Yes, It's Fast And No, You Can't Ride It.
A buddy and I were waiting for the Galveston/Bolivar ferry after a motorcycle ride around Galveston Bay. He rides a KTM 1190 Adventure, a large, powerful, on/off road styled motorcycle with knobby tires. I was on my Kawasaki Z H2, a "super-naked", with a supercharged, two-hundred horsepower motor.
It's a true superbike; zero to one hundred miles per hour in about five seconds, top speed in the one-eighties, and comes equipped with all the latest electronic rider aids and semi-active suspension. The Z H2 is a wildly energetic ride and is an expert level motorcycle.
We're both in our early seventies and had pulled off our helmets and gloves, enjoying spring weather. As we waited, an older pickup, occupied by two forty-something guys with fishing gear and a dog, pulled up in the next lane and stopped adjacent to us. As they were preparing for the wait, one pointed at my motorcycle and yelled, "Hey, is that a six-fifty?" He was referring to engine size.
“No, it's a thousand.”
He squinted, got a surprised look, and asked "Holy crap, is that a Z H2?"
"Yes", I replied.
He turned to his buddy and yelled, "Hey Bob, there's a senior citizen over here on a Z H2!".
Seventy-two years old on a Z H2, who would think?
Lordy, I'm getting old!
The "golden years" come in many shapes and sizes but the reality of life is brutal and without ambiguity: we decline as we age and eventually die.
These days, knee and hip replacements are commonplace, diabetes is rampant, and cholesterol levels become more likely discussed than nightlife. We develop familiar relationships with our "medical teams" and find ourselves taking medications we cannot pronounce.
I wear hearing aids and glasses, and my feet hurt when I take my first few steps in the morning. My skin has thinned, and bones have become more brittle.
A broken wrist kept me in an external fixator for more than nine weeks, while a fifteen-year-old acquaintance only needed five weeks to heal a similar break.
To make things worse, we wear our aging on our faces, bodies, and, assuming we still have any, hair.
Another painful part of aging is mental and emotional. Society tends to stereotype us as we age, and we become less relevant with each passing year.
Younger folks are sometimes unthinkingly prejudiced and demeaning, and we are routinely patronized. Advertising aimed at seniors is often downright asinine and prejudicial.
So where is the joy in aging? Why would a seventy-something be riding a motorcycle with an absurd amount of horsepower, who delights in riding with some risk, and enjoys amazing acceleration and braking?
Why Risk It?
Risk is a situation involving exposure to danger.
Part of the answer revolves around risk. Having owned every imaginable type of bike, from a super-motard to a full-blown touring machine, complete with chrome, extra lights, and a sheep-skin seat cover, I have, as they say, been fully immersed in the experience.
I. Have. Done. It. All.
My experience has also involved literal ups and downs, and after a crash caused by me making a novice mistake, I took my first motorcycle safety course. It was there that I started to learn about risk and how I might be a person who likes a little danger in my life.
Risk Tolerance is the level of risk a person is prepared to accept in pursuit of its objectives.
We all have some level of appetite and tolerance for risk, from those of us who prefer a sedentary, quiet lifestyle to those who thrive on jumping out of airplanes and climbing mountains.
Riding a motorcycle tells the world something about our personal risk tolerance. Everyone knows it is easy to get hurt or killed on a motorcycle and statistics verify that knowledge. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are thirty-seven times more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than a car accident.
But motorcycles are fun! Even the slowest motorcycles will out-accelerate (and/or outspeed) most cars. Being exposed to wind, sounds and smells thrills the senses. Leaning to negotiate a corner is scary at first but can become an addiction.
Two-wheel riders pity the drivers around them who are cocooned in their cars, isolated from all the fun.
Is it worth the risk? Some of us say yes.
More importantly, can the risk be mitigated? That answer is also, yes. Through continual learning, challenging ourselves to be better, honest self-evaluations, and wearing protective gear, we can reasonably expect to safely ride into the sunset. Maybe into our seventies, or shockingly, into our eighties.
There is, however, a dark side to riding motorcycles.
Some of the best experiences of my life have been while riding a motorcycle. Too many to articulate or remember, but all with ecstasy and an all-is-right-with-the-world feeling.
The dark side involves things one would expect: brutally hot or cold weather; aggressive, dangerous stop-and-go traffic; falls, and one that is particularly difficult, loss. Loss of vitality and vigor, loss of respect, and the difficult one, loss through death. My friend was one such loss. We will take a look at loss in my next article.