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On Balance  

The time comes for older motorcycle riders to gear down

Knowing when to say when

I’m so tired I can hardly stand, and coffee isn’t helping. As the saying goes: Roses are red, Violets are blue, Getting old is pigeon poo.

There’s a puppy in the old farmhouse. Cute, highly energetic and doing a stellar job of letting me know that some things really are more wearing on us when we’re no longer 21—or 51 if it comes to that.

Things like puppies, Monday’s power outage, pounding in fenceposts and hiking in a massive downpour—it has all contributed to thinking about this week’s conversation.

At some point in the riding adventure, most of us need to consider the question of whether, and when, to hang it up. Some of us, of course, don’t get that luxury.

Life-altering illness or injury and fatal collisions abbreviate far too many motorcycling careers. So the rest of us kind of owe it to those folks to take this matter seriously and try to weigh out the options for ourselves.

I’ve looked at this from a few different angles and searched the literature and the statistics to see what we can learn from the academics because enthusiast publications aren’t exactly falling over themselves to guide us anywhere but onto a new bike. Nothing against new bikes, I wish I could get one, but it is a rather narrow viewpoint.

Let’s start there and then get on to the other stuff.

A few years ago, on a vacation in the Rockies, I got talking with a couple of seniors who had surprised me by showing up on a big scooter. All the way from New York, this pair were gleefully pounding out the miles on a gently loaded Burgman. They happy to talk about why.

His left knee wasn’t up to lifting/balancing the bigger tourer bike they’d rode for years. So they decided to keep seeing the world on two lighter and more manageable wheels. So they traded up (or down) to the scooter and got back on the road.

The point is the decision to hang it up isn’t black or white. It can be just like what people now do to get a license in the first place—a graduated process of adapting to change. This couple was just reversing what a number of countries require for new riders—graduated displacement. Instead of going up the scale of horsepower and weight as beginners, they’ve found equal value in applying all their skills and experience to a bike back down that ladder.

The toughest part of that decision for a very large number of riders, though, is going to be the challenge of putting aside pride and peer pressure in favour of good sense. That is easier said than done in a world where you aren’t “really” a rider yet, or still, if you’re riding anything less substantial than your dream bike, or your buddies’ rides. Overwhelmingly, the club rides are largely populated by very large displacement, very powerful and very heavy ponies.

Allow me to suggest a little homework here. If you’ve had the occasional honest moment with yourself and noted the big bike is indeed getting to be more anchor than boat some days, go do some test riding.

Things have changed. What’s happening in the smaller displacement categories will blow your mind if you haven’t ridden lighter for awhile. Modern engine management, metallurgy, manufacture, technology, and design have brought us smaller bikes that run rings around the traditional big stuff. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t just dismiss it out of hand. Great options exist.

While you’re test riding, consider the rest of the picture for the aging rider. (I hate that, by the way—the aging part. It just rubs me raw.)

A few years ago, the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit analyzed what was happening in the motorcycling world. They found riders over 50 don’t bounce well in B.C. any more than in the other parts of the world where this has been studied.

Riders over 50 who crash sustain more severe injuries and spend longer in ICU and in hospital generally compared with younger riders. They are also more often fatally injured in comparable crashes.

More recently, the unit released a new overview (Motorcycle Injuries in BC), looking at injury crashes from 2009 -2018. Brace yourself.

“Nearly one-quarter of all motorcycle injuries and deaths are among those 50-59 years old,” it said, adding there has been an increase in deaths among ages 30 to 39, 60 to 69, and 70 and over categories. That is consistent with findings elsewhere in the world.

Age and experience clearly do not outweigh risk, and in some respects they are contributors. Senior riders who choose to continue, therefore, should be more willing to choose better protection than before. Better helmets, better gear, and more safely equipped bikes are critical choices for us—as are more careful fatigue management.

So, it’s either that or saying “when.”

As always, it’s your call.



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Get ready for cold-weather motorcycle riding

Shiver me timbers!

