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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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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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