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.
At 57 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
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.
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.
And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.
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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