Older Motorcyclists: Continuity or Change?
Francis D. Glamser
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
The University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, Mississippi 39406
Revision of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Mid South Sociological Association
Jackson, Mississippi, November 1999
Anyone who has traveled to the more scenic areas of the United States has seen them.
Whether you are visiting the Smoky Mountains or the Grand Canyon, you will see touring
motorcyclists, and, if you look closely, often you will see gray hair and bifocals
(see related March 25, 2001, Los Angeles Times story). Motorcycling
has been a part of leisure and recreation in America for nearly a century, but it was always
overwhelmingly a young person's activity that people were supposed to grow out of. Thus, a
common experience for today's motorcyclist stopping for gas at a small country store in a
remote area is to run into an old timer who tells of his youthful misadventures with an Indian
or Harley- Davidson motorcycle. He'll have a glint in his eye as he tells of his misspent
youth, and he'll warn you that those things will kill you. At that point the rider agrees and
says he'll be careful. Increasingly, however, the rider is a bit of an old timer himself or
From 1980 to 1998 the median age of a motorcyclist in the United States
increased from 24 to 38. In 1980 nearly 25% of riders were under 18. The figure for 1998 is
less than 4%. Over the same period of time the total number of motorcycle registrations has
declined from its all time peak by about 30% (Motorcycle Industry Council, 1998).
rather dramatic shift in the age of motorcyclists raises a number of questions. Are young
people no longer attracted to motorcycles? Are middle-aged people coming to motorcycles
for the first time, or are they simply riders who have grown old. If riders are growing older,
what effect does retirement have on their riding. How does motorcycling relate to the
challenges of aging -- both physical and psychological? This research is an attempt to deal
with some of these issues.
Gerontological theories provide some insight into these
questions. Disengagement Theory would suggest that as people age they withdraw from the
social roles of their youth as they become more preoccupied with self (Cumming and Henry,
1961). This doesn't seem to apply to older riders until serious health problems surface.
Activity Theory may be more relevant. It posits that people are most satisfied in old age
if they can maintain the social roles of middle age and replace any lost roles (Cavan, 1962).
Thus the rider who has been involved in motorcycles all his or her life will derive great
satisfaction from being able to maintain that involvement. For others, taking up a new
activity like riding may substitute for lost roles.
Continuity Theory tells us that people
develop their personality across adulthood and they have coping strategies and preferences
which are well-established by middle age (Atchley, 1989). In later life most people are
engaged in things they have been doing for a lifetime. As long as external or internal
change are not too great such as serious health or financial problems, most people will
make necessary adjustments to minimize changes in their personal lifestyle and self
concept. For a rider this may mean a more comfortable seat, better lighting or more
frequent rest stops, but the essential aspects of riding remain.
perspective which may relate to older motorcyclists is that of high-risk recreation and
sensation seeking. Some psychologists believe that human beings need a certain degree of
stress in their lives to maintain sufficient levels of endorphins in the brain (Priest &
Gass, 1997:42). The assumption is that this need varies from person to person and that if
one's daily life does not provide enough stimulation, the individual is likely to seek out risk-
There is much evidence that the popularity of high-risk recreation
activities such as hang-gliding, rock climbing, sky diving, and scuba diving has increased in
recent years (Malkin & Rabinowitz, 1998). Generally, participants in such activities tend
to be young, male, and middle class (Schrader & Wann, 1999). People of this
description are likely to have safe and reasonably predictable daily lives and the resources
to pursue leisure interests. As the normal risks of everyday life have been reduced by
science, government, and personal injury lawyers, the average person is left with little real
risk in daily living (Greenfield, 1999). Thus, motorcycling which is perceived as a risky
activity may be particularly attractive to the middle aged or older person whose life has
become too routine and too safe.
