Touring Tip: Riding Into Your Golden Years

Jun 16, 2014 View Comments by

Touring Tip: Riding Into Your Golden Years For most of us our passion for motorcycling grows ever stronger the longer we ride. Older riders often have the time and resources to pursue their favorite pastime to a much greater extent than when they were younger. Therefore the lure to keep riding well into our golden years is compelling. But, as virtually everyone knows, our physical and mental faculties can diminish with age. So the natural question becomes, “How old is too old to ride?” Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, there is no one age that applies to every rider and there are ways to stave off that day when the kickstand goes down, never to go back up. Many motorcyclists are still riding in their 70s, some into their 80s, and even a few into their 90s.

The Rocky Road to Geezerhood
I’ve heard it said that after age 17 we’re all on a long, inexorable descent into that big barcalounger in the sky. But what are the infirmities along the way that can cause a rider to permanently hang up his or her leather jacket? Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Loss of Leg Strength: The ability of a rider to keep the rubber side down, especially at stops, or to lift a fallen motorcycle, is largely dependent on leg strength. In our all too sedentary 21st century society, lower body strength is often the casualty of several decades of sitting behind a desk.
  • Diminished Eyesight: A motorcycle rider, obviously, needs to see where he or she is going and be able to spot and avoid potential hazards. Although modern medicine has helped most of us correct our diminishing eyesight, there are some afflictions, like Macular Degeneration, that aren’t correctible, at least not yet.
  • Reduced Flexibility: Another consequence of aging is that muscles and tendons contract, reducing rider flexibility. At some point you just may not be able to swing a leg over that 35-inch tall adventure bike seat anymore.
  • Slower Reaction Time: Cognitive abilities and the time it takes to react to threatening situations are particularly important to motorcycle riders’ ability to avoid accidents. Loss of reaction time is insidious, because it usually occurs slowly without the rider noticing it. You can test your reaction time at websites like these two: (1) and (2) to track any noticeable decline.
  • Unbalanced: Safe motorcycle riding is dependent on riders having a normal sense of balance. Any noticeable loss of balance, due to inner ear problems or other health issues affecting a rider’s ability to maintain their equilibrium, is a significant impediment to continued riding.
  • Reduced Stamina: There’s no doubt that riding a motorcycle is more physically demanding, and therefore more exhausting, than driving a car. A person’s muscle mass also declines with age. All of this means that many older riders shouldn’t try to go as far or as fast as when they were younger. If other riders frequently ask if you’re feeling okay, that’s a pretty good sign that you may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Compromised Coordination: Riding a traditional two-wheeled, manual shift motorcycle demands synchronized coordination of eye movements, hands, feet, and body positioning. Any impairment of that coordination due to a neurological or physical disability can substantially compromise rider safety.
  • Reduced Bone Density and Muscle Mass: The aging process normally causes a loss of skeletal bone density and strength. And it’s the body’s muscles, which hold everything together and keep it intact when impacted by trauma. Long story short, this means that older riders are much more likely to suffer severe injuries in a crash than younger ones are.

There’s also the issue of rusty or inadequate riding skills for older riders who are getting back into the sport after many years of not riding or learning to ride for the first time.

Fighting Back
I apologize if by now you’re feeling real or imagined aches and pains. There is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, because there is a lot riders can do to prolong their golden riding years. Here are some suggestions:

  • Leg Strengthening: I personally favor bicycling as an effective and fun way to maintain or improve leg strength; walking is also good. Remember, however, that regular leg exercising is much more important than increasing speed or distance. Running or jogging late in life, without a thorough medical check-up, may cause more problems than it solves. So don’t over do the physical training. Resistance type leg strengthening exercises, like squats, also can be effective.
  • Resistance Training: A light to moderate program of weight lifting can enhance both muscle and bone strength, but don’t overly develop some muscle groups at the expense of others, because that can cause skeletal dislocations and even lead to injury.
  • Physical Aerobics: Low intensity aerobic exercises, like the aforementioned bicycling and walking, can substantially improve a rider’s stamina. Depending on how long a person may have led a sedentary lifestyle, a medical check-up is a good idea before engaging in any physical training.
  • Healthy Diet: Most motorcycles don’t run well on low octane fuel and neither do most motorcycle riders. A healthy diet regimen will keep your body running better and longer.
  • Mental Aerobics: Exercise and healthy eating, particularly foods contianing antioxidants, can do much to stave off senility. As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.” Like physical exercising, it’s critical to keep challenging and strengthening mental processes. One of my favorite exercises is to do mathematical calculations without using a calculator. Also, activities like reading and doing memory exercises can help keep the mental cobwebs cleaned out. Long story short, staying mentally active and engaged with others helps keep the synapses firing effectively.
  • Stretching: Muscles and tendons usually contract in the aging process, unless something is done to maintain your body’s flexibility. Reduced flexibility can compromise a rider’s ability to maintain a smooth riding technique. A limber, flexible body also reduces the chance of pulled muscles from doing everyday activities. Regular stretching exercises are an effective way to keep your body in proper riding condition.
  • Core Strengthening: Core muscles include, abdominal, back, and those around the pelvis. Strong core muscles keep bones, joints, and other body parts in their proper position and make doing everyday activities easier to perform. Core strength is particularly important for maintaining proper posture and movement on a motorcycle. One of the advantages of core body strengthening is that you don’t need a special facility or equipment to do it. Click here for simple core strengthening exercise demonstrations.

In addition to prolonging your riding years, leading a healthy lifestyle can make those golden years much more enjoyable—and it’s important to start before aging ailments set in.

Other Rides
If physical leg strength or flexibility threatens your continued riding of traditional two-wheeled motorcycles, there are other viable options available:

  • Scoot into A Scooter: Today’s high performance scooters are not only fun to ride they also have features that make them easier to ride than traditional motorcycles. Their twist-and-go drive trains eliminate the need to coordinate clutch, throttle, and gearshift motions. Scooter seats are generally lower than traditional motorcycle seats and don’t require riders to swing a leg over them to mount the bike. Scooter design also creates a low center of gravity, which, along with a low seat, makes balancing them at stoplights much easier.
  • Try Three Wheels: Another option is to put a three-wheeled bike in your stable. Traditional trikes and reverse trikes, which have their two wheels in front, do not require balancing at stoplights and some even offer automatic transmissions.

If you are no longer comfortable riding a traditional two-wheeled motorcycle, scooters and trikes are vehicles worth considering if they can keep you riding safely.

Of course there comes a time for all of us when we will have to finally surrender the keys to our favorite ride. And, as the Kenny Rogers song The Gambler advises,

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

So do everything you can to keep riding safely for as long as possible, but also know when it’s time to just walk away and pursue a new passion.


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