So you want to grow old with your motorcycle

The time has rolled around to where it is tough to get off your bike after a ride. Heck, it’s almost impossible to get off the floor once I’m down there. Other signs of aging have become an all-too-common occurrence.

The children and grandchildren are asking, “When are you going to stop riding? It’s too dangerous!” Friends shake their heads and say, “I wouldn’t want to ride in all that traffic nowadays.” Still some of us old timers get the urge to drag out the bike and go for a ride. Riding motorcycles is a very dangerous sport, that is a fact.

There are a few of us who are not ready to give it up yet, or maybe ever. I find it comforting to still have a motorcycle in the garage. Let’s look at some ways to continue to ride safely as we age.

Check your motorcycle. If it looks like it’s been kept in a barn full of goats, better get it out and hose it off. If the cycle has been maintained properly, you’re ahead of the curve. Motorcycles that have been sitting for a long time need fresh oil and filters, fresh gas in the tank and air in the tires. Take great care checking those tires, as they are essential for safe motorcycling.

You want your motorcycle to respond when you need it to. Make sure she runs well and stops better. I’m an advocate of hard braking at the slightest hint of danger. Most road problems will disappear before you get to them if you can get on the brakes early and hard. Be an expert at braking.

Since we are of the self-taught motorcycle riding generation, we’ve learned it all the hard way. But we can improve our skills by reading and practicing. Some good authors to consider are David Hough, Reg Pridmore, Keith Code, Nick Ienatsch and Phillip Funnell. There are many others, too.

If we want to keep riding (I’m pushing five decades since I started) and save some of our skin while doing so, we need to exercise our brains on the subject. Forgetting things is easy so I’ve made a habit of reading through my motorcycle books even in the off season. Hopefully, then, if an emergency arises while riding, I will make the right decision.

Being hit by a drunk driver I should have avoided when I was in my teens was my one and only collision. Some of that now is experience, some is luck, but most of it is anticipating problems before I use up my available reaction/braking time. Still, I make mistakes.

Riding to a camping rally two years ago, my bike was overloaded. There were high winds that day blowing across the highway, which was ground down and had those friendly concrete lines.

The wind was pushing me to the shoulder, where there was a tall edge trap, and the road was shaking the bike and me silly. Traffic was heavy and a truck behind me was playing that game of “Let’s make this motorcycle go faster by getting right up behind him.”

I thought, “I’m going to crash soon if I don’t do something!” The solution popped into my mind. I slowly dropped my speed down to around 30 mph in spite of the truck behind me, loosened my grip on the handle bars, put my weight on the foot pegs and leaned forward.

I remembered what to do. Afterwards I thought, “That worked pretty good!” Incidents like that have happened before where I have remembered the correct thing to do. Remembering isn’t always easy anymore but it’s still possible.

Family Cervidae five species.jpgSafety gear is critical as well. I can hear you laughing because the 50 pounds you’ve put on no longer allows you to wear your old horsehide police motorcycle jacket. You don’t own a color-coordinated ballistic riding suit, not that you ever thought about buying one. You still can wear boots and put on gloves. Your helmet still fits, right? You do wear a helmet, don’t you?

If you have gear always wear it, but don’t let it lull you into thinking that all of a sudden you’re racing legend Mert Lawwill. Riding gear may give the appearance that you know what you’re doing, but it does not make you a skilled rider. Don’t ever ride or be influenced to ride past your skill and safety level. Always reserve a percentage of it for emergencies.

Riding a motorcycle proficiently requires knowledge and practice. Letting weeks go by without riding is detrimental to staying in the safety groove. Practice what you’ve learned from reading and read often.

Think about riding when you’re driving your car, pretend it’s your motorcycle. Think about lane placement, dangerous possibilities at intersections, etc., and by all means keep a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. This will give you time to react and avoid problems when you ride.

Never ever be in a hurry. Being in a hurry is when you make mistakes. Slow down, be safe and enjoy the ride.

If you have to open up your bike for fun, be very selective where and when you do it. Pick places where there aren’t a lot of crossroads and traffic is light. Do this in the daytime and not at night. I never ride when it is dark because my night vision isn’t the best and deer are painful.

Reaction time is affected by your speed. The faster you go, the higher percentage of riding skill you will need to stay safe. Riding fast can put you outside of your skill/reaction ability. That is when really bad things can happen.

By the way, how is your reaction time? How fast can you still make the right decision in an emergency? How much real skill and knowledge do you have in reserve for hard riding? How good are you, really? You have to figure that out and then lay down some guidelines for yourself.

“Coffee with Tom” (Tom Stresing) is an informal safety seminar that is held every year at the Wisconsin Dells Rally. It is informative, entertaining and we always look forward to attending. Safety seminars similar to Tom’s can be found at rallies all around the nation. I’ve noticed that there are always enough of us older riders attending rallies to open up a senior high rise apartment building, yet not many of us take advantage of this type of training. Don’t miss a chance to attend.

Tag Sale Sign.jpgLack of concentration causes many an accident. I was riding in heavy traffic last year. The posted speed was 30 mph. People were selling things in their front yards along the street. Looking away for a few seconds at a boat for sale, I failed to notice all the traffic in front of me had stopped for an accident. Even though I was braking hard, I quickly realized I would not be able to stop in time. My motorcycle and I were about to become trunk ornaments.

Always looking for escape routes when riding, I steered for the gutter between the car ahead of me and the curb. I made it around the car and finally stopped alongside of the front passenger side window. There were just inches to spare between the car, my bike and the curb.

I avoided a nasty rear-end collision, a situation that would not have happened had I been looking where I should. The safe distance between the car in front of me dwindled because I was spending critical time watching elsewhere. This lapse in concentration caused the emergency.

Now I’m going to go against the current here and upset a few people. I don’t adhere to the adage that sooner or later you’re going to have an accident, that you’re going to crash because everyone does. That is like giving up in a corner that you’ve entered too fast, slamming on the brakes and sailing off into the ditch. Believe and plan to survive every ride or just sell the bike. Don’t give up to the crash. Fight to make that corner, to stop short, to anticipate. It can be done. You can ride safer.

Gary Nixon.JPG Gary Nixon, pictured here, reportedly used to ask at the start of every race, “Which one of you sons-of-bitches is coming in second?” I say, coming in second isn’t all that bad. Just having a pleasant ride and getting back home safe can now be fulfilling. Enjoy that bike and grow old with it.


Photo credits

  • Pile of wrecked motorcycles: From a story on about a Lamborghini driver plowing into a row of BMW bikes in front of a dealership in Mariano Comense, Italy.
  • Deer: From the general Wikipedia page about these nefarious creatures.
  • Yard sale sign: By Jim ChuteOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
  • Gary Nixon: Found on Nixon’s Wikipedia page. Photographer unknown, but the photo is originally from the book Motor Cycle Racing, written by Peter Carrick and published in 1969 by Hamlyn. Reproduced here under Fair Use provisions of US Copyright Law.