Island Bound Traveller Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
by Gary Grieco - firstname.lastname@example.org
Published Vancouver Seniors Magazine March 2011
Why are more and more seniors cranking up Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," strapping on leathers, and climbing onto hogs on steroids before blasting down highways and byways?
Because they can! Active seniors are discovering their new bold and daring persona and embracing motorcycle mania like never before. According to Scott Wilband of Courtenay Motorsports on Vancouver Island, "It's the baby boomer generation that have bought most of our bikes in recent years. These are guys who are getting a little older, ready to retire, and deciding to do it now." This great expression of freedom is available to a segment of society that has worked hard and now can afford the fruits of their labours; one that traditionally has been confined to the young, and the outlaw rebels. Along with this new lifestyle comes an element of danger that is part of the mystique when astride a 750-pound (340 kilogram) iron steed. These bikes all exhibit the same traits; raw power, speed, and a gritty image. New statistics say that motorcycle drivers account for only two per cent of all B.C. drivers, but motorcycles are 15 times more likely than other vehicles to be involved in a crash. According to Inspector Norm Gaumont with the RCMP Traffice Services, "We've gone from about 24 to 25 deaths a year in 1996, to over 45 deaths a year." One in 10 traffic deaths in B.C. involve motorcyclists, and in many of those crashes the motorcycle is the only vehicle involved according to ICBC statistics. "Inexperience is the problem, which creates factors for disaster," says ICBC Safety manager Sonny Senghera. The positive news for boomer riders is that ICBC statistics also show that riders who cause the most crashes are between the ages of 16 and 25. Accident rate figures parallel the large number of baby boomers moving into their middle and senior years, indicating that older riders are less likely to have an accident on a per capita basis.
Training is the key factor for staying safe. A common misconception is that riding a motorcycle for a year at nineteen to impress the girls qualifies you to purchase a big bike today where you can immediately ride off into the sunset.
While many older riders are generally unaffected by physical changes, most are aware of diminishing strength, endurance, vision, or orthopedic problems, and the big one, reaction time.
I speak from experience. At 16, I purchased my first motorcycle; an English 1954 100 cc 'James' one cylinder flat
head, with a top speed of 100 kilometres per hour when boosted by a good tail wind and level highway. I knew no fear!
It was a scooter compared to my current 1983 'collector' 1100 cc stripped Goldwing with horsepower equal to a small car.
I continue to hit the open road whenever I can, but realize that even with experience, the challenges are not the same as driving a car. And this becomes even more critical as a person ages. I'm aware that I'm not gaining strength, and a 750-
pound bike can be a handful if it starts to fall.
These thoughts, and the awareness they bring are always on my mind at the start of a long trip - and in May 2010, it was no different. Newly retired RCMP Officer, Ted Boeriu and I hit the open road for his first cross-country trip. The plan was to travel together to Calgary where Ted would head for Humboldt, Saskatchewan to visit family, while I would
continue on to Winnipeg, a 1,500 mile (2414 kilometre) trip I had made numerous times before
The plan to leave from our home base on Texada Island (located in the Strait of Georgia) the last week in May was conceived in haste. It began on a rain-soaked day, and proved to be a precursor of worse weather to come. But, our hopes were high as we started down the Sunshine Coast's narrow, twisting highway amidst scented cedars sparkling with raindrops. It requires three ferries to get from Texada Island to Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver. At the Langdale ferry a few miles from Gibsons, we met our first phalanx of other early season riders. One of the riders wore a jean jacket with a black sleevless tank top with an orange and black insignia on the sleeve of his jacket that said, "Harley-Davidson - Live to Ride, Ride to Live." A grand sentiment that sets any true biker's pulse racing! Motorcycling is normally 90 per cent pleasure, and 10 per cent inconvenience or hardship. This trip ended up almost being the reverse. After spending a hospitable night in Chilliewack with friends,the busy Trans Canada Highway beckoned us to the old Hudson's Bay Company fort town of Hope before we climbed the frigid Coquihalla peak on