5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?

Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s. It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men.

This stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.

A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.

While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.

Ken-smile

I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 53 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.

Top photos © Ken Condon

Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.

It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.

The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.

Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a year ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.

Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.

Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

It’s rewarding to share knowledge that has been accumulated over the years. But, another reason is that it is beneficial for keeping my skills sharp. Teaching makes me think about my riding.

A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.

Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind  handlebars?
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Author of Riding in the Zone as well as the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Chief Instructor for Tony's Track Days and MSF instructor since 1995.

Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Family of Riders, Motorcycle Musings, Motorcycle Safety, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips, Track Days Tagged with: , , , , ,
16 comments on “5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider
  1. Neil says:

    I hit the big 50 this year and am enjoying my riding more than ever! Over the years my desire to keep up with the latest and greatest machinery has yielded to owning something that better fits my needs ergonomically.
    I currently ride a Kawasaki Z1000 on the street and a Suzuki GSXR600 on the track.
    Both bikes are far more capable than I will ever be at my age so the need or desire to trade them for something newer is not as strong as it used to be!
    I enjoy doing all my own maintenance and while my street riding mileage is reducing my trackday mileage is increasing so I definitely get my “fix” of adrenaline on a regular basis and in a safer environment.
    I have no plans to hang up the helmet as long as my body will allow me to keep riding!
    Old guys rule!!

  2. Dave S says:

    Great stuff Ken. When I get to be older, like in another 30 years or so :) , I’ll use more of these tips. A great motivation for staying in shape is to assume that if you don’t “move it” via exercise… then you will “lose it”.

    I’m also lucky enough not to suffer from any major issues that prevent me from doing a wide ranging workout and running so, like you, I’ve been able to stay quite fit. I use that very ability as motivation since many of us don’t have a choice I think I’m lucky.

    • Bill Kenney says:

      Hi Ken, great stuff and just what I need to hear. Although you and I are quite different in physique and skill level, I still enjoy the track but will never have the speed or skill set as the younger riders I see. I go because I enjoy the time with my son, being in the track environment and going fast ( for me ).
      I have been riding around the country for 45 years on BMW bikes and only in the last few years riding any type of sport bike ( MV Brutale and a 1100 Hypermotard )both sold after my granddaughter was born. Now I am the new owner of a 2002 SV650 which will just be used for track days because of the local tracks opening up. Bryan and I even purchased memberships this year so I am excited.
      I would love to drag knees and look great in photos but it is not the case for me. I am the 60yr old, 50 lb overweight guy in the article ( soon to be 25 lbs if I wish to fit in my leathers) but I think I have just as much fun in a safe environment as the guys in the blue and black groups.
      Well, see you in the spring, just wave at the old guy on the SV on your way past :)

    • Ken Condon says:

      30 years…right Dave. Good attitude. I use track riding as a motivation to stay fit. If I can’t perform at a high level on the track because I’m lazy, then shame on me.

  3. richard cotreau says:

    Next year I’ll be 69. Besides good genes, I have also kept myself in shape over the years. Last year I learned of the track days and gave it a try…This year bought a 01 Ducati 748 to start and did a few track days….I’m hooked… I don’t know how many years I have left to ride but am so thankful to be doing these track days and meeting new people that share my interest.

  4. Don Mei says:

    Im 72 and I bought what I thought was a nice compromise bike for a Sunday ride. My first Harley, if you dont count the HD Aermacchi Sprint i raced in the late sixties, is an XR1200. I love the bike and Im quite content to ride at a spirited but more leisurely pace on the back roads of Connecticut. I was never a fast street rider, preferring the track to test my limits. I still get the urge to go vintage road racing , but quite frankly, Im too old to hit the ground anymore. I do satisfy my competitive urge by racing a 1971 240Z in vintage sports car events. No chance of hitting the ground that way.:)

  5. Chuck Salmons says:

    I have been riding since I was 12, now I am 62 and still in relatively good physical health for my age. I still enjoy fast, but have had to acknowledge and compensate for my limitations as the result of my advanced age. In other words, I don’t push the machine to the limits like I did when I was younger. I ride a ZX11 today, and I find a great deal of enjoyment in being just “quick smooth”. There are no tracks nearby for track days, but in West Virginia we have some of the best sport bike riding in the nation. Keep Ridin’

  6. Joe davis says:

    Well I’m prob a little too young to contribute to this post at 63 yrs but I’ll try anyway.Owned a Road King for about 5 yrs and enjoyed riding it over a lot of the Eastern U S .Sold it couple yrs ago but recently my son said “Dad why don’t we get bikes and ride some places together and make some bike riding memories before we can’t ride anymore”.Thats all I needed to inspire me so we purchased bikes.I wanted something that handles better than my Hog did so I bought a Yamaha FZ1 “an old man sportbike”.I have a friend who out rides me and most 20 yr olds who has that model and loves it.By the way he’s 83 and rides more than my son and me together and typically does a couple of Big Trips a year.Well I’m really enjoying that upright position FZ1 and feel like I’m a lot more observant and careful while riding these days.Man I’m so thankful to have been blessed with a hobby I’ve had the privilege of doing for over 45 yrs .Im hoping for many more Lord willing and hope all my motorcycle brothers have many wonderful yrs riding as well.

  7. Susan Peroutka says:

    I am 51 and ride a Kawasaki Ninja 650. I put an average of 5000 summer miles on my bike. I am 5’7 and weigh 135, and in pretty good physical condition. I am the only 50-something woman I know who rides one, and I really don’t understand why. Compared to riding a cruiser, I love my motorcycle’s light-weight maneuverability and responsiveness. The 650 is not a “Super Sport”, but it’s still a sleek, fun machine.

    • Ken Condon says:

      I know a few over 50 women rider, my wife being one of them. You may have to look hard, but they are out there. I love the Ninja 650. I rode one on the racetrack a while back and thought it was a hoot. Good choice.

  8. Chuck West says:

    I’ll be 70 in a couple of weeks. I just got back from vacation in the Smoky Mountains where I did a 327 mile/11 hour ride with my cousin (mid 50s) and a buddy (mid 60s), both on Vee-Stroms. I was on a rented BMW R1150RT that was not particularly in the best shape for a sport bike ride. It was a tire shredding crazy curvy day, and I managed to keep up with those young fellas. We never did anything stupid—I’ve done stupid, I know stupid—and had a great time. I’m not in the best of shape, and am, maybe, 10 – 15 pounds over weight. I think a person has to be a student of sport riding, and have the proper attitude to do what I did. Of course, there are many folks who are better/faster street bike riders than I am, but I had a total blast, and amazingly, could walk the next day.

  9. Gary says:

    I am 57 and have married and ridden for 30 years. Current bike is a 2014 CBR600rr. My wife is 48 and rides a 2010 CBR600rr. I will keep going as long as my wife will.

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