Thinking About Buying a Motorcycle: Boomers on Wheels or in Mid-Life Crisis

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Got the Bug, Got the Motorcycle Bug
Driving along you notice the graybeard motorcycle rider in the lane next to you. The wind is blowing his beard back and you can see the wrinkles on his face. You figure he must be fifty or sixty years old. It gets you thinking.

Or, what about all of these new motor scooters that seem to be popping up all over the place? Students, blue collar workers and the occasional professional are all just putting along enjoying the 90 miles per gallon fuel savings. Hmmm, looks like fun.

A lot of people just like you have the bug, the motorcycle rider bug. But you have it real bad and you are seriously thinking about actually doing it, buying a motorcycle and having a little fun yourself. What’s the holdup?

Well, motorcycles can kill you. Yes they can. But on the other hand, you spouse may kill you just for considering a motorcycle. OK folks, a little humor, lets not get too morbid here, you are only thinking about getting a motorcycle right? You haven’t actually done it yet.

Make an Informed Decision to Buy or Not
Riding a motorcycle is an individual decision and it’s not for everyone. I will give you an objective snapshot of riding a motorcycle based upon facts. Knowing the real deal will allow you to make a knowledgeable decision if riding a motorcycle is really what you want to do.

Great fuel economy Dangerous
Save time with traffic maneuverability Exposed to the weather
Parking opportunities Limited luggage capacity
Lower insurance cost Purchase rider safety equipment

Great fuel economy: Riding a two-wheeled vehicle can cut your gas bill in half. With $4 a gallon gas prices that means cutting a monthly fuel bill down from, let’s say, $200 per month for a car to $100 for a motorcycle. The savings are even greater for a motor scooter.
Save time with traffic maneuverability: You can recover some of the time you spend everyday commuting to work by bypassing that bumper to bumper traffic. This is especially true in states like California which permit two wheeled vehicles to “split” lanes (ride between car lanes).
Parking opportunities: And once you get to where you are going, you can park your motorcycle or scooter right up front. My wife and I love this when we visit the mall on a Saturday, sporting events or even just parking at work. Too Cool.
Lower insurance cost: Yes, lower insurance cost but it’s because the vehicle is less expensive than a car and the accident damage to the motorcycle or other vehicles cost is lower. It’s not because motorcycles are safer than cars because they are not safer than cars.
FUN: Yes, this one deserves capitalized letters because riding is fun. It is not just weekend fun but every ride fun. Going to the neighborhood store or commuting to work changes from being a chore to being an adventure. The wind in your face, the feeling of freedom, the smells in the air, well I could go on and on but it is a blast.

Dangerous: Yes, riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car, about four times more dangerous than a car, at least the way I read the statistics. You can check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to see for yourself. Of course, there are a number of things you can do to minimize the risk. For example, not riding while under the influence will decrease the accident probability (motorcycle vs. car) from 4 times down to 2 times the risk. Wearing a helmet will improve your odds of surviving an accident by an additional 100%. But don’t kid yourself; riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.
Exposure to the weather: On a motorcycle, you are right out there in it. You are not warm and toasty car in the winter. When it is hot, there is no air-conditioning except a wet bandana around your neck. Since I have been riding to work everyday (last 6 years), I get up and boot up my PC and check out today’s weather so I can decide how to dress for today’s ride.
Riding in the rain turns out to not be that big of a deal. You ride much more cautiously, you get wet and sometimes you meet new friends while you sit out the storm in a coffee shop or under a freeway overpass. To me, the weather adds to the excitement and the thrill of the ride.
Limited luggage capacity: A couple of saddlebags that will hold your lunch or your fishing gear are about all you are going to get with a motorcycle. Yes, you can really go crazy and get a full “suite” of bags that will handle you and your spouses travel needs for a few days but only if you are willing to limit your wardrobe to T-shirts and Levis. (If you want fresh Levis everyday, your travel itinerary will include daily stops at some local launder mats which is yet another opportunity to meet people and make new friends.)
Purchase rider safety equipment: Big old Harley or 50cc motor scooter, you must have a high quality helmet, protective leathers and real boots. This stuff costs money.


