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Older bikers: health & lifestyle tips



Heated vests | Arthritis | Insurance | Vitamin D | Sidecars | Trikes | Electric motorcycles


You'll understand that this isn't really a subject that we want to be writing about. It's depressing. But life is full of downbeat realities that have to be addressed, and getting older happens to be such a subject (as if you haven't been getting older for your entire life). However, we're not going to get too downbeat or clinical here. So if you're of a more sensitive or nervous disposition, you can relax. We won't venture anywhere that even the most hardened neurotic wouldn't go.


That caveat aside, the point of this feature (as you'll see from the sub-heading) is to help you stay active on motorcycles for as long as possible, and that could be anywhere until you hit your 100th birthday. Or maybe beyond.


Sound implausible? Well it's not. Not anymore. There are a few motorcyclists already on the loose who have received that famous telegram from the queen marking a century of life on planet earth, and it seems that there will be a lot more to follow.


People are staying healthier for longer, and not just healthier but more active. They're running marathons into their eighties, throwing themselves out of aircraft into their nineties, and doing any number of unlikely things until they drop. These guys (and gals) have clearly got spirit, and they want to live life to the max. And good bloody luck to them.


So read our tips and see if you can join their number. And as we're fond of saying around here; you either get busy living, or get busy dying.



1. Stay warm and protected. Sounds obvious. However, it's easy to underestimate the changes that occur with "advancing years". But like a draughty old house, the heat gets out and the cold gets in at every opportunity. It's relentless, and it needs to be controlled. So invest in the right motorcycle gear. Never mind what you've been used to wearing for the last 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. You were younger then. You had more energy and stamina. You had some latitude.


Here at Sump we've ridden for years in clobber than was okay, but not always ideal. But it's time to fix all that. So take that trip to your local bike dealer and see what's changed since you last crossed his border. The thing to remember is that prevention really is better than cure. So stay one step ahead of problems. Get equipped. Ante up.


And if you haven't already done do, think about some body armour. We know that it's cissy stuff. For girls, etc (sorry, girls). But riders of all ages ought to use armour. Buy good quality stuff, and wear as much as you can stand. The first time you need it, you'll be glad you had it.


And one more thing. Living/riding in the UK isn't always about coldness. There are plenty of days when it's too hot. Therefore, also think about lightweight motorcycle gear—but without sacrificing too much safety. So explore issues such as good crash helmet ventilation, lightweight gloves, lightweight boots, etc. Either extreme (heat or cold) is a no-no.


2. Thermal underwear. After you've got some suitable, modern, efficient and waterproof outer gear (and not merely "water resistant"), make sure you're wearing thermal undergarments of some kind. It's cheap. It's effective. And it's comfortable. Just avoid the really budget stuff. Shop around for a brand that you feel you can trust. As ever, check online reviews. And remember too that multiple layers are more effective than one or two thick layers. The trick is to trap warm air around your body. So insulate yourself properly, and you'll better enjoy the ride.


3. Consider heated clothing..
If you haven't gone this route before, see what the current marketplace is offering. Heated clothing isn't that expensive, and it's relatively easy to get fixed up. You can buy the entire ensemble at once, or buy incrementally. Heated gloves are the first step for many, and they're important items. Certainly, if you're anything like us, you perhaps feel the cold most in the fingers. However, maintaining a good core temperature is far more important. So start thinking about a heated jacket, or a heated vest. Modern bikes, especially big/adventure machines, tend to have plenty of spare power to tap into. So take advantage of it and plug in.


Of course, if you're riding older/classic bikes you might not have the electrical power needed to run heated clothing. But you've got options.


(a) You can upgrade your old dynamo to an alternator, or upgrade whatever alternator you do have; and there are one or two firms out there who might be able to help. Search the web. Seek and you will find. The price might be fairly high, note; we're talking hundreds of pounds (November 2019 prices). But you'll get heaps of power, and you'll be glad of it. Note that you might also have to switch polarity from positive earth to negative earth.


(b) You can invest in LED lighting thereby freeing up electrical power from your dynamo/alternator. You might even have enough to run heated gloves if nothing else. Check it out.