Burr! The old mercury dropped off the scale of happiness and rider joy suddenly, wouldn’t you say? Now what?

From the relative quiet, and the sudden conspicuous absence of fellow riders out there, I’d hazard a guess that indoor games won the toss for a lot of us. Best get down the shops fast because the bike covers, smart chargers and storage wax are flying off the shelves.

But come on. This is Canada after all. We have a reputation for playing in the cold. And it isn’t really all that cold—or dark—yet.

So, let’s go over the autumn pre-trip and see what’s going to keep us rolling in our safe and happy place.

There are some issues ahead that have better answers now than ever before, even for those of us who aren’t, by nature, polar dippers.

First off, get the cover back off that bike and give it a good once-over. As things cool off, they also get messier so a bit of a rub down’s in order, along with some fresh lubrication.

By now, it’s about time for an oil change. Filters want changing and all the friction points like cables, chains and control pivots have more dust and grit in them than the specified lubricants they should have. There’s a happy few hours of tinkering with the tunes on. A clean, polished bike always runs better too they say.

All shiny and smooth again? Great! Except, maybe, where it comes to the round rubber bits. At this time of year, and going forward, we really don’t want to be risking it on tires that are well past their best. There’s plenty of riding waiting for us and it doesn’t have to be all about falling down if we make sure we’re on tires that can give good grip in the cold and the wet.

That old joke about winter tires for your bike? Ha ha ha. It’s just that—old. Now, we have options. There are plenty of tires that have softer compounds and better tread designs than summer skins, so it’s well worth a chat with the tire sales representative of your choice. Whether that’s a person or a website, the information’s there for you to find. Retail therapy you can actually rationalize, how about that?

Remember, there’s going to be some friendly uniformed folk on the roadside waiting to check that you did this particular bit of your homework (by Oct. 1) before setting off for a ride over the Richter, Anarchist, Eagle (passes) or any other passes begging to be ridden on the next bright sunny day.

About that, there definitely is less of it these days. Sun, or even daylight, I mean. And for riders, as I’ve mentioned before, the collision reports make it clear darkness is not our friend. So, naysayers notwithstanding, this would be a very good time to consider whether some lighting upgrades are in order. Here are your rationales:

• In the cold and the wet, we need longer distances for safe stops and avoidance manoeuvres. So, we need lights that illuminate the road farther ahead than the three-candlepower mood lighting that came with the bike. Better high and low beams and good quality aftermarket spot lamps can make a world of difference to your comfort and safety.

• In the cold and the wet, we need lights that don’t reflect so badly off the rain or other atmospheric atrocities that we may come across. So, fog lights, mounted lower than the headlamp, give us a fighting chance when combined with our best safety tactic—slowing down.

• Bears may be heading for nap time but the rest of the many and varied critters that like to party on the road just when we’re coming over a hill are very much still up to their tricks. And they can be much, much harder to spot in the warm glow of a 10-year old SAE nightlight.

• There are libraries full of research articles that point out the merits of better motorcycle conspicuity, especially in “challenging” lighting conditions. More, and better, lights are the gold standard of recommendations about that. And then there are high-viz jackets and vests. It to be said.

• About the libraries, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org) provides great research about how bad most automotive headlights have been for years. So consider this, we only have one light (on motorycles) and the institute has not gotten around to testing them.

So where are we? The bike’s tuned up, lubed up and polished to perfection. The tires are good and grippy. The lights are opening up whole new vistas. Warm and fuzzy yet?

No, there’s still the wind and rain chill to deal with, which is why riding loses it’s appeal (at this time fo year, for lots of people well before hockey starts and why it gets dangerous.

This is where your bike and your gear can really do wonders—heated everything and great weather-proof top layers. Wow!

Heated grips and vests are so easy to organize and so good at keeping hypothermia at bay, your timbers can well and truly stop shivering.

Be cool with the cool, and ride on.



The safest and best way to stop a motorcycle

Smokin' your stops

Ready for ski season? I’m betting there’s a fair few out there who are completely done with anything that looks even remotely like those hazy, crazy days of summer. And to think, I used to like firefighting. Egad.

