Aging. It happens to us all, if we are lucky enough to not have our youthful excesses cut us short. For those of us who ride motorcycles, aging brings some distinct problems. Loss of strength, diminished eyesight, balance problems, “sticky” information processing in the brain.

The lesser stamina for long rides, particularly in extremes of temperature.

Once the bike is in motion, the strength part isn’t much of a problem, though the balance is when coming to a stop. And when the balance is off, the strength comes into play with serious consequences when it isn’t quite enough.

It’s when the bike is not in full motion, when it’s in the garage, or being put on or off of a lift for service, making a slow parking lot or backroad turnaround, at a stoplight when the surface isn’t as good as it should be or is uneven enough to require a bit of lean to get a foot down solidly, when the problems become obvious and that begins to happen more often. Confidence dwindles.

Some deal with these issues by giving up riding, some by denial, and some by going to smaller, lighter bikes.

While I admire and envy those who still take big bikes on adventure rides as I once did, that is no longer my reality in my 70’s. From a variety of circumstances, some caused by accidents (not on motorcycles,,, my most debilitating injuries have happened by tripping while walking), some by simple deterioration, I’m not as capable as I once thought myself to be. I don’t have the confidence in my balance and strength to be comfortable on tall, heavy machines. My new heroes are people like Linda Bick, who has traveled the world on motorcycles since her teens, working her way up to large touring machines and now, nearing 80, has worked her way back down to a 125cc “Postie Bike” to keep going. She and others with similar stories show that it isn’t the size of the bike that matters, it is the doing what needs to be done to keep riding.

In nearly 60 years of riding, I have gone from 250cc bikes in my early days, on which I traveled on and off road, up the ladder steps to 1200cc BMW twins, then in the last decade, back down to an 800cc touring bike. There is a 1200 twin mated to a sidecar still in the garage, but that is for two person trips with my wife. My future solo travels will be on my DR650 (366 pounds, 36 hp, per its specs) and the newly acquired BMW G310GS (386 pounds, 34 hp). It would be disingenuous to say they are “just as good” as the larger touring machines I once used. They aren’t. They have less “real estate” for luggage, for the rider’s seating and less power. But they have enough. When I was a mediator for personal injury cases, I often had to tell the parties that we had to deal with the options we had on the table, not the ones they wished were there. Everyone always wanted what I called “Option C”, the one where they got everything they desired with no adverse consequences and the other party got nothing. That option didn’t exist in any case I ever encountered. And now for me, Option C, the one where I get to keep going exactly as I did 20 or even 5 years ago, doesn’t exist.

When discussing smaller bikes, the question of “power” seems always foremost on the minds of (mostly male) riders. I like to use the standard of “enough”. Having excess horsepower is fun, in some circumstances, but usually is like carrying around a fire hose to fill a water glass. I am of sufficient age to remember when 40 horsepower was a respectable number for a 500cc race bike on the flat tracks and road races I used to watch in the 1960’s and for some of the most iconic street bikes of the time (for example, the Triumph Bonneville.) And I know from track-day experiences that very few riders can actually use all the horsepower modern bikes provide. I have seen many instances on tracks when good riders on small bikes embarrass the “big boys” by skill over horses.

The small ones can’t be left on one gear on every backroad, leaving only small adjustments of throttle to make good progress. They require a bit more work, but then that’s not always a bad thing.

Interstate highway travel isn’t their forte, but I have never found much enjoyment on any interstate and avoiding them has always been my first option.

I have slowed my pace on backroads considerably (though the curves seem to come at me just as fast now as they did at higher speeds a few years ago !) In most circumstances I can keep as quick a pace as I can handle on these smaller, lighter bikes and still not be wringing them out to their limits. As the old sayings go, “it’s way more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow” and “ride a slow bike…then if you go slow it’s the bike and if you go fast, it’s you”.

But that actually isn’t the point anymore, the “going fast “part. I just want to keep going, to feel the motion, the air, the rain and the contrast from heat to cold, the sensation of leaning into curve after curve with the bike following the land in harmony with the contours. Motorcycles are sensational, in both senses of the word. We love them because they provide sensations that nothing else can. These smaller ones still do that quite nicely.

I don’t know how many more years I can have of these experiences, and I don’t really want to think about life without them. So I will keep doing what I have to do to maintain the motion, the sensations, to keep doing what it is that has made me who I am for nearly all my life so far.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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5 Responses to MOVING ON

  1. Sam Hawkins says:

    Courageous adaptation personified! Thank you for sharing over the years and your inspiration over the years. Thank you for the encouragement and options many face or will face. Cheers Squire!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ted Cowen says:

    I find myself wishing for a return to the days when bikes were smaller and lighter. Some years ago — as I was looking the specs on then new bike offerings — I ventured a comment of a Bonneville forum that Triumph might should recognize that today’s Bonneville market is most likely composed of senior citizens who aren’t looking for ever more horsepower and speed. The only response I remember was a suggestion that I switch to Royal Enfield. While the comment irritated me at the time, I now suspect it was insightful and well-intended. As a result of health issues, I haven’t ridden in several years, and I am thinking about selling my Bonnie. I’m not sure what, if anything, will come next. But, your article is inspirational. Thank you.


    • johngrice says:

      Thanks ! The Royal Enfields were on my list for possible bikes, but even they are heavy for me now. They do have “the look” of a British bike from our era, though and the engine in the 650 twin is as sweet as any I’ve ridden .


  3. Pingback: Coddiwomple | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity

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