It is unlikely that there is any available social research
on older motorcycle riders. What little written work there is tends to focus on "outlaw" bikers
(Hopper and Moore, 1990; Thompson, 1967; Wolf, 1991) or is of a journalistic or literary
nature (Pierson, 1997; Pirsig, 1974). One such account which appeared in a recent issue of
Time Magazine (Grose, 1999) dealt specifically with the resurgence of interest among older
riders in Britain. The author reports that there has been a boom in motorcycle sales largely
fueled by middle-class prosperity and growing interest among older men. However, other
than the periodic statistical portraits presented by the American Motorcyclist Association or
the Motorcycle Industry Council, little is known about the ordinary motorcyclist.
latest report from the Motorcycle Industry Council (1998) tells us that in addition to having a
median age of 38, motorcyclists have a median annual income of $44,100, and they tend to
be married (59%). Over 22% have finished college, and less than 12% have not finished
high school. Beyond these kinds of demographics little is known.
The subjects for this study were selected in such a way as to produce a non-probability
convenience sample. An announcement of the study was placed on the Internet BMW
Riders (IBMWR) list-serv with a request for volunteers age 50 or over. Participants were
asked to share the questionnaire with other motorcycle list-serv groups and friends who
were the appropriate age. It is important to note that the population of older motorcycle
riders is quite limited. In the United States less than 2% of the population owns a
motorcycle and less than 20% of them are age 50 or over. Thus, we are talking about less
than .5% of the population.
The actual questionnaires were sent to respondents who
volunteered for the study via e-mail. In all but a few cases the respondent inserted
responses in the questionnaire and returned it via an e-mail reply. Respondents were also
given the option of returning the questionnaire via fax or surface mail so they could share it
with friends who were not comfortable using the computer.
This approach resulted in a
sample size of 100 older motorcyclists who were overwhelmingly BMW riders (87/100), and
who were serious riders. Riders of BMW motorcycles are known for long distance riding,
camping and rally participation (Austin, 1999). They often own electric clothing to permit
year 'round riding. Taken as a whole, the respondents owned an average of 2. 2
motorcycles each, rode an average (median) of 11,000 miles a year, and had been riding
regularly for 25 years. These are clearly not people who own a motor scooter to putt around
town or to take with their camper for local transportation. Thus, the sample is biased toward
people who are committed motorcyclists.
The sample is geographically diverse with 30
states represented by the 95 Americans in the study. Five respondents were from other
countries: Canada (2), Australia, South Africa, and Ireland. They were included because of
the common cultural ties to Britain and the U.S. and the universality of the aging experience
in industrial societies.
Respondents ranged in age from 50 to 70 with a median of 57.
As would be expected from a computer literate population, education levels are quite high.
All but 19 have at least finished college, and 39 have a graduate or professional degree. It
is important to note, however, that most of the respondents did not come from privileged
backgrounds. About half of the subjects reported living in a working class and/or poor
household as a child, and only 12 reported coming from an upper-middle class or well-off
family. Much of this can be explained by the economic growth and prosperity which have
been part of the latter twentieth century. For children of the 30's and 40's, economic hard
times were to be expected by most. All but 11 of the respondents are currently married, and
only seven have no children. All but four of the respondents were males.
questionnaire contained 34 open-ended questions about a wide range of topics such as
motorcycle involvement over time, effects of aging and retirement on motorcycle-related
perceptions and behavior, involvement in other leisure pursuits, various childhood
experiences, and personal demographics.
A broad analysis of the data revealed four
general patterns of motorcycle involvement across the life cycle. Almost 80% (79) of this
sample of older riders owned their first motorbike, motor scooter, or motorcycle in childhood,
adolescence or early adulthood. About half of these riders (40) continued their involvement
with motorcycles across their adult life with minor breaks and varying intensity. The other
half (39) had a major break in their riding at some point before returning. Another 13%
owned their first bike between the ages of 30 and 44. The smallest number (8%) owned
their first motorcycle from age 45 or older. These four patterns of motorcycle involvement
provide a framework for analysis.
Life Long Riders
About 40% of the older riders studied have been involved in motorcycling since they were
quite young. For this study "young" is defined as prior to age thirty and "involved" is defined
as not having a break in motorcycle ownership in excess of five years. This allows for
military duty, college, graduate school, or some sort of personal crisis. In actual fact, very
few of these people (39 men, one woman) went more than a few years without a bike in
over 30 years.
