Maybe it was the muscle aches from yard clean-up, exacerbated by start-of-season riding with arms, legs and butt unaccustomed to being in a locked-in seating position for extended periods, that prompted the thought. At age 63, I probably have more riding days behind me than ahead of me.
While I certainly was not thinking years ahead in the fall of 2004 when, at 51, I bought my first motorcycle and got an “M” endorsement, the rigors involved with riding are now starting to impact my seat time and causing me to acknowledge that the end of my riding time is gradually approaching.
The rigors include simple things; from having to gear up to go out to having to move a bike out of the garage. I have two pairs of sturdy, protective riding boots. One pair is a racing style, half-calf with zippers and Velcro flaps, while the other is a work-boot style wth laces. Both fit snugly and comfortably, but it’s a chore getting into them. It requires some contorted bending and firm tugging. Sometimes the prospect of wrestling with my footwear prevents me from taking a short ride.
I also have two bikes – a 2011 Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V and a 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650 – and both are somewhat tall and top-heavy. The Norge has a large 6.1-gallon gas tank that adds to the bulk. It takes a some oomph to back them out and get them headed in an outbound direction. Again, this sometimes deters riding. It’s too much trouble.
Throwing a leg over either one of them isn’t as easy as it once was thanks to balky knees and hips, and to deteriorating flexibility. Fortunately, neither motorcycle is particularly heavy when compared to the huge cruiser models that so many older riders prefer. Nothing against cruisers, but a rolling sofa isn’t my preference.
It could just be that start-of-season necessities, having to get the V-Strom serviced and the Norge cleaned up, are contributing to my grumpiness and having me pondering the future. I could be wrong, but I don’t see myself riding past 75, although I have friends who are that old and older, and who continue to ride.
So far, I’ve only put about 300 miles total on the two bikes this month and I’m pleased that my skills seemed to have taken an uptick during the forced winter sabbatical. Riding can be that way. It’s like any sporting endeavor. Some days you’re in the zone. On others, you wonder what the heck you’re doing. The goal, though, is to always try and up your game.
In my case, I’ve noticed that some routines have become more natural, such as looking through corners, taking the correct line, having situational awareness, and putting my feet down when coming to a stop. OK, just kidding on the last one.
I have, however, noticed a heavier hand on the throttle thanks to a greater comfort level with my bikes. Riding can be like that. Your skill level climbs, then plateaus for a while, then starts improving again. It has been a few years since I’ve seen noticeable improvement and this season’s advancement is encouraging.
It’s the thinning hair and a gray beard that can be seen in the mirror that reflect the truth that I’m no longer young and that my riding days will eventually come to an end. I’m not alone. The biggest challenge facing the motorcycle industry today is finding replacements for those of us who are aging out of riding.
Just look at Harley-Davidson’s financial statements. The company, which accounts for roughly half of all motorcycle sales in the United States, recently announced that first quarter motorcycle sales in the U.S. were down 5.7 percent. This comes after Harley-Davidson experienced a 3.9 percent drop in sales in all of 2016.
Yes, economic factors, inventory and competition play a role in the decline but the fact is baby boomers are parking their rides and young adults are not gravitating to riding. The dirt bike riding kid up the street who blats by the house on his one-lunger every afternoon, as predictably as “5 O’Clock Charlie” launched his hand-thrown bombs on “M*A*S*H,” is an exception these days.
All I can say to those in their teens and 20s is to try riding. You might enjoy it. Yes, a new bike can be expensive, but reliable used bikes aren’t as pricey. How do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it? Sorry, but spinach still tastes awful.
Looking back on a dozen years in the saddle, the best part hasn’t been the wind in face, the thrill of rapid acceleration, or the fun of kicking tires and rotating bikes in and out of the garage in the hopes of finding the perfect bike. The best part has been the people – the friends that I’ve made over the years and the shared experiences.
On Easter morning, the parking lot at Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village that warm, sunny day was filled with celebrants of the Church of Two Wheels. Dozens of bikes were lined up and the picnic tables were filled with familiar faces. It’s the camaraderie that makes riding so satisfying. It tempers the aches and almost makes me wonder if perhaps there are actual more riding days ahead of me, rather than in the rear view mirror.
(Originally published in the “Republican-American” on April 22, 2017.)