I skipped writing this column for awhile, partly because our plans for the summer got “seasonally adjusted” and partly because messing around on motorcycles sort of lost significance compared to people scrambling to save lives, livelihoods, and livestock.

But we’re still out there on the road and in the (somewhat less smoky) wind. It was time, I figured, to finish some of the thoughts from earlier columns about issues related to stopping instead of crashing.

And, sure enough, there is some theme music for today’s ride. The obvious, the eternal and very loud: Smoke on the Water. Well, what else, eh?

There are three keys to safe, effective braking when it all goes bad:

• Use
• Equip
• Adjust

Step one, “use”, seems obvious but science and observation tell us it’s quite the missing link. I mentioned before that research has found riders in general achieve no more than 70% of their motorcycles’ braking capacity and, in many cases, a lot less.

There are plenty of reasons for this but one in particular jumps out when you watch other riders, and listen to the chatter at the show ‘n shine.

We don’t normally use our brakes much. We use the transmission. Shifting down a couple of cogs, as we all know, knocks a ton of momentum off in very short order (little mass, therefore inertia easy to overcome). And we need to shift down for whatever’s next on the agenda anyways, so there we go—approach a corner or intersection, pull the clutch, bang it down a few and Robert’s your mother’s brother. Touch the brakes and you’re stopped.

What could be wrong with this cool and skillful approach?

For a start, look in the mirrors. See that smoke coming from the trailer brakes on the rig behind you? Um hmm. The dude in the cab wouldn’t have come anywhere near so close to punting you into next Tuesday if your brake light had come on when you knocked off that first big chunk of speed.

Equally, when it comes to needful stopping, you’re practising the wrong thing. To play guitar, you have to play the guitar. Not the drums. So to achieve your best braking, ignore Fred over there in the vest with all the cool pins and badges on it, bragging about how he never has to use the brakes. Use the brakes!

Every time you need or want to slow down, use your brakes first, last, and always. That way, your hands and feet know the way to the right levers and don’t need a few seconds of re-training to get to business. One day, trust me, you’re going to need those seconds.

Brake first, then gear down. Think: lead guitar.

The second item on the agenda is “equip.” I’ve said it before but it bears constant repeating that riders on ABS-equipped bikes crash less, are injured less and fewer die than those on bikes without them. More than 30% less. The reason is ABS prevents skidding and losing control, which is really helpful when you need to stop.

Put another way, skidding without ABS and falling down, then sliding into whatever big nasty thing you needed to avoid, is pretty much deadly.

Reason number two is full brake lever stroke capacity. That mean’s you can use everything you have, right away, instead of having to do the “progressive braking” thing we were all taught as the way to avoid skidding and falling down. See above.

Progressive braking is absolutely the best way to use your brakes— the smooth and controlled application of the levers in stages. So keep doing that, except when Betty’s pulled a U-turn in front of your nose. Then, nuts to that, nail the brakes as hard as you can if, and only if, you have ABS. It’s there to sort it out and keep you upright. And it does. It’s a proven fact.

The third item on the list of getting all the stopping done efficiently, effectively and reliably— “adjust.”

Bikes have the wonderful characteristic of being adjustable— some more, some less, some electronically and some with the good old 10 millimetre. But they do adjust. So why put up with your fingers never actually quite reaching the levers or being stretched out like you’re on the rack? You need to be able to immediately, without compromise or complication, use those controls.

Put ‘em where you can. Take the afternoon off, get out the wrenches and get yourself a new position in life…for your life.

If your controls won’t go there, get some that will. The aftermarket’s full of help in this area but be warned, lots of it is just expensive crap. Shop carefully.

And, like I’ve been saying, your bike isn’t the only adjustable character in the play.

We all have habits and assumptions, ways of doing things and thinking about things, that from time to time need to be reconsidered and adjusted too.