For these life long riders the first experience of operating a two wheeled
motorized vehicle (motorbike, motor scooter, motorcycle) typically came at or before the age
of 16. Somewhat frighteningly, this experience was most likely (18 of 37 reported) to occur
on a recently purchased bike. In the "old days" the dealer or more likely the friend you
bought a very used bike from would show you the controls and send you on your way. The
second most likely source of the first ride (11 of 37) was a friend's bike or scooter. For
many riders this is reported as the beginning of a life long addiction. Other sources of the
first operation are a family member, a relative or a rental bike.
On average, first
ownership of a motorbike, motor-scooter, or motorcycle came a little later. The median age
of first ownership for these life long riders was 20. The vehicles purchased were fairly
evenly divided between motor scooter/moped, small displacement motorcycle (<250cc)
and larger motorcycle (>250cc). It is important to remember that in the era we are looking
at, licensing laws were much looser, and money was much tighter. Many young people of
the period were interested in motorbikes and motor scooters as affordable transportation.
Readers over 50 will recognize the names Cushman, Whizzer, Lambretta and Vespa as
manufacturers of motorbikes and scooters. Readers who started in the teen years often
started on one of these.
Buying a used bike was the dream of many a young boy and
given the technology of the day and the condition of the available machines, heavy
involvement in maintenance and repair was a sure thing. As one of the respondents said
"...ride a little, and wrench a lot." This early involvement in things mechanical was an
important part of early socialization for these respondents.
Another historical factor
beyond the need for cheap transportation is the military. In the era of the draft, military
service was a common experience for many young Americans, and a number of
respondents reported buying their first bike in the military, often far from home. A few
dollars in the pocket and adequate distance from parents was often enough to trigger such
The difficult question is what planted the seed? Why did young men of the
day want motorcycles? Transportation was an important issue for many. Even many adults
could not afford cars at the time. Countering the desire for transportation is the fact that
many parents had very negative views of motorcycles- either because of the danger or the
image. For youngsters the latter was a plus.
In response to a question on childhood
exposure to motorcycles through friends, family, and relatives, the most frequent response
in all four subgroups was essentially "little or none." About half the respondents fell into this
category. For life long riders the other influences in order of frequency were friends, family
member (usually older brother), relative, and neighbor.
The data presented in Table I
may provide some insight into why some older riders started earlier than others or even why
they were involved enough to avoid taking a long break from riding. The life long riders
were more likely to have reported that they had a family member, relative or neighbor who
had a motorcycle than the riders who took a long break or started later in life. This suggests
that these riders were likely to have grown up among at least some people who accepted
motorcycles than the riders who stopped riding for a while or started well into adulthood.
Although the life long riders have been involved in motorcycling for most of their adult
life, most of them have had brief periods of up to a few years when they didn't have a bike,
or their riding was severely curtailed. Conversely, there are times when riding can become
more regular as the result of life events. It is as if the need or desire to ride is a constant
which interacts with one's current situation to produce a given level of riding. The most
frequently mentioned reasons for decreased riding and/or not having a bike can be
categorized as "family demands." Respondents said words to the effect of being recently
married, setting up a household, and/or having young children allowed little time for riding.
This reduction appears to be more self-imposed than spouse imposed.
In a related vein,
the second most frequently mentioned reason for reduced riding was financial pressures.
This may cause someone to go without a bike for a while or to neglect to repair the one in
the garage, but the net effect is no riding for a few years.
Involvement in other leisure
pursuits can also reduce riding involvement. A few respondents mentioned sailing or flying
as time and money consuming activities which leave insufficient resources for riding.
Some situations and life events can increase one's involvement in riding. The most
frequently mentioned event was retirement which translates into more free time from which
to select riding times and fewer family responsibilities. The impact of retirement will be
discussed later with respect to the total sample.
Other events which were reported to
increase riding activity were divorce and children leaving home. Both of these changes
involve a reduction in daily obligations to others and more time for personal pursuits.
