Explosion in older motorcyclists who can’t kick riding habit

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, SMH – December 17: Stuart Child in St Clair on December 17, 2017 in Sydney, . (Photo by Christopher Pearce/Fairfax Media) 13-07-2013; nww 272651; Tex O’Grady and Bundy the cattle dog, who is over 600,000 kms old and has help raise more than half a million dollars for charity, pictured on his motorbike at the Wots on Den’s Annual Motorcycle Show and Shine at Minchinbury. Photo Helen Nezdropa
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Portrait of David Williams with his motorbike. Story about older riders. Photographed Saturday 23rd December 2017. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 171223

“You are a long time dead. You can’t do much after so enjoy it while you can,” said David Williams, 69, explaining why he returned to motorbike riding in his late 40s to relieve the stress of a high-powered job.

Mr Williams, now retired and the secretary of the Sydney branch of the Ulysses Club for motorbike riders older than 40, rides two to three times a week, enjoying the “wind in his face” and riding with others from different backgrounds.

Since 2005, the number of older licensed motorbike riders aged 50 to 85 plus has risen more than 90 per cent to 302,066 in 2017. Older riders now account for half the motorbike riding population in NSW.

There has also been a 207 per cent increase in riders 65 to 69, and a 196 per cent increase for 70 to 74-year-olds.

At the same time, the total number of licensed motorcycle riders in NSW rose 44 per cent to 600,633. Motorcycle registrations have also spiked, rising from 108,656 to 218,055 in 2017.

The increase has been accompanied by a 54 per cent increase in fatalities in riders over 50 years of age, and a 80 per cent increase in serious injuries, between 2007 and 2016.

The NSW Minister for Roads Melinda Pavey described this trend as “worrying” and unexpected.

She has asked the Centre for Road Safety to investigate the possibility of the introduction of a refresher course for older drivers returning to riding.

Riders who had taken long breaks could be more vulnerable because their skills and level of coordination might have altered over time, a spokesperson said.

Many are returning to riding after an extended break while they raised their families or after they retired. Some longtime riders say these riders return with “more money than sense” after their mortgages have been paid off.

They’re not the only ones who have changed: in the interim, motorbikes have become more powerful, the roads more crowded and sometimes, the balance and skills of the rider may have deteriorated.

In NSW, if a rider returns to riding after letting their licence lapse, they are required to do pre-learner and pre-provisional motorcycle courses course such as Stay Upright. Those who have kept their licences active, but haven’t necessarily ridden, aren’t compelled to do a course.

The Ulysses club encourages its members to do refresher courses, even refunding members half the cost, said Mr Williams.

“I’m not sure whether the motorcycling industry would support compulsory training courses, especially if it didn’t extend to motorists, too, because many crashes are caused by motorists,” he said.

Statistics from the Centre for Road Safety show that 55 per cent of crashes involving inexperienced riders, with less than three years’ tenure, and 52 per cent of experienced riders, collided with another vehicle, mostly cars.

That was the case for motorcyclist Stuart Child of St Clair, who nearly died in a serious crash in 2008 when a car turned across his path.

His parents were told to “say their goodbyes” while he was in a coma. Mr Child shattered his pelvis, broke a hip, femur, shoulder blake and his wrist in several places. Mr Child spent four months in hospital, and had to learn to walk again.

But after a nearly 10-year break, he has now returned to riding: “Once you are a rider, it is in your blood. You just want to get back to it,” he said.

The NSW Centre for Road Safety’s Hassan Raisianzadeh who has been reviewing these figures said there had been a significant increase in the licensing of older riders, with a “massive” rise among the older 60s which had been matched by a similar rise in crashes.

“When we looked at licensing and registration, there had been a 90 per cent increase in the ownership of motorcycles by the 60 plus group, which is not experienced by any other age group,” he told a seminar organised by the NSW chapter of the Australasian College of Road Safety.

Some motorcycle safety experts warn that not every licensed motorbike rider is active, and many older riders may own more than one motorbike. Others argue that it is just that increased number of motorbike riders are ageing through the system, keeping their licences active even though they may not ride anymore.

“Older riders do represent a higher proportion of injured motorcyclists but this is because there are more of them,” said one expert who asked not to be named.

But long-time bike riders and activists like Tex O’Grady, 61, say many returning riders are buying bigger and more powerful bikes than when they were young. “When somebody, even at 60 years of age [gets on one of these bikes] there is a temptation to twist the throttle. Young and old, it doesn’t matter how old, with that much power, they are going to get themselves into a trouble,” said Mr O Grady.

“If they buy a sports bike, it puts them into a corner before their brains get there. In the wrong hands, a bike is a weapon, and many panic when they hit a corner at speed.”

Because Mr Child of St Clair in Sydney’s north west had let his licence lapse, he was required to do course before he could get his licence again.

After so long off the bike, he had lost his confidence and knowledge.

“I was incredibly nervous on my first day, but by the end of the second day it was great,” he said.

But he still hasn’t told his dad that he has resumed riding.

“If my dad knew, he’d go off his nut. Even though I am nearly 50,” he said.