As an old biker who recently returned to 2 wheels after a near 20 year lay off I thought I’d share the differences I found between owning and riding the motorcycles of the previous century and todays modern motorcycle.
Are you an Old Biker?
Old bikers are motorcyclists who stopped riding for a prolonged period. We’re called born again bikers in the UK but I don’t believe that’s an accurate description. I stopped riding but I didn’t fall out of love with motorcycling, I just had other priorities.
Typically, you ride a motorcycle until you get married and the first child shows up. You need 4 wheels, you need room in the garage, more money etc. etc.
Then, as if by magic, the kids grow up and fly the nest, you have some disposable income again and you decide to return to your first love by purchasing a new motorcycle.
Now, how you find motorcycling after a long lay off will mostly depend on your age and experience as a rider. If for example, you rode a Suzuki Hayabusa until 2003 and now you fancy treating yourself to a Thruxton, chances are, you are going to be ok.
If you are like me though and have never owned anything that would be considered a sport bike, the Thruxton could well be a handful.
So, as there’s so many variables I’m just going to relate my own experiences.
My Introduction to Motorcycling
We were about 12 years old when me and my best buddy spotted an old rusty Raleigh Wisp in a neighbours backyard. We counted up how much cash we had between us and then went and knocked on the front door to put in our offer.
“Is the Wisp for sale missus?” we asked when the door opened. She looked us up and down then shouted her husband saying two kids wanted to buy his moped.
“Depends lads, how much you offering?” I opened my hand to show him our cash. A grand total of 72 and a half pence in silver and coppers sat in my palm.
He was not impressed. “Are you taking the piss?” was his first reaction. “What do you want with it anyway, you aren’t old enough to ride it?” was his second.
We explained how as the school had just closed for the 6 week summer break we planned to get it running and spend our time riding it on the back field every day.
He grinned, took our money and told us to get it shifted before he changed his mind.
With a bit of help from my Grandad who’d had Wisps since they came out in the 60’s it only took us a few days to get it sorted out and running.
That summer of 1976 was the best of my childhood. Me and Billy would spend the morning begging and borrowing a can of fuel and then spend the rest of the day taking it in turns riding around the field.
The 6 weeks flew.
It only did 22mph but it was enough to get the wind through your hair and a couple of kids hooked for life.
In the following 4 years before we were able to legally ride on the roads, we managed to trade our way up through several mopeds and scramblers until finally ending up with a none running Yamaha XT500. By this time we knew our way around an engine and had it running within hours. Happy days!
As soon as we were 16 we moved on to legal road bikes. Billy went for speed and purchased a Fizzy while I went for a brand new Suzuki OR50.
They had just come out and I couldn’t resist the chopper looks. After all, the Easy Rider poster had been on my bedroom wall for the last 4 years. Unfortunately it was a small bike and I had a final grow spurt just after I turned 16 so quickly outgrew it.
At 17 we could then ride anything up to a 250cc so I went for the Kawasaki KH250 while Billy found himself an early RD250B. Once again he had me beat as the triple struggled to keep up with the Yamaha.
As the UK law stood back then, once I had passed my test on the 250cc I could legally ride any bike. I had my eye on a second hand Kawasaki Z650 but my Dad, who had once spotted me overtaking a boy racer in an XR3i on one wheel through town, was keen for my Mother to not have to bury her eldest Son. He convinced me British twins were the way forward and talked me into buying an old pre unit Triumph Speed Twin his mate was selling.
For the next dozen or so years I had several bikes but that first Triumph had taught me motorcycling was more about the journey rather than the destination – at least, in my case it was.
So, apart from another XT500 Scrambler and an all too brief ownership of a gorgeous Honda CB750, most of my motorcycles tended to be old Triumph Bonnevilles or Speed Twins. Usually they weren’t standard, I liked my ride to stand out from the crowd.
Old Bikers Rode Choppers
One in particular was given the 70’s chopper treatment. Hardtail frame, raked forks, teardrop tank complete with the Bat Out Of Hell custom spray job, original Triumph sprung hub. Oh yes, the full works.
Handled like a bag of spanners but looked great.
I was sat in the Blue Star cafe just off the A1 on the Blyth roundabout watching folk admiring my bike parked outside the front window. A group of Japanese tourists were taking photos of it.
This wouldn’t normally cause me to wolf down my burger and coffee to get outside as fast as possible but these tourists were all women, stunning oriental women!
