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Too Old to Ride? Who says so?

Three years ago, I was leaving the local Harley shop (Rocklin Harley) here in California. I stopped to admire an unusual Harley. It was a Royal Glide or Electra Glide, a big bagger with all the goodies. It was all white and pink, bike, seat and saddlebags, all white and pink. Interesting, not my style, but someone had put a lot of effort (money) into setting it up this way. It was in a customer parking spot. I finished being nosey and was getting on my Wide Glide when I noticed a woman walking out of the shop and over to the white and pink Harley. She had on white and pink leathers, the whole shooteroo, jacket, chaps, boots, gloves, and helmet, all white and pink. She sat down on the matching bike, put on her helmet, fired the bike up, and walked the bike backward out of the parking spot. Obviously very experienced, she put it in gear and roared out of the parking lot and down the highway.

What impressed me was not so much the designer coordinated ensemble (she did look very cool) but the fact that she was pretty darn old. I would guess her age at 60 to 70 years old. That impressed me a lot.

So how old is too old to ride? Hmm, I hear this all the time. Fact or fiction? There are two ways to look at it.

One way to look at it is from the government’s perspective. The government has a “too old to ride” machine in a place called the driver’s license motorcycle endorsement. You need to get this endorsement to ride legally. It makes sense to get the endorsement even just for your own self-confidence. No endorsement, no riding the motorcycle. A simple riding test to make sure you can ride and a simple written test to make sure you understand the laws pertaining to motorcycle operation on the road.

If you fail, does it mean you are too old? No, it means you failed the test. You may be too old, you can’t control the bike, you didn’t learn the laws or you are just too goofy to get the endorsement. Whatever the reason, the government’s driver’s license machine has taken you off the motorcycle and out of the game.

Another way to look at it is from your own perspective. To me, that means using plain old common sense.

Physical strength is a consideration. While you do not need to be Arnold to ride a motorcycle, you do need to have the physical strength necessary to safely ride. Manipulating a 700-pound machine in and out of parking, picking up a downed motorcycle, hard braking, high-speed maneuvers, passenger control, all calls for physical strength.

Experienced riders (like the white and pink lady at the beginning of this post) use their experience to leverage their strength. For example, an experienced rider will not intentionally park on a downhill slope which will require manually walking the motorcycle backward, uphill, against the slope. They will either initially back it into the parking spot or find another place to park.

Experienced riders know how to pick up a downed bike using their back strength and the ability to “roll” the bike upright.

We have all seen 100 lb. female riders on 700 lb. Harley’s doing fine. Just like we have all seen (well at least I have) 300 lb. men wrestling their Harley to the ground while trying to walk it around a parking pole. Each individual must make the call on their own physical strength.

Medically, as we grow older, our bones become easier to break and take longer to heal. Our brains rattle around inside our skulls a lot harder when our helmet takes a hard hit than younger brains would rattle around in younger skulls on the same hit. What it all means is that the older motorcycle rider will break easier, with more damage and take longer to heal than the younger motorcycle rider.

Slower reflexes are the next big item. Slower reflexes are the trigger for deciding to stop riding the motorcycle. When you are faced with a 70-mph decision, you do not have the luxury of time. You make your decision and go right now. If you choose wrong, you are in trouble but at least you had a choice and at least you made the decision.

If your reflexes hamper your ability to make a timely decision, you should not be out riding a motorcycle. Either you are too slow thinking about deciding or too slow executing the decision once it has been made. Maybe it’s a little of both, but either way, it is time to hang up your chaps. Is this an age thing, a psychological thing, who cares, the end result is the same?

Strength, reflexes, and risk determine when you are too old to ride. If you do not have what it takes, you can either get what you are missing or get off the bike.

What compounds the decision to stop riding is the same thing that impacts car drivers who need to give up their driver’s license. No one wants to stop driving. No car equals no freedom and that sucks.

The aging driver’s reflexes have slowed down over a period (years) and the aging driver feels like everything is OK, just like normal. They just did not notice the change over time. More often than not, an accident triggers action from the state or loved ones to force the driver into a mandated driving retirement.

On a motorcycle, the same thing goes on except with the slow reflexes, but the results of a minor accident are significantly different. What may be a small accident to a car, can be a life-threatening crash to motorcyclists. Unlike the car driver, the aging motorcyclists must spot the reflex problem much earlier and decide to get off the motorcycle early on.

I figure that if you are successfully riding a motorcycle, you have enough maturity and common sense to make your own decision on riding. You monitor your own reactions, your close calls, your overall bike psychic and then, you make the call.

Pay attention to those around you. If they start asking you if you are “Doing, OK?”, or maybe “Tired yet?”, they may be seeing something you are missing. It’s kinda like telling a co-worker that they have BO (they stink). Its not an easy conversation. Only the ones that love you will tell you the truth. Pay attention.

As always, this is just my humble opinion (smile). — Frank