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
DAVID’S MUSINGS SO FAR
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.