In years past, our parents generation, retirement meant selling the house, moving to a senior citizen community somewhere near Palm Springs, Palm Beach or Phoenix and taking up Golf. If you were a little more adventurous you might buy a Winnebago and go see the National Parks or visit the Grandkids. Well, over the past decade or two that scenario has changed a bit. Today, Grandma and Grandpa are just as likely to show up on a motorcycle as they are in a motorhome.
One of my day jobs is coaching new and returning motorcycle riders to be better riders, safer riders and have more fun on two wheels. As I’m planning for the upcoming riding season, which here in Southern California is pretty much all year, I look back through all our customer/client/student files and realize that the majority are of the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation. When I get a new client, I always ask them what made them want to get into motorcycling? The answers generally fall into three categories… 1; I used to ride when I was younger and want to get back into it. 2; It’s something I have always wanted to do but just never really had the time (the second part of that answer is often, my wife didn’t want me to have a motorcycle while we had kids in the house…um, Ok?) and 3; I’m tired of riding behind my husband! Number three is a lot more common than you might think, as a matter fact, new women riders account for the fastest growing segment of new motorcycle sales. And actually there is a number 4 reason, one of our clients told us that he bought a motorcycle because…get ready, here it comes…”the ladies like bikers.” Now mind you, this gentleman has been collecting Social Security for a while, but he was having fun.
Despite what some may say, motorcycles are big business, particularly in the over 45 years old category, these are the buyers that have the time and the money to get into higher end motorcycles. It was back in the late 70’s early 80’s that Willie G. Davidson (grandson to the one of the founders of Harley-Davidson) said, “It’s not just a motorcycle, it’s a lifestyle.” It’s so true and it doesn’t just go for Harley Davidson, motorcycle riding is a lifestyle no matter what you ride. For some people a motorcycle really does define who they are.
How big is the motorcycle business outside of the dealership? Well, cities around the country hold rallies that draw thousands of riders who spend lots of cash, which stimulates the local economy. Look at the biggest…Sturgis South Dakota, Daytona Bike Week (going on right now) and more. But as you look around these rallies, what do see, besides big motorcycles? Grey hair. The American Motorcyclist Association says that their average member age is 48+.
All of that is all well and good for the motorcycle industry and the peripherals but there is a down side for older motorcyclists on the road. We get hurt more often and more seriously than younger riders. Damn…I hate when that happens. It’s really simple…we don’t bounce as good as we used to.
Here are some statistics that should wake some of us up.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2007 showed that motorcycle fatalities involving riders over the age of 45 grew four times (4X) from 2001-2005.
Motorcyclists over the age of 60 are three times more likely to be hospitalized than a younger rider (DUH!!). Serious chest and rib cage fractures are among the most common.
The list goes on but you get the idea.
**These statistics are based on ‘averages’, this can include things like not wearing a helmet, riding impaired, unlicensed, no training, etc..
Ok, why does all this happen? it’s just life. The physiological changes we go through…little things like bone strength, fat redistribution, declining vision, slower reaction times all contribute to potential injury (crashing)…and the fact that modern motorcycles are incredibly powerful!
So, what can older riders do to lower the risk of crashing? Well, for one, more senior (I like that term better than ‘older’) riders do tend to ride more safely (their ego was put in the closet a long time ago), they understand better their limitations. Joining a riding club, such as HOG (Harley Owners Group), GWRRA (Gold Wing Road Riders Association) or any other club where you can ride with other motorcyclists and learn from one another. Many riding groups can, and do, bring in guest instructors to help beginning riders become road ready and give refresher courses to more experienced riders. My friend Les Brown of Motorcycle Coaching 101 spends a lot of time with riding clubs helping riders enjoy the road more safely.
We all love riding our motorcycles as much as we can, whenever we can and wherever we can and we want to keep doing it for a long time. So, my advice for older riders is this …keep riding! Go take a refresher riding course, there are a lot of them out there just do a google search to find one in your area, you want to keep your skills up. You want to ride deliberately, not just instinctively. If you’re riding with friends, pay attention to their riding, when you stop, ask them “are you OK?” “Are you tired yet?” and then most importantly ask yourself those same questions.
As I say at the end of my podcasts, “Ride safe, Ride Fast and I’ll see you on the Road.” For a lot of years to come.