(c) Some heated clothing is offered with an external battery pack. These packs have rapidly improved over the past few years. On full power, you can get as little as an hour of heat, or as much as 2 - 3 hours. That's the realistic use for a fairly standard and inexpensive rig. But there are bigger battery-packs available, in which case you're looking at 3 - 5 hours—and some of the more rugged/adventurer jackets and vests claim all-day heat.


But remember; on a motorcycle you're also subject to wind chill, and that chill is snatching away at your warmth. Mercifully, classic bikes tend to travel slower than modern bikes, so wind chill isn't necessarily so onerous. But any air movement will sap body heat. The test for good heated clothing is how well it works on the move, and how well it sustains the heat. Just make sure it's easily controllable so you don't cook yourself at traffic lights.


Note that there are also heated leggings and heated insoles for your boots. But if you just get the core temperature up, your extremities often tend to look after themselves (subject to decent gloves and boots).


We ought to mention here that we've got some misgivings regarding battery packs. Specifically, we have heard of electric fires caused by faulty equipment. Phones. Electric cars. Laptops. Etc. We've not heard anything relating directly to motorcycle clothing. Nevertheless, modern engineers are constantly finding new ways to cram X-number of volts or whatever into a smaller and smaller box. It's conceivable therefore that something could go wrong. So interrogate your dealer. And to balance the books, we also sometimes worry about riding along the road with a large tank of petrol between our legs. Some people, huh?


4. Eat properly. You need carbohydrates for warmth, but you need a range of other organic things for good circulation and joints. Vitamin D is particularly relevant here because this vitamin goes a long way to keeping your joints strong and limber. Yes, we're talking about the A-word. It's can strike at any age, and some days are worse than others. But there are strategies to make it manageable. For most of us, anyway.


Sunlight is your best route to vitamin D production, but you can get your D-ration from tuna, mackerel or salmon. Or, if you prefer, dairy products such as milk and cheese will help keep you topped up. But get some sunlight (in moderation) whenever you can, especially in winter when vitamin D gets depleted. So okay, there's not a lot of sunlight to go round between December and February. And in some latitudes of the world, that sunlight is probably negligible during the wintry season. Nevertheless, do what you can. And naturally, beyond that you'll want a generally well-balanced diet. You can abuse your body when you're young and perhaps get away with it. But after age forty you need to start getting into good eating habits. The metabolism will only take so much nonsense.


Take note, incidentally, that vitamin supplements are widely considered ineffective. The arguments are ongoing. So you'll need to conduct your own online research on this and then see who you believe. But we prefer our vitamin intake to be supplied by ordinary good food and a balanced diet (and all that worthy stuff)—and you can end up becoming more than a little neurotic if you start chasing all the arguments for and against, and then trying to work out what vitamin does what, and what else that vitamin needs for absorption in order to be effective. Best don't go there, we say.


5. Fit a windscreen to your motorcycle. Or a full fairing. Or even a handlebar fairing. Or just handlebar muffs. If you're not familiar with this kind of equipment, the right design and fitment can make a huge difference to how warm you stay when out on the road. And staying warm, once again, is crucial. But you don't want to overheat either, remember.  Too hot or too cold can sap your concentration thereby making that ride more risky than it needs to be.


There are dozens of decent fairings/screens/muffs on the market. Consider all types, particularly those screens that extend far enough to cover your mitts. And yes, we know that such screens don't always look cool. But we'd sacrifice a little coolness for a little warmth. So get that screen/fairing/etc between yourself and your stubbornness. And when buying fairings, remember to check the ventilation features, if any. On a hot day, or even a moderately cool one, you can cook behind a fairing.


6. Exercise. Walk a mile each day. Even if you've been riding bikes for so long that you've forgotten how to walk, you need to re-learn those steps.  Walking is better than running (don't listen to the joggernauts). Walking doesn't pound at your joints. It doesn't stress the body. It doesn't get you all sweaty either. Well, not too sweaty. But it does get the oil moving, so to speak. And it keeps that oil pump in fine fettle. Motorcycles don't like inactivity, and neither does the body. Regular use is the key. Keep in mind that a one mile daily walk is better than a 7 mile weekly walk. Stay in shape. It really does make a difference. If you're out of shape, take it easy for the first few thousand steps. Okay?