Protective Gear (minimum) Cost (average for quality gear)
Helmet $100
Leather/Textile jacket $250/$125
Boots $90
Gloves $50

I know you see riders everyday in T-shirts and tennis shoes but for my money, you must suit up on every ride as if this is the ride where you kiss the asphalt. Do I do what I am preaching? Well, I always have on a helmet, gloves and boots.

Too Old To Ride?
“You don't stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding.”
--- Author Unknown
Physical strength and slower reflexes do come into play as you get older. You must be able to maneuver your bike around, not only when walking it into a parking spot but at speed. How much physical strength is required? We have all seen petite 110 lb women riders handing the biggest Harley. Training and knowing how to handle the motorcycle make this possible. It’s not really about how strong you are but how you use your strength.
Reflexes are also a consideration. Hand eye coordination must be up to making those 70 mph instant decisions. But reflexes are not just physical; they start in your head. Proper training will prepare you for making quick decisions but some folks just can not decide where to go for dinner let alone make instant evasive action decisions on a motorcycle.

Here are two simple tests that will help you figure out if you are too old to ride a motorcycle.
1) Are you unable to drive your car to the grocery store without having some other driver honk their horn at you or maybe give you the finger? If this is you then you not only should stay away from riding a motorcycle but maybe reconsider driving a car.
2) Do your loved ones seem to always be asking you if you feel OK, or tell you that you look tired all of the time? You should probably pay attention to what they are trying to tell you. Riding a motorcycle is probably not for you.
Are you too old to ride? Only you can decide.

Still Can’t Decide?
Now you know the general facts but you still just cannot decide if riding a motorcycle is for you. Go hang around some motorcycle shops. Tell them that you have the bug but you don’t know what to do. Then just stand back while you will be inundated with advice on every aspect of the ride. Take it with a grain of salt and do it again at the next motorcycle shop. After a while, a trend will emerge and you will start seeing a decision.

Talk to riders, motorcycle mechanics, neighbors or anyone else who has a motorcycle. Don’t be bashful. Watch out for folks who have never owner a motorcycle or never ridden a motorcycle because about all they will share with you are stories of accidents and tragedy. Just try to balance what you hear.

You have Decided You Want a Motorcycle
The first step is to take the MSF Safety Course. MSF stands for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. When someone starts talking about the “Motorcycle Course” this is usually what they are talking about. The MSF Basic course is usually a weekend deal starting with a Friday evening registration class followed by a Saturday and Sunday classroom and hands on riding. There is a test on Sunday at the end of the day. Written test and riding test with no guarantee that you will pass. It’s a real test and passing it is a real achievement. Typical cost for this course is $200. That is $200 well spent.AUTHOR BIO: Frank Gates (61) is baby boomer who bought a Harley 6 years and 75,000 miles ago. Frank runs a popular blog, “Motorcycle Rider Basics” and has written a book with the same name. Frank and his wife Irina (also an avid rider) live in Sacramento California.

MSF provides the motorcycles and helmets. You are assigned a small motorcycle, usually a 250 cc street bike. These are not showroom motorcycles but good running even though they have the scars of dozens and dozens of previous student riders on them. It is pretty rare to see any turn signals as they have long ago bitten the dust.

After completing the course you will know if you want a motorcycle or not. No doubt about it, you will know. Next step, go buy yourself a motorcycle and start having some fun!


AUTHOR BIO: Frank Gates (61) is baby boomer who bought a Harley 6 years and 75,000 miles ago. Frank runs a popular blog,Motorcycle Rider Basics and has written a book with the same name. Frank and his wife Irina (also an avid rider) live in Sacramento .

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  • What I did, as an aging hipster, to continue to prove to myself I am as young as I've ever been, I'm 62 and a half now, was to buy a brand-new bicycle. Believe me, I was terrified of killing myself en bike, so I followed every safety rule in the book including wearing bright colors when I ride and a sturdy neon-looking helmet.

    How many times did I fall off? (my greatest fear) None. Tho I do carry my ID with me & person to call just in case.

    Then - boom! - signs of aging struck. I developed excrucatingly painful sciatica & couldn't ride for three months. But, today, October 18, after a cortisone shot in my spine, the return to happy biking is just around the bend!

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