…maybe I need to turn the air conditioning on!? but wait, I’m on a motorcycle, it doesn’t have air conditioning. Wrong, hot weather breath…now you can be as comfortable as the person driving that deluxe Geo Metro in the next lane. Oh sure, your Gold Wing has a cup holder, CD player and now even an air bag but what about riding in those 100* plus days…dude I need air conditioning. Vented jackets just don’t do it anymore and riding in just a t-shirt is so 70’s well… Entrosys (www.entrosys.com) has solved your hot weather riding problems…Introducing air conditioning for motorcycles.
No longer do you have to stop at every gas station on Highway 395 or I10 and grab the water bib, soak yourself and ride off hoping the next gas station is only 20 miles away, now you can have air conditioning!! It’s as easy has loading the A/C unit on the back of your bike…you didn’t need that space for a tail pack for your luggage anyway…putting on a special vest and sticking what looks to be a vacuum cleaner hose up your jacket, assuming you’re wearing a jacket and hitting the switch, life just couldn’t get any better. Sheesh.
I’ll start this post with an apology. There will, in about eight months, be another Nielsen to terrorize the motorcycling world. I’m sorry. The other day my son Kelly informed me that I was going to be a Grandfather. This can’t be true I said to myself, I’m not that old!!?? A quick look in the mirror and guess what…I am that old. Damn.
I started riding at the ripe old age of fourteen, I rode my fathers Honda CB160 right into the back of his ’66 Impala. Being the good dad, he first asked if I was OK, I said yeah…but as he was asking the question he was checking out the motorcycle. I don’t believe that he even heard my answer. That’s OK too. From that time on I loved motorcycles. It was my stepfather that truly injected the sickness to me. I can’t thank both of them enough.
My son Kelly was about two years old when I first put him on a motorcycle. Trail riding in the Kennedy Meadows area of the southern Sierra’s. Outfitted him with helmet, goggles…(do you know how hard it is to find goggles, much less a helmet to fit a two year old??!!), gloves and whatever I could find for protection. Here we are on my trusty Husqvarna 250 getting ready for a fun ride through the mountains. Over the years I would take Kelly to school on a motorcycle, go to the Speedway races in Costa Mesa on a bike, all over the place and all on a motorcycle. But for some reason the sickness never infected him. Where did I go wrong??
Fast forward a few years. Kelly graduates from high school and we send him off to Europe for three months or so. It’s amazing what you’ll do to get your kid out of the house! Downside…he came back. Upside…he came back and wanted to ride?! Cool. He had rented a small motorbike in Greece and got hooked. He told me that he never understood my obsession until then. We spent Christmas day riding around the hills of our town just having a blast. He on our little trusty CB350 and me on..I don’t remember. Put the boy in the local MSF course, got his license, made him spend six months riding the little 350 and then got him his own bike, a Honda Hawk GT. He still has it.
Another short ‘fast forward’ here, my father who got me started, wanted to ride again..great. But..he hadn’t ridden a motorcycle since the days of the Honda 160. Search the classifieds and back yards and found my dad a ’71 CB350, the perfect starter bike…it seems I have a thing for the Honda 350’s…it’s a weird sickness don’t ask, I don’t know why. Anyway, same thing for dad, MSF course and time on a little bike. Next up, a Honda GL500 Silver Wing..neat little bike and a good traveler. Dad and I ride the SCMA 3 Flags Classic, Mexico to Canada in 3 1/2 days, together a couple of times and some other good trips. Dad was in his 60’s at the time and just as enthused as a kid, it was great.
At the same time as all this was going on, I was roadracing out at Willow Springs here in Southern California, AFM in Northern California and doing the western AHRMA races. My dad became the crew chief of our team and was having the time of his life. But…something was missing, Kelly. For some reason racing didn’t appeal to him..wuss.
I don’t know what happened but one day my son decided that racing might be fun…duh… So we bought another Honda Ascot to go singles racing and get him started. After a few races on that evil thing (“that bike is trying to kill me”) we actually got a proper race bike, a Yamaha YZF600. Set it up and off he went. The highlight of this time was the WERA 24Hour Endurance race at Willow Springs. The whole family, my daughter as a scorer, my son and myself as racers and of course my dad as crew chief. So, like I have said before, when the family rides together, there is no generation gap.
My son and daughter still ride and my dad rode his Gold Wing (he finally stepped up to the BIG leagues) until he passed away. Oh, and one other little note here, in the 24 hour race, my son Kelly was the youngest racer and I was the oldest. We finished 3rd in middleweight supersport. Not bad for a kid and a geezer