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Insane attempts at passing

It’s blazing hot still, and it seems like pretty much everything’s on fire, so writing about traffic safety for riders is a bit of a diversion from getting the grab’n go kit together. Yours ready?

I decided to take a break from braking, and have a wee chat about some of the other stuff that’s been making me cringe when I watch other riders around here. There’s two stories I want to tell, to set the stage.

A couple of weeks ago we were having a “family day out,” up the valley some distance, enjoying the air conditioned comfort of the pickup. As we motored along through the twisties (me wishing I was on two wheels), I noticed a rider approaching rapidly and erratically from behind.

Keeping an eye on the shirtless wonder with his costume helmet, I looked for a spot along the rock walls to ease over and let him through, because the double yellow lines are continuous in the area for obvious reasons.

Pointless. Dude ripped across the double yellows, and blew by us on an uphill corner towards a blind crest. I hit the brakes and hoped for the best, saying things about his parentage that don’t bear repeating. We both got lucky, and I didn’t have to get out the first aid kit. Not that it would have mattered – the oncoming logging truck that he just missed wouldn’t have left that option.

Another day, another jaunt to a nearby beach for quality time with the water dog, and a better dressed but even more impatient Ducati afficionado appeared in the mirrors. We were in another double-yellow stretch just a few hundred feet from where I normally take a left off the highway. Before I could flick on the signal light to warn Captain Sporty, he was beside me, doing well over the ton.

A second, literally, after he got back in lane, two other riders came around the bend towards him. Big happy waves. No clue that he came within a heartbeat of ending the bunch of them.

Now for the perspective: another shirtless rider in a costume hat died the other day farther up country, having failed the knowledge test about passing on the right, on the shoulder, in a corner. Unprotected. Three other riders died just recently, single rider head-on into a group.

You can’t make this stuff up.

So, I’m not just being Mr. Nanny State, freaking out about all the times I’m seeing riders making insane passing moves in crazy bad locations and situations. But I am starting to think it’s maybe a thing on social media.

Somehow the message “Ignore double yellow lines, pass anywhere” has gone viral.

I’ve lost count of the times, this season, that I’ve had to nail the brakes and magic some room for yet another exceptionally talented rider, sometimes with friend keeping up, putting themselves in harm’s way. For what?

On a related note, I’ve mentioned before that some of our compatriots of the wheel like to crowd the centre line, possibly thinking that they’re “dominating the lane” like they say to do in the videos. On any stretch of road, but especially through left hand bends, this is simply dancing with death.

Motorcyclists, no matter what we’re riding, cannot, and will not, dominate oncoming traffic. We therefore keep well away from it, if we have any sense at all of what’s good for us. But, again, I’m seeing this more, rather than less often, and wondering who’s encouraging this lunacy.

After all, these aren’t new riders. Invariably, they’re obviously well used to riding, and riding at speed. So, it isn’t a question of simply nota knowing what they’re doing.

Or is it?

Let’s see now. Trained riders, we know, are a small minority of all motorcyclists on the road. Most folks just throw a leg over and figure it out as they go, maybe with help from someone more experienced.

So, lots of untrained but experienced riders out there. Many of whom are also unlicensed. The police estimates I’ve been party to peg it at about 30 percent or more of the riding community who have yet to bother with proving their competence by taking skills and road tests.

Untrained, untested, learning by experience. Trusting their luck. Hmmmm.

Here’s the thing. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a fascinating phenomenon that’s been keeping social psychologists arguing amongst themselves since 1999, when Messrs Dunning and Kruger first published. In a nutshell, the thesis is that people who are crap at stuff are also crap at knowing whether they’re crap.

So they don’t learn from experience. They figure they’re doing just fine.

You can see how this might be the problem that’s showing up in some really crap riding by “experienced” riders. Tailgating, dangerous passing, poor lane positioning, incompetent avoidance manoeuvres. And crashing.

Dunning-Kruger at work.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so what would help is if you would collectively put some effort into motivating the untrained and unlicensed to deal with it, and stop testing their luck.

Save a life.



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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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