Does motorcycling keep you young?
Charlie Bliss speaks to some of the nation’s silver riders to find out if age is only a number.
Youth has long been revered in the world of motorcycling. In fact, adolescent rebellion and motorcycling are two concepts which seem as connected as nuts and bolts or fish and chips.
Think back to the enduring images of a fresh-faced Marlon Brando on his Triumph TR5 in The Wild One or a forever-young James Dean on his Triumph 1955 Trophy – era-defining, immortal looks with which we are all so familiar. Yet, as any true rider will testify, motorcycling is certainly not just for the young.
Economic analysis of the UK motorcycling sector demonstrates that one pound in every three is spent by someone over the age of 50. What’s more, the average age of those taking their test is on the rise: recent Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data indicates that, over the last five years, the number of people aged 55 and above taking their motorcycle test has gone up by 80 per cent.
Many ‘baby vroomers’ are taking up riding later in life as a hobby. However, it’s not just an indulgence – riding a motorcycle provides many tangible benefits. We spoke to some veteran road warriors to find out more.
‘Growing old disgracefully’
Established in 1983, the Ulysses Club (link) describes itself as an ‘international social club for mature bikers’. Open only to those aged 40 and above – and with their most mature member only 83 years young – the club’s name comes from a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and is a splendidly appropriate fit with the club’s purpose.
In the poem, the Ancient Greek king Ulysses – now of respectable age and secure in his rule of his kingdom after heroic adventures – has grown bored with the quiet life. Daydreaming, he seeks to rekindle his sense of wanderlust and go travelling once again. His advanced age doesn’t faze him at all, and the poem ends with his famous resolution: “That which we are, we are/One equal temper of heroic hearts/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
The Ulysses Club aims to promote companionship and support for older motorcycle users while setting an example by demonstrating the personal and social benefits of riding as an activity, regardless of age. Like the BMF, the Ulysses Club also seeks to safeguard the rights, needs and views of older generations of riders and to effect legislative change by ensuring their voice is heard while still retaining that classic biker’s affinity for insubordination. Their motto says it all: ‘Growing old disgracefully.’
Barry Bogglid is Vice President of Ulysses Club GB and a retired teacher of 70 years. “I started biking in my early twenties, largely for commuting purposes,” he says. “Since retirement and joining Ulysses, biking has become a very important part of my leisure planning and activity.
“As you get older, time does begin to catch up with you and there are things you can no longer do that once were so important. In my case, it was sport and mountaineering. Knee replacements and arthritis have severely limited those types of activities, but biking has reinvigorated my desire to get out and go places, meet people and just enjoy the ride.”
We also spoke to Mitch Elliott, Events Director at the BMF, who said: “Despite what many may think, riding a bike can be quite physical and it exercises otherwise dormant muscles. It also requires a high level of brain functions, alertness, spacial awareness, listening for new or strange sounds and smells – the latter can be an early alarm when the aroma of cattle or fresh cut grass can indicate as yet unseen hazards.”
Scientific research agrees with Barry and Mitch. A neurobiological study conducted by scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior (link) revealed some remarkable insights into the positive mental effects of biking. It found that riding a motorcycle enhanced participants’ metrics of focus and attention while reducing cortisol – a hormone related to stress. It also showed that sensory focus increased, while brain activity was boosted in a similar manner to drinking a cup of coffee or even meditating.
Young head on old shoulders
But what about motorcycling’s unique social properties? Barry explains: “The riding itself is, of course, only one aspect of biking as you get older. The other main benefit is the opportunity to meet people and make friends through biking. As soon as you meet another biker, you know that they are on the same wavelength. Over the past eight years, I have personally made many friends who I now regard as really close and who are like a support group for all aspects of life.
“If you are on your own, it can be very easy to just leave the bike in the garage. But as soon as someone posts a café meet, there is a reason to get moving and blow the cobwebs away. The organisation of tours, both here and abroad, gives people the confidence to extend their biking experience which they would be much less likely to do on their own.”
When asked if he had any advice for more mature riders who used to ride but have fallen out of the habit, Barry responded instantly: “Join a club. There are hundreds of them, based either locally or nationally. The biking community is very welcoming for newcomers or those returning to the fold. There is a comradeship that being on two wheels gives you access to. Once you are in full flow on a winding road, age doesn’t matter. You’re in the zone, so twist that grip and experience it.”
Mitch, who turned 70 this April, agrees. “Age is no barrier, and the marketplace has a wide range of bikes and scooters to suit all tastes and needs. The unusual – such as the Yamaha Niken and Gilera-Peugeot three-wheel scooters, for instance – can offer additional peace of mind with the increased stability. Illness or injury need not be a deterrent, with organisations such as the National Association for Bikers with a Disability (NABD, link) offering a wide range of adaptations to aid riding.”
Fountain of youth
This all disproves the outdated notion that the purchase of a motorcycle is symptomatic of a midlife crisis. Rather, it’s an investment that could reap plenty of rewards for both physical and mental health. All this goes to show that youth need not be wasted on the young. As Bob Dylan – a biker – once sang: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of BMF Motorcycle Rider.
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