Riders Who Returned
As noted previously most of the older riders studied (79 of 100) began riding as a teenager,
but almost half of them took an extended break from motorcycling during early or middle
adulthood. The riders who took a break differ from the life long riders in a few ways. As
noted above they were less likely to have family members, relatives, or neighbors who had
bikes. They were also much more likely to report that their first bike was primarily for
transportation- either for employment or to get to school. Often, when the special
transportation need ended, so did their riding.
It also appears that the riders who had a
long break in their motorcycle involvement were much more affected by competing
demands on time and resources. The data in Table 2 show the number of respondents who
reported their riding being reduced or stopped by work demands, family demands, financial
pressures and other hobbies. What they don't show is whether the long break riders really
did have greater competing demands placed upon them, or if riding was a lower priority in
the first place. Some combination of these two explanations is also possible.
answer may be provided by looking at the educational levels of the two groups as
presented in Table 3. The comparison of interest is between the lifelong and long break
riders. Although the two groups come from similar educational and economic backgrounds,
the riders who took an extended break from riding are much more likely to have finished
college and to have advanced degrees. Beyond the demands of school work, it is likely that
the careers associated with higher levels of education are more demanding as well. This
interpretation supports the greater competing demands explanation for the break in riding.
Now that these riders are older, there is no difference in the average number of miles they
ride each year (median = 11,000). In fact, among riders reporting 25,000 miles or more a
year, the long break riders outnumber the life long riders by seven to two. Perhaps they are
making up for lost time.
When asked for the major factors which accounted for their
return to riding, these riders were most likely to say that they finally had some extra money.
Additionally important were more time, missing it, and having one's kids grown up. Some of
the explanations are very individualistic or even accidental. One respondent said the gas
crisis got him riding again, and he was reminded how much fun it was. A few subjects said
a friend talked them into it, while others lost interest in another hobby.
quote from one rider who quit for 22 years covers many of the more common explanations:
"...career was also way too busy and with little kids and a mortgage, no time or
dollars for mc's. Lots of other hobbies took precedence during that time period...time is
available for me now...the financial part is also well settled."
Another respondent tells
a similar story:
"Marriage, children, chasing the almighty dollar, etc. plus a general
lack of any particular interest kept me off bikes for the better part of 30 years. While riding
my road bicycle with friends in the fall of '94 passed by a local [motorcycle] shop, stopped
for water, and the rest is history. Impulse buy some three weeks later and hooked ever
Whatever the proximate cause of the return to riding, the decision often has
an emotional aspect. Whether it is an attempt to revisit one's youth or get over a bad
divorce, riding is not wholly rational. One rider's story is illustrative:
"I had recently
lost my 18 year old son by my first marriage to leukemia, had been divorced from my
second wife for a couple of years... My son had been an avid motorcycle enthusiast...
repairing most everyone's bike in town, and a cautious rider - would not allow me to try out
a 500cc Triumph on the mountain until he checked me out on how to operate it and insisted
I wear a helmet... I wanted to travel up into the Sierra Mountains from the Bay Area [so] I
bought a Kawasaki 900 Z1 and began an addiction with touring by motorcycle from that day
forward. I also felt that I was doing what my son would love to have done could he have
lived long enough. So, in a way I was doing it for him as well as for myself."
Sometimes the decision to get back into riding can be part of the beginning of a whole
new approach to life:
"At about age 55 I found myself with no hobbies except the
computer, no real friends that I liked to do things with, didn't care about golf, hunting, &
fishing which everyone else around here seems to do. And I was drinking too much... I had
casually thought about MC's but never really seriously until I went skiing... during that trip
we went on an all day ski mobile tour... That was the turning point. The open air, spirit of
adventure, and camaraderie of the group really turned me on. As soon as we got back I
went to a BMW dealer... The next week I bought a R1100GS and life hasn't been the same
since... It has turned out to be the perfect hobby for me. I enjoy it as much as anything I
have ever done."
