevity is rather pressing. The central threaded column of the computer stool is gradually working its way through the padded seat. The end-result will be eye-watering and a new purchase is something of a priority.

    Have fun...

  14. You're right about the Yamaha Scooter, Mrs. Baron had a Yamaha 150cc scooter in Singapore and I borrowed it a few times...very peppy machine..didn't like the no shifting "automatic" gearbox...was used to riding a Piagio 150PX..
    Good thing the speed governor was controlling you.
    Dying to find out what your next ride will be...you're good at creating suspense my good friend.

  15. I had to come back and tell you about an amazing rider who toured India on his bike at the age of 72 and then went on to tour South America at 78...an amazing fellow and a Brit too.
    Old Man on a Bike!
    He is now planing a final trip...I do not know the details yet...but the point is it can be done.

  16. Thanks for that, sounds really inspirational. Will have a look as soon as I've finished some chores.

    Regarding the next ride, no suspense necessary, will be hanging on to the Triple for a while yet, unlike the computer chair I'm typing this from which unless urgently replaced, will limit my progress into advanced years :-)

  17. Geoff:

    I can endorse Baron's Old Man on a Bike reference (http://ontwowheels-eh.blogspot.com/2009/03/old-man-on-bike.html).

    This topic is one that we will all have to consider at some point. I am now (at 61) riding the heaviest bike I've ever owned, and I notice it. Not on the road, but in the parking lot. Muscling that 300 kg around isn't as easy as it used to be, especially if the ground is not level. So far a renewed focus on fitness and muscle tone has addressed the problem, but that won't always be so, although I hope not for many years yet.
    Thanks for raising the topic and offering us all an opportunity to explore and consider the inevitable.

  18. Geoff:

    Do you mean if you don't purchase a new chair right away you may become permanently affixed ?

    at least we will know where to find you. And I'm disappointed to find out you didn't wear your lucky red shorts on your last fishing expedition. I was thinking that perhaps a PINK pair would be even more luckier. Let me know your size and I will start shopping for one and send it over.

    Wet Coast Scootin

  19. Hi Canajun:
    I suppose one thing about your Harley is that it has a reasonable seat height. My tall 'bird was getting decidedly scary in the parking lot as I was on tip-toe, so the decision to get something lower and lighter was largely forced on me; not that there are any regrets as I chose well. Glad you think the discussion has helped, it's certainly been good for me. It's also given my bicycle outings renewed purpose!

    You have it in one, although last night, another part of it failed first and it's now junk (and I'm safe!)

    Given your taste in shoes, art objects that they may be, I'll pass on letting you shop for me - we don't want to frighten the fish. Thanks for your kind thoughts though :-).

  20. You "little dick" comment made me laugh.It brought to mind a quote from The Simpsons when Lou the cop had to hand over his gun after they were banned:

    "Lou: This always made me feel like a man, you know. Now all I've got is my enormous genitals."

  21. Hi Paul!
    Hahaha - that's great!!!! I haven't even got much testosterone to fall back on these days :-)

    Thanks so much for dropping by!

  22. I found your BLOG through Baron’s Life. As a long time rider I can truly relate. You commented about knowing when it’s time to stop riding and find another passion. That really hit home since I’ve come to that realization not too long ago. I dread the day I’ll have to hang up my keys. Hopefully my memories of riding will last the rest of my life.

  23. Hi Scribe and thanks for dropping in!

    Good comments. Hopefully, I'll take my own advice and that of David Hough and prolong my riding career for some long time yet. With respect to dreading the day..... if you do find another passion, there probably won't be too much to dread although we're all allowed a bit of wistful nostalgia!

    Safe riding...

  24. You have definitely caused me to think long and hard about the future Geoff. I hope that in years to come I will have the wisdom and experience to know when to make the changes that will surely come. I just hope it is a good ways off yet!
    Thanks for your blogs, they help to keep me sane when i cant play with my 'Bird.
    All the best mate!

  25. Cheers SB - you're just a spring chicken yet! Haha - I hope snow isn't still bothering you up north!!


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