Middle-aged not-so-easy riders still have fun on their bikes


The death of flamboyant 62-year-old actor Nagare Hagiwara, killed last April while riding a motorcycle in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, came as a shock to Japan's veteran bikers.

But that hasn't stopped them from riding. Shukan Asahi (July 24) reveals a surprising statistic: the average age of riders of domestically produced two-wheelers is now 50 years.

Masayuki Takayama of Honda Motor Co's PR department explains it like this: "I think one factor is change in the family environment. More middle-aged people are putting less emphasis on raising children and placing more importance on their interests. Or, they are separating their interests from their work and doing a good job of achieving a balance between the two.

"The other factor is cost. Conversely, the number of riders in their teens and 20s has been declining."

In addition to a motorcycle, helmet, boots, gloves and other riding gear -- not to mention vehicle insurance -- the costs can come quite a bit of money. And for those who go on long-distance tours, expressway fees add to costs.

Honda's Takayama says that ownership by older bikers began accelerating from 2001, especially for models priced between 800,000 and 1 million yen.

Harley-Davidson models from the U.S. are particularly popular with this age group, both for their styling and the characteristic throaty vibration of their opposed V-twin engines. Interestingly the average age of Japan's Harley riders is said to be 41 years -- 10 years below that of owners of Japanese domestic models.

Six years ago when he was age 65, attorney Hiroyuki Kawai arranged to modify a Harley into a "trike" (3-wheeler), similar to the type used by traffic police in the U.S. While still a high school student he had his first experience on a borrowed 50cc Honda Super Cub, and never forgot the feeling of pleasure from the wind on his face.

"But at that time, my father was a humble salaryman, and our family wasn't well off enough to afford a motorcycle," Kawai recalls. "So I promised myself that someday I'd buy one with my own money."

But both Kawai's family members and clients tried to talk him out of driving a motorcycle, and he wound up delaying the purchase until he'd worked at his job for 30 years. His Harley "trike" can be operated with an ordinary car license -- instead of the special "jido-nirin" license required for driving a motorcycle of over 400cc engine displacement -- and he is not even obliged to wear a helmet.

Kawai smiles as he recalls the 10-day motorbike trip around Hokkaido during the summer, and how enjoyable it was to look for lodgings at mineral hot springs where he could relax. These days, while busily occupied with a federation of lawyers who oppose the restartup of Japan's nuclear plants, he still tries to make time to take his trike for a drive once a month.

In Japanese, the phenomena of middle-aged men taking up motorcycling a second time after having initially enjoyed it during their youth is called "return riders." To assist such fans to acquire a motorcycle license, a "senior riders school," limited to learners aged 50 and over, was opened two years ago at the Suzuka race track in Mie Prefecture. The school is said to be highly popular, with the oldest current enrollee over age 70.

© Japan Today

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I've been thinking about joining them for some time but, it's been many years since I last rode a big bike so am wavering a little. I might do the training course and then decide.

By the way, "opposed V-twin engines" is incorrect, V engines are not opposed, "flat" twin engines like BMW are opposed as are car engines from Subaru and Porsche.

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There are horizontally opposed Vs like BMW and vertically opposed like Gilera. I miss the Guzzi V-8.

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Talking of middle-aged people, I am thinking of those at age of 30 to 50 years old, not 60+ - those are retirees.

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If it is a horizontally opposed engine, i.e. a so-called 180 degree V then it is not a V, that's ridiculous. Whether crankpins are shared by horizontally opposed cylinders is a different argument altogether.

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I have never really had the urge to ride a motor bike but as I got older every once in a while I wonder a bit about it.......h'mmmm

The mrs is totally against it as a friend of hers died young in an accident..........

Sooooooooo this spring I didn't get a bike but snagged a Daihatsu Copen, the thing is great fun ripping around country roads & opening the top with a button & I am half way there!!!

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I have been riding a v-twin engine dual-sport bike in Japan for many years now and they are amazingly reliable machines. I do miss my last crotch rocket from Kawasaki, the GPX, but comfort and price have won over coolness and speed. Plus, I think I'm finally becoming an adult!

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I come from a family of motorcycle riders, you ride till you cannot physically ride no more. I love it. Interesting that this article puts the bike as more expensive, I've found that even after purchasing protective gear the bike is cheaper than running a car. A car is really only good for me when the weather is absolutely crap, rain is ok but wind gusts are not a bikes best mate.

I think its great older people are getting back into riding, if they go to riding school & find they can still control the bike then power to them, get out there & have fun.

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I'm 51 and learning how to do wheelies - so I can impress the local youth posse - cos they have no idea a 51yo is under that bandana mask!! And, it's jolly good fun!

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Also from a family with Riders (mostly on the female side), sis married a Rider.

Most youngsters get shocked when I make a Donut and Stripe it on a Kaws Z1000 one-handed. Never been into wheelies but pulled a few coming out of a corner.

As for when I stop riding 2 possibilities 1) Death 2) Sickness/Paralysis A good friend suffered from loosing muscles in his legs, he struggled to walk but was fine on a Bike or in one of his Mini's.

Once riding got into your blood you can't get rid of it. And it looks like my son also got it.

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Ironically, just a few days ago I saw a feature about these return riders on a TV news program (sorry I don't remember exactly which it was). The emphasis was on the increasingly high accident rate (including fatalities) in this age group. One factor being the riders don't fully realize they don't have the same reaction time and motor control that they had when they were younger. If I had known I would be recalling it for writing a comment here I would have paid closer attention and made a note of the numbers etc.

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Huh, I was in my mid 20's when I really wanted that Ducatti ST2 980cc :) . Will buy it sometime in the future, when I'm old enough to join this club..

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Good point Educator60.

When I bought my bike 4 years ago I took training and was so glad I did - I reckon I'm a much better rider now, in my 50s, than I was when younger. Besides which I now have a sense of my own mortality - something I definitely didn't have years ago!

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Have a good, safe time on the roads and keep up your muscle training :-)

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I am a return rider after a long hiatus from rearing family. Riding a motorcycle is fundamentally different to modern car driving, in that the feeling of connection to machine is immediate and strong with motorcycles. I agree that one's reflexes are not as sharp with older riders, but then modern tyres and brembo brakes are "ten times" better than we had in the eighties. More critical is the decline in the brains ability to balance, so techniques to minimise carpark speed control risk need working on, as well as judgement in high speed cornering. By the way I recommend Kevin Codey's Twist of the Wrist watchable on youtube to improve technique. There is something of a return to youthful liveliness and fun about zooming around on two wheels, you forget being an old fogie senior and really focus on enjoying road riding and in my case finding new places to explore for my other hobby, photography. If you haven't read T.E.Lawrence's The Road it conveys the experience very well:

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