Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Older Motorcyclists Makes for More Accidents

Years ago before we had any kids, my lovely wife and I took a quick trip to Yellowstone National Park. We followed a couple riding a large Harley-Davidson motorcycle for some distance before arriving at the west entrance of the park.

The man driving the motorcycle sported long dark-ish hair, a black leather jacket, jeans, and biker boots. The long bleach blonde hair of his female passenger streamed behind her. Black leather pants and a trim black leather jacket stretched tightly across her shapely frame. Matching leather boots completed the ensemble.

We were baffled by the soda can the woman held in one hand. She occasionally brought it to her mouth but she didn’t appear to be drinking from it.

When we arrived at the park entrance, the woman dismounted while the man paid the entrance fee. When she turned, it was clear that her distant rear-view beauty had been deceptive. She had a stony face that belied years of hard living. She walked to the side of the road and spit a wad of chewing tobacco into the gravel. The soda can had been her spittoon. My wife nearly threw up.

Motorcycle ownership has trended steadily upward for years. The rate of motorcycle accidents and fatalities (as a percentage of ownership) has also trended upward since 1997 (see web Bike World report). Fatalities per mile and per 100,000 registered bikes have shot up. The rate of older bikers getting into accidents has increased significantly.

You’re not alone if you think you’ve seen an increase in the number of aging Baby Boomers riding motor cycles. The age groups with the largest increase of motorcycle ownership are the 40-49 and 50+ demographics. In 1990 these groups owned 16.3 and 10.1 percent respectively of motorcycles in the US. By 2003 those percentages jumped to 27.9 and 25.1, as the total number of registered bikes rose from 3 million to 5.4 million. Trends since then have continued.

Boomers have always been far more used to recreation and leisure than were their parents. Now that Boomers are empty nesters and retirees they have more time and more disposable income at their current age demographic than any previous generation. It is now possible for them to nostalgically relive the glory days of their youth, but in far higher style.

A bottom-line new Harley will cost you over $17K, but you can spend more than $35K on a nicer model. You can save some money by getting a used bike. Or you can rent one for a trip. Of course, not all Boomer bikers go for Harleys, although, older bikers buy Harleys more than any other brand. Many enjoy taking on the whole faux Hell’s Angels persona for weekend rides.

The sub-40 crowd can’t afford this expensive hobby. They went from owning 71.6 percent of all US motorcycles in 1990 to owning only 41.4 percent in 2003. The total number of motorcycles owned by this crowd remained flat from 1990 through 2003. So did the total number of accidents for this group during that period. This means that pretty much all ownership and accident rate growth has been among the older age groups.

My family owned motorcycles from the time I was 12 until I was in my mid-20s. Although I don’t currently own a motorcycle, I am still licensed to drive motorcycles and I have occasionally enjoyed riding other people’s bikes throughout the years. There have been times when I have nearly been hit by inattentive automobile drivers. Although I’m not planning on it, the day may come when I own a motorcycle again.

But I can’t see myself ever doing the whole weekend geezer biker gang thing. I simply can’t comprehend the value in that kind of activity. Wearing black T-shirts and head bandannas featuring skulls and bones when you’re getting increasingly closer to being a pile of skeletal remains yourself seems pretty strange to me. If others want to pretend to be ancient Sundowners, that’s fine with me. Older bikers need to be aware that they’re going to pay higher insurance rates.

I do suggest that anyone that rides a motorcycle should attend a rider education class. In the class you learn some surprisingly simple things that could save your life that are unknown to most riders. It’s not like they’re secrets, but few riders seem to know anything about them. If you’re going to ride, the time and money for the classes are worthwhile investments. It might help you avoid contributing to the statistical accident trend.

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