For purposes of this analysis, adult starters are older riders who first owned a motorcycle at
the age of 30 or later, but before turning 45. There are 13 such riders in this study. As can
be seen in Table 1, most of these riders reported little or no childhood exposure to
motorcycles, and none reported having a family member, relative, or neighbor with a
motorcycle. This may be critical in determining if and when an individual begins to ride a
On average these adult starters first operated a motorcycle at the age of 32
and they first owned one at the age of 36. As noted earlier, this compares with an age of
first motorcycle operation of 16 for the lifelong and long break riders. Only two of the late
start riders had operated a motorcycle prior to the age of 20. Their median annual mileage
Thus, a major factor in the late start for these riders is a very limited exposure
to motorcycles early in life. The actual impetus for beginning to ride varied greatly from rider
to rider. The most frequent (4) explanation given was being able to afford it financially. One
person said he was bored, while another said something about it attracted him. One rider
saw motorcycling as a major turning point: "Needed to be alive ... to find the confidence
that was somewhere inside of me ... to finally experience life first hand ...."
the reasons for beginning in adulthood are more mundane. One respondent who had
arthritis bought a bike so he could park close to the door at work and not have to walk
across the parking lot. Another bought a bike to commute to work. In both cases they now
ride for pleasure as well.
Eight of the respondents owned their first motorcycle at or after the age of 45, and half of
them had never operated a motorcycle prior to the age of 45. Their median age of first
ownership was 53. The late start appears to have had little effect on their involvement,
however. As a group they ride 11,000 miles a year (median), the same as the life long and
long break riders.
Why someone would take up motorcycling near the age of 50 is a
good question. In most cases these people had always been aware of motorcycles, but had
too many responsibilities or were too conventional to consider it. At some point they were
pushed over the edge. Some quotes are instructive:
"Lots of high school friends had
scooters or motorbikes. Never rode myself, but drooled regularly over Sears Catalog
pictures. Read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' at the age of about 47 or so,
and it hit me that I wanted a mc" ... "I was near 49 years of age when I first operated a mc."
"... for 10 years or so I'd always kinda look wistfully at guys riding by on bikes. It looked
like something I'd really like to do. Finally last year, I just did it [at age 55]."
an interest, and drooled over a Triumph T120R in college. Periodically bought motorcycle
magazines through the years ... For me, and my wife, it was a question of doing what I was
interested in doing and not looking back still later in life and saying 'I wish I had tried....'"
"Early forties had a few friends that had bikes and I always seemed to envy them... then
at about age 58 when the children were grown and responsibilities were changing, I asked
my wife if I could buy a bike."
"While the circumstances of life prevented me, I always,
in the back of my mind, had considered owning a motorcycle... If anything, I regretted that I
had not started sooner."
In only one case did the decision to ride appear to come out
"Never felt any interest in motorcycles and then all of a sudden,
circumstances overwhelmingly made it a sudden passion ... significant frustrations at home
and at work drove me to seek out a challenge removed from both that would give me a
sense of renewal ... Riding and getting prepared to ride have re-awakened parts of my brain
and body that have been long-dormant or under-utilized."
Looking at all the older riders one wonders if they were any different than other people
when they were children. Riding a motorcycle in middle and old age is an uncommon
activity, so it is reasonable to ask if these people might have had childhood experiences
which differ from the general population.
I have already discussed how childhood
exposure to motorcycles via family, relatives, friends and neighbors was related to when
people began riding and how attached to riding they were. Beyond this, respondents were
asked if their childhood experience was any different than that of other children.
Although slightly more than half the sample reported that their childhood was no
different than that of others at the time, quite a few respondents said they were different.
These differences seemed to fall into three related categories: 1. Being a loner to some
extent. 2. Being intellectually oriented. 3. Enjoying mechanical things. Motorcycling can be a
very solitary experience which allows for a great deal of contemplation and which involves a
relationship between rider and machine. Being a loner and being intellectually oriented
seemed to go hand in hand in childhood. Many of these riders explicitly reported being a
loner as a child while others implied the same by saying things like they read a lot,
practiced the piano for long hours, enjoyed classical music, enjoyed science, were good at
academics, or were an independent thinker.