Highway 5. Pleasant warmth greeted us on the long descent from the summit to the town of Merrit, which lies cradled in the picture perfect Nicola Valley. One of the best parts of the trip was idling through the hot, dusty city of Kamloops to Revelstoke. Kamloops, once a popular 1860's gold rush site is now a centre for cattle and sheep ranching, whitewater enthusiasts, and trout fishermen. There are numerous towns and tourist attractions along this level stretch of highway before you get to Revelstoke at the western end of Rogers Pass: Chase, Sicamous, Salmon Arm, Beardale Castle, Three Valley Gap ghost town, and Miniature World, with its famous waterborne paddlewheel craft. Rogers Pass in the magestic Rocky Mountains is a motorcyclist's dream. This national treasure presents stunning landscapes, with the chance of viewing magnificent wildlife. But, on this third day out, snow lay heavy on the sides of the road in Glacier national Park at 3,297 metres (10,817 feet). The skies in the pass were leaden with a promise of more snow. Golden, B.C.'s treacherous curves and roadwork are an interesting challenge, and is the gateway to Field's flatlands near Alberta's border. Arriving in Canmore, Alberta we were two bone-weary travellers enduring half frozen extremities and wishing for those new-fangled hand-warming handle grips and a heated seat. But, that's when Mother Nature grinned evilly and really showed her fangs to these two "old upstarts" ` Barely thawed after coffee and soup, Canmore's Tim Hortons was just out of sight when sleet and snow greeted us. We were still 60 miles (97 kilometres) from Calgary! My 25 year-old worn out goggles collected snow like a shovel, necessitating stops every 20 minutes. Ted's previous advice to buy a full-face helmet was making more sense all the time; especially after my goggles were discarded resulting in red, aching eyes for the following three days. That trip felt like 100 miles (161 kilometres), at 45 mph on the ice-covered highway. Calgary at dusk, on a busy freeway, is not where a person wants to be on a motorcycle. At red lights, motorists seemed discomfited at our frozen robotic movements and refused to turn their heads in acknowledgement as we tried to keep our balance. But, there is an end to the good and the bad, and Calgary turned out sweet - an oasis of warmth and good company where we dined and drank with gracious hosts for the next four days, all the while the temperature never rose above two degrees. Our heavy weather motorcycle trip was an extreme example of what cross-country riding can be like, as opposed to being cocooned in a shield of metal with four wheels. But, nothing delivers a summer rush the way a motorcycle does. So, join the fun, and start motorcycling! Just remember to be patient and take the necessary steps to be safe.
Suggestions and tips for new bikers before beginning their open road adventures:
Training Course - A must before buying a bike if experience is limited, even as a refresher for those who have ridden in the past. A great school in the Comox Valley supplies helmets and small motorcycles, which are easy to learn and take your driving test on. The course teaches the basics of riding and handling a motorcycle, building skills and confidence.
Learning to drive defensively on a motorcycle is vitally important. Bikes are hard to see. People look for a car rather than a motorcycle. In fact, riders might be wise to hold off making a purchase until after taking the course, so they'll more fully understand their needs.
Right Size of Bike - before a purchase it is imperative to make sure the motorcycle fits properly and does not intimidate. A motorcycle that is too powerfull or too big to handle comfortably will make the riding experience unpleasant and perhaps even frightening.
"Height is a major factor", says motorcycle salesman Scott Wilband. "Both feet have to rest flat on the ground for safety. The type of bike to consider also depends on the type of ride you are planning. You don't need a big bike around town, but if you plan to tour with friends riding Harleys and Goldwings, a 750cc won't cut it. For highway driving with a passenger, I suggest an 1100 or 1300 cc bike."
Owners Manual - read the manual. It contains a wealth of information that will make you a safer rider.
Passengers - Carrying passengers on the back of your motorcycle is a bad idea until you are completely satisfied with your capabilities. Some suggest no passengers for the first year. A motorcycle operates differently with a passenger when accelerating, cornering, and stopping. Improperly stowed gear can also cause a problem, dramatically altering the balance and stability.
Author at Summit Rogers Pass
"With High Hopes"
Author and Ted Boeriu at start of trip - Powell River Ferry