7. Get your eyes checked. Or just check them yourself. If you can't see, you won't see dangers so easily. Or quickly.


Degenerating eyesight is a blow. But you have to deal with it. So be honest with yourself. If that text in the newspaper looks too hard to read, it probably isn't because the editors are using a smaller font (although they might be). If you can't easily see the buttons on the TV remote (except in bright light), that's a clue. And if you start waving at strangers in the street thinking they're friends (or ignoring the waves of people who look like blurry idiots), you just might need glasses.


7. Drink water. Yes, it sounds obvious. But dehydration can be a problem on motorcycles, even in cold weather. Once again, when you're younger you might tolerate a little dehydration without too much trouble. But age is more demanding. And more insidious. Just try and keep lubricated with H20 (save the beer for later in the evening when you've tucked away the bike for the night). Staying hydrated can also benefit eyesight.


8. Buy a lightweight motorcycle..We're loathe to suggest this. It sounds like surrender. And in a way it is. But we prefer to think of it as armistice. However, if you must surrender, try and do it on your terms.


Either way, big bikes are heavy bikes. Heavy bikes strain joints and muscles. And they don't always do your back much good. Sure, most of the time you can handle the weight. That's not the problem. Your troubles start when, for whatever reason, the bike starts to slip away from you. Maybe that happens on the move; on wet leaves or something. Or maybe that happens in the garage. Regardless, you make a grab for it and—yeoww!—you've wrenched something, and (oh boy) it feels serious.


Damage to joints and muscles takes longer to heal as you age. Therefore, you need to avoid putting yourself in harm's way, so to speak. And it's not as if lightweight bikes aren't fun and exciting. In some ways, they're far more enjoyable than lumbering heavyweights. And remember, the trick is to keep moving, keep riding, and you can't do this when you're lying in traction or with your arm or leg in a splint.


Meanwhile, if you haven't yet made the jump from old technology classic bikes to modern bikes, take a trip to your dealer and see what's on offer. Modern features like traction control (with rider modes), standard ABS, cornering ABS, and slip-assist clutches can be a Godsend. These features will give you increased confidence in later years and could save you from a spill.


8. Pick your moments. Some days are better than others. Some are wetter. Some are colder. Some are drier. You can see where this is going, but we're going to say it anywhere. Avoid the rain. Avoid the cold. Aim for the perfect days, and organise your time to accommodate them. So okay, that's not always convenient in the UK. If there's a bike show on Sunday that you want to attend, and if it rains on Sunday, what are you gonna do?


If you must go (and sometimes it feels as if you must), dress right, stay warm and dry, etc. And do your best to ride between the raindrops.


9. Move to Spain. That sounds like a terrible suggestion (no offence intended to the good folk of the Iberian peninsula), but this is Blighty, and in Blighty we're supposed to be able to take whatever the weather throws at us. Only, the older you get, the more it hurts. So you have to make adjustments. If you can't/won't speak Spanish, and don't fancy the Spanish lifestyle (with around 300 days of sunshine each year), aim for Eastbourne, Sussex. Apparently, there's more sunshine each year in Eastbourne than anywhere else in the UK. It's no accident that British pensioners have overrun the town. Or try Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Nice little microclimate there. And then there's Bournemouth, Torquay and plenty of other towns on the South Coast. The point being, you might need/want to follow the weather.


No, you might not notice a huge difference when you get to your British seaside retreat, but there is a difference, and your body will respond by being a little less achy and sore and (dare we say it) creaky.


10. Turn up the central heating. If you must go out in the cold, make sure you generally live in warmth and have a warm home to return to. That's not always easy, we know. But a damp and draughty house will leave you more vulnerable to threats outside the home. And yes, you already know that. But it's worth remembering this caution. We hate to use the word "holistic", but staying healthy and mobile is an holistic thing. Like defensive riding, you need to live defensively too.


