“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses
Founded in December of 1983 in Sydney, Australia, the Ulysses Club now caters to older riders with branches around the world. On my way to an early Ulysses Club annual club rally here in Australia I met a mature-age lady member on her Yamaha Virago. She told me that when she took up riding, her family called her a silly old fool. “Now I can tell them, there’s hundreds of us silly old fools!” she said. In fact there are now thousands just here in Australia, and at 73 I’m one of them.
There has never been a shortage of – let’s not beat about the bush – old motorcyclists around the world. Len Vale-Onslow was riding his SOS motorcycles around the UK when he was 100 years old, and Jock Stares was even older. Stephen Dearnley, the founder of the Ulysses Club, rode a 650cc Suzuki Burgman scooter around Australia at the age of 79 and didn’t finally garage it until he was 83. Bruce Heilman, a WW2 vet, rode his Harley across the US in honor of other vets at the age of 89. Gloria Struck is both an AMA and Sturgis Hall of Famer. At 94 she does not trailer her bike but rides everywhere from her home in New Jersey, including annual visits to Sturgis and Daytona.
She’s planning a cross country ride for her 100th birthday.
Today, retirement homes frequently advertise that they cater for “over 55s” and give the impression that it’s definitely time to settle down when you reach that milestone. So the ages above may seem like aberrations, and of course motorcyclists in their 80s and 90s are fairly rare. But as you can see they’re not unknown. And for many riders, their 60s and 70s are among the best motorcycling years of their lives.
If you are thinking of taking up motorcycling at or near retirement age, or perhaps returning to it after discharging your responsibilities to your children and your job, don’t be put off by the people who will call you a silly old fool. They might be right when you start, but they certainly won’t be once you’ve been riding for a while.
A study by the University of Tokyo, titled “The relationship between motorcycle riding and the human mind,” tested male motorcyclists between 40 and 50, Motorcycle Riding Centers NJ reports in its website. They evaluated two groups, regular riders and a non-rider control group. Each individual was examined for brain function and cognitive skills.
After two months, research results concluded that those who rode their motorcycles to work daily had increased cognitive functioning when compared to those who did not. The data confirmed that riders’ scores had consistently increased more than 50%. The control group’s scores decreased slightly.
The study also demonstrated that riding has a positive impact on mental health, raising mood and reducing stress. After 60 days of consistent motorcycle use, participants had reduced stress levels and were generally happier.
There are also significant physical benefits of motorcycle riding. They include increased burning of calories, the equivalent of a full-body workout and advantages that arise from that, including decrease in insulin use and stronger thigh muscles.
All in all, then, motorcycling is not only fun but also good for you – at any age.
One objective milestone worth considering is your HALE, or Health Adjusted Life Expectancy age. With his tongue in cheek, classic bike author Rex Bunn says that this “measures the life expectancy we all have during which we’re sufficiently healthy to kick start and ride most classic British motorcycles”. The HALE age is generally about 90% of total life expectancy, Bunn continues. He quotes a range from 67.2 years in the US to 69.1 in the UK, 69.5 in NZ and 70.9 in Australia. Of course nobody says that you have to stop riding when you reach your HALE. Just get a (non-British?) bike with an electric starter.
One final comment on the subject of bikes. A lot of older riders get around on big motorcycles, like Harley-Davidson touring models or Honda Goldwings. But there is no obligation to join them. If you would prefer something lighter and easier to handle (and pick up), think about a bike like a Honda Deauville (NT700V in the US). The seat is a reasonable height at 806mm (31.7 inches) and the bike is not light but manageable at 236kg (520lb). Similar bikes are available from other manufacturers. And they all have electric starters.
Let me leave you with a little more Tennyson from Ulysses:
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…”