After introducing myself and having a few polaroids taken with me on the bike and with the ladies it was time to make a dramatic exit. There was no ignition key, just a switch. I flicked it on, turned on the fuel, primed the carbs and jumped on the kick start, praying for a first time fire.
The old girl didn’t let me down as it roared into life with its short straight through pipes. A clunk into gear, a nod, wink and a smile to the ladies and off I set. The bike jumped forward and stalled. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t stalled a bike for years.
Red faced with embarrassment I fired her up again. Another nod to the girls who were all by this time whispering and giggling amongst themselves.
Into gear, carefully letting the clutch out this time. Felt the bite, there you go, give it some and…………. stalled again.
By now I’m wanting the car park to open up and swallow me. I’m just about to kick it back into life when one of the girls steps nearer and in broken English whispers that I still had my bike chain wrapped through the back wheel.
Never did that again!
I have never owned what would be considered a sports bike so the Monsters, Ninja’s, Bandits and the like that were being produced just didn’t appeal.
Meanwhile the Triumph’s I liked were getting older and older. I was spending more time in the shed doing maintenance than in the saddle.
Then work got scarce and I was travelling further and further to compete for jobs. That, and family life meant free time was becoming harder to come by. I ended up driving more and hardly ever riding until finally for the first time since I was 12 years old I was without a motorcycle.
Old Bikers – It Never Leaves You, You Just Take a Break
In 1997 I moved to the Isle of Man and its unique biking culture had me toying with the idea of another motorcycle. I planned on buying something to restore but I was also running a business and never seemed to get around to it.
It wasn’t until the retro motorcycles started appearing that I began to seriously consider jumping back into the saddle with a brand new machine. I hadn’t purchased a brand new bike since the little Suzuki I had purchased in 1980, preferring instead to buy and restore or modify older bikes.
A new bike appealed. No skinned knuckles working late nights trying to get the bike running for the weekend. Just turn the key and go. Nice.
Choosing a Suitable Ride
I was in a Yamaha dealer in 2016 to look at an XSR900, a naked offering with a retro vibe to it that I liked the looks of. A couple of old bikers were in and one of them was picking up his brand new XSR700. He was about my age and we got chatting.
“I was interested in the 900 too until I test rode it,” he started telling me. “That thing is scary as hell. I’m going to keep the 700 for a year and then I might trade it in for the bigger version once I’m back into the swing of it. Or I might just sell the 700 and go back to gardening, we’ll see how it goes,” he told me with a smile.
That conversation stuck with me throughout my search for a new motorcycle.
If you used to be a speed freak then build yourself up towards the sport bikes that perform at the higher end. Don’t just buy a Kawasaki H2R because back in the day you used to ride a GPZ900R.
Roads are busier, bikes are faster, your reactions are slower. Facts.
Old Bikers Are More Likely To Become a Stat
A few years ago North Yorkshire Police released some statistics that showed 60% of all motorcycle accidents resulting in the riders death were ridden by men aged between 40 and 49.
Our road casualty statistics clearly show that middle-aged men are more likely than any other group to be involved in fatal and serious injury collisions when riding their bike.Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick
Getting To Grips With Modern Motorcycle Technology
When I pulled up my driveway for the first time with my brand new Triumph Bobber I noticed the headlight was on via the garage doors reflecting the light.
I kid you not I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to switch them off before looking through the hand book for instructions only to learn there is no light switch, they’re always on.
Some of my previous bikes barely produced enough power to run a candle let alone the luxury of permanent day lights.
Other things that I hadn’t considered would have made the cross over from 4 wheels to 2 were ABS and traction control. And what’s with multiple riding modes? I couldn’t believe how far bikes had come since I had last been riding.
I couldn’t stop grinning when the dealer told me there was a software update he wanted to install. That smirk soon faded though once what he had said actually sank in.
No more setting up your carbs (it doesn’t have any) or adjusting the tick over to your own liking. Got a problem? Bring it in and we’ll hook it up to the computer and see what’s up. Wow, thanks for that.
Even though it was this carefree ownership that had made me gravitate to a new bike, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of what I had automatically assumed was part and parcel of motorcycling had been robbed from me.
In a few months I will have owned the Bonnie Bobber for 3 years and I’ve loved every minute I’ve had in the saddle. Next summer I plan to get off the island with it and rack up some serious mileage. There’s only so many laps of the TT course you can do!
I’m still tempted now and again by something older though… Maybe when I retire and I’ve got more time.