11. Listen to comedy shows or great music. Everything's chemical. Remember that always. Some chemicals make you feel bad, and some chemicals make you feel good. The trick is to get less of the former and more of the latter. And you do this by stimulating your body with the necessary compounds. Comedy is a great source. Music you love is another. Or maybe sex does it for you (it does for most folk). Or perhaps you get your kicks from good food, or great movies. But whatever it is, you need a daily doze of it. And when you feel good, all kinds of other things come into play. Posture. Oxygen. Muscle tone. And so on. So later, when you roll out of the driveway on your bike, your fuse is properly primed and lit. Sounds easy enough, but for many folk it doesn't come easy; not until you discipline yourself. In short, try and be happy and feeling good even if it's for brief moments. It's a wise habit that really can be developed. Just do your best. And don't forget that sunshine. That will help brew a nice little happiness cocktail between your ears.


12. Consider buying an electric motorcycle..The main advantage here is, of course, simplicity. Electric bikes need less maintenance (which could be good or bad depending on how deeply you want to be involved with the nuts and bolts of biking). They also need slightly less rider input—unless you opt for an electric motorcycle with gears. They will require a fairly substantial capital investment, and their range will be greatly compromised by whatever heated clothing and other accessories you use.


And then you've got the problem of disposing of your more traditional bikes—and that could be a wrench.  Do you sell them? Or mothball them? Or keep them for special occasions (never mind that as you get older, pretty much all biking days are special occasions). The point is, for many riders, electric bikes might be a viable way of maintaining mobility. So don't write off the idea of electrification without some careful thought.


Also, there's one more thing to consider here, particularly with regard to the new generation of electric bikes. Already we've seen the development of self-stabilising motorcycles with motors and servos that make it very hard to knock 'em over. We think that this technology will sooner or later become commonplace, and that will be a revolution for many. Explore this idea. See where it leads.


13. Buy a motorcycle sidecar combination..If you've had no experience of outfits, this could be a little challenging to begin with. Sidecars demand a different approach to solo bikes, and they can catch out the unwary. But they're safe enough once you get to grips with them, and the increased intrinsic stability is self-evident. Also, many road users give a little more space and latitude to chairmen (but don't count on it). In other words, car drivers (in particular) are unsure what to make of you, so they tend to back off a little.


And if you can't quite face the leap from a solo motorcycle to a sidecar outfit, maybe a trike will do it for you. Here you've got stability that's superior to a standard motorcycle combination, but without the quirky handling characteristics—although you will have to make a few adjustments.


Yes, you can have your own motorcycle converted, or buy a trike ready made. We'd suggest that you try the second option first. Triking isn't for everyone, but it's the perfect solution for others.


14. Live for the moment. You used to do this naturally when you were younger. Then you lost the knack. Adults introduced you to the time clock of life. Get up at this time. Do this at that time. Gosh, look at the time! Hurry or you'll be late. Get me to the church on time. Etc, etc.


Well if you've hit retirement, you can pretty much grab all the clocks in the house and trash 'em. Or maybe you haven't quite got to that stage yet. Maybe there are still time constraints nagging at you. If so, try and get shot of them. Just focus on enjoying yourself right now (subject to the normal constraints of caution and responsibility).


The bottom line is, the next sixty seconds is always where it's at. So try and be there at the cutting edge of those sixty seconds, ready and willing. And above all else, keep rolling. There could yet be many more miles ahead. And if there isn't, make whatever's left count.


15. Motorcycle insurance..This could be one of your biggest hurdles if you want to keep biking well into old age. We haven't explored this deeply enough, and we doubt that the insurance companies have either. Clearly there are greater risks with many older riders. Then again, older riders are often more experienced. So if your health is generally sound, there's no fundamental reason why you can't ride almost until you drop. But certainly, switching to a lightweight bike, or one with a sidecar, or riding a trike might be sufficient to persuade any doubting insurance brokers that you can still hack it on the road. That said, you might find that beyond a certain point, your insurance premiums will rise significantly as the years roll by.


It's a problem and needs to be looked at carefully before you make any other decisions.




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