The idea of social isolation can also be
seen in such reports as living or an isolated ranch or farm, losing a parent to death, moving
a lot as a child, or not dating much. Being interested in motors and mechanical things as
was reported by six respondents also ties in with being comfortable working alone.
Another childhood experience that may be over-represented among these older riders is
that of being first born. The average number of children in the families these respondents
grew up in was 3.1, which means that the probability of being the first born was
approximately one in three. In fact, 63% of the sample was the first child in their family. First
born children tend to be more competitive and achievement oriented than later born children
and they tend to be more intelligent (Belmont & Marolla, 1973). How this relates to
motorcycling is unclear. In fact there is some evidence that first born children are less likely
to engage in high risk sports than their siblings (Yiannakis, 1976).
One of the most common questions a motorcyclist of any age hears has to do with the
dangers inherent to riding. People ask if we aren't afraid of being injured or killed, or they
relate their own fears or bad experiences. One might assume that young people put little
stock in such concerns, but what about older riders who are more aware of their
vulnerabilities? Respondents were explicitly asked how they dealt with "the very real
possibility that you could be seriously injured or killed while riding." Only two
respondents said they didn't see it as very risky. Among the rest of the respondents the
most common category of response could be categorized as risk management. These riders
say they try to ride safely, wear good safety equipment, and/or take training courses to
reduce their odds of being hurt.
The second largest category of response would be "I accept the risk but I don't dwell
on it." Part of this acceptance is related to a lessened fear of death that comes with
maturity and experience. In one rider's words:
"I am more aware of the risks now, but
less worried about them. The end of my life is approaching. I know that I would rather die
quickly in a violent motorcycle crash than slowly from disease or old age on a hospital bed.
If I die, I die. In global terms it means nothing."
This awareness of a possible
protracted death in old age was shared by many respondents. In another rider's words:
"Well, if I get killed, it is better doing something I love than fading away from
Alzheimers or in a nursing home... and my riding experience has taught me what to look for,
and what to do in a situation."
The last part of the quote expresses a common
sentiment. People accept the risk but they try to manage it. Another rider combines these
ideas very well:
"I was a jet pilot in the Air Force during Viet Nam. I learned to accept
death at an early age. I also learned how not to be stupid."
Aiding the acceptance of
risk is an awareness that one has lived a good part of one's life and has done what needs
to be done. Children have been raised, careers have been largely completed, and
community obligations have been reduced. This rider expresses that viewpoint well:
"I have had a good life, a successful career and I'm not afraid of death. I'm living
each day and riding as safely as possible."
The final category of responses can be
labeled fatalistic. A few riders have the view that when your number is up, it's up. As one
rider put it:
"We are not immortal; many of my friends are already dead. If I expire
enjoying myself, so be it."
In what appears to be a lighter vein, but essentially the
same perspective is the following:
"The same way I deal with driving a car or
stepping into the shower, it's a gamble. I could die of a heart attack watching Jerry Springer
Effects of Retirement
Members of the sample who were retired were asked what the effect had been on their
involvement with motorcycles. Overwhelmingly, retirement has been positive for these
riders. The biggest factor is more free time for riding, which not only means one can ride
more often, but more importantly that one can select days and times. This ability to choose
riding times means that it is possible to avoid high traffic periods or bad weather. It also
means that people can go farther from home to attend rallies, because there is no need to
be home for work on Monday.
Somewhat surprisingly a number of retirees reported
having more money available for riding than had previously been the case. Given that most
people do not earn more money in retirement than when they were employed, this probably
reflects a reduction in family responsibilities. On the other hand, two respondents indicated
that they had to be more careful with motorcycle expenditures because of reduced income.
Effects of Aging
The most obvious effects of aging are the physical changes and health problems which are
a common experience in later life. Respondents were asked how the physical effects of
aging had affected their involvement in and enjoyment of motorcycling. Perhaps not
surprisingly for a population that puts 11,000 miles a year on motorcycles the most common
response (33 riders) was that they hadn't seen any effect yet. In terms of the amount of
riding these riders are doing, they are probably being honest in that they ride greater
distances and for longer periods of time than when they were young.
interpretation is required. As many riders pointed out, the motorcycles of today are vastly
more comfortable and reliable than the bikes of the 1950's and 1960's. Many of these
modern machines have excellent suspensions, heated hand grips, custom-made seats and
adjustable windscreens. Similarly, the clothing and helmets worn by riders today provide
excellent protection from wind, rain, cold and noise. The net effect of these changes is that
covering lots of miles is much less physically taxing than in an earlier era.
of the older riders reported being generally unaffected by physical changes, most were
aware of declining capacity. The most common categories of problems were strength,
endurance, vision, orthopedic problems, and reaction time.
Awareness of diminishing
strength was usually presented in terms of being less able to pick up a fallen bike or to hold
one up which was falling over. A few riders expressed the need for a lighter or lower bike
than they would prefer.
Endurance for these riders refers to the ability to cover great
distances in a day and to repeat the process the next day. In one rider's words, "I cannot
do the 500/600 miles a day like I used to be able to do ... 300 miles a day is more to my
liking now." Or as another rider who was concerned about the safety ramifications of
fatigue said, "I am shameless about stopping/taking breaks." Older riders simply
make adjustments in their riding styles to remain involved.
Vision problems usually
relate to declining night vision and the need for corrective lenses. Night vision is much more
critical on a motorcycle than in a car, because of the greater threat to personal safety posed
by road debris and wildlife. Older riders compensate by adding powerful accessory lights to
their machines and by curtailing night riding. Bifocals are necessary because of the need to
read instruments and maps. People complain, but they keep riding.
complaints are very common among older riders with knees and hips being mentioned most
frequently and backs being third. The normal riding position on a motorcycle requires
substantially more knee and hip flexion than automobile driving. Because of arthritis and
general joint deterioration, holding this position for an extended period of time can be
painful. Older riders compensate by switching to bikes with a less sporty, more upright
seating position, better seats, and over the counter pain killers. A retired long distance rider
I know rides with two artificial knees.
A number of these older riders are aware that their
reflexes and reaction times aren't what they used to be, so they compensate by being more
cautious, slowing down a bit, taking training courses, and wearing better protective
Beyond physical changes, the respondents were asked how being older had
affected their appreciation of riding. The most common response was that they enjoyed the
scenery and environment more than when they were young. They now take the time to stop
and smell the roses. In the words of one rider:
"I love to plan my touring routes for
scenic value. I love mountains and forests. When riding vigorously I will often turn around
and retrace a 30-40 mile stretch of road just to drink in the beauty of the scenery at a more
The idea of not being in a hurry was a common theme for many older
riders. One sixty-seven year old rider explained why he wanted to enjoy the moment: "As
an older rider you have to face the very real possibility that each ride may very well be your
last, so you savor them more."
Another change that was associated with aging for
these riders was a greater appreciation of the fellowship and camaraderie of motorcycling.
Paradoxically, riding is a solitary, even lonely activity. Serious riders enjoy the contemplation
and solitude that riding allows. And yet these people ride great distances alone to meet with
fellow riders. In one rider's words: "There is very little competition for acceptance or
social status. The ride and rally lifestyle is usually a pleasant experience." Or as another
rider said, "We're at a point in our lives where we realize that friends are one of the most
important parts of life."
It appears that older motorcyclists are largely motorcyclists who have grown older. They
began riding in an era when people didn't have much money and motor scooters and
motorbikes were seen as transportation in addition to being fun. Over the years their riding
has ebbed and flowed in response to military, family and/or work responsibilities, but they
usually returned. Now that they are older, better off financially, and have reduced
responsibilities, they are riding more than ever. At a period in life when time is often an
issue, they are taking their time enjoying the scenery and each other's company. That they
ride represents continuity; how they ride represents change.
Childhood Exposure To Motorcycles
|Little or None
Factors Affecting Riding Involvement
Education Level by Group
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