Born-Again Bikers

If you rode a motorcycle when you were younger and have recently had the urge to get another, then you can proudly wear the label 'born again biker'. Each year an increasing number of people who rode bikes when they where in their late teens and early twenties are now returning to biking some 10 to 15 years later. Sadly there are a high number of born agains who end up seriously injured or worse, as they find their rusty skills are no match for today's superbikes.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of becoming a statistic? At this point I could easily say, using your common sense, but given the demographics of those in the category, it's obvious, that common sense is not enough. Your average born again is aged 35 - 45, married with children and has a professional/management occupation, so not exactly lacking intellect you might say. So why the high accident rate? Basically it comes down to three areas - rider, motorcycle and skill. If you accept your limitations, your well on your way to reducing the risk.

Know your limits

Everyone knows that men are supposed to peak at the age of 21 and start the depressing slide into old age thereafter. While your average 35 year old male should be far from retirement, they will have noticeably slower reactions and be less fit than they were in their twenties (potentially). You could argue that this should be the case for driving a car, but 35 - 45 year olds are statistically much less likely to crash a car than a 21 year old is. The key difference is that riding a motorcycle is harder than driving a car. There is a lot more going on when you are riding a bike, so the cognitive and physical load is considerably higher.

Motorcycle Choice

Obviously the sports bikes of the 1960s had considerably less power and agility than modern bikes and nobody who owned an old BSA, Norton or Triumph would expect to be able to jump of the latest Kawasaki ZX12R Ninja without expecting the experience to be just a little different. But many people fail to appreciate the changes to bikes in just the last 15 years. When Suzuki launched the GSXR600 in the early 80s it caused a bit of a stir with claims of too much power to be safe etc. Yet this bike knocked out less than 80BHP at the time. The same goes for Honda's CBR600, just 75 BHP. Yet these where the ultimate sports bruisers of their day. Today both the current models produce around 112 BHP, which is 50% more than their mid 80s ancestors, while the class leading Yamaha R6 is in a league of it's own. Top speeds are up too. The average 600 cc sports bike can do 160 MPH, anything less than 100 BHP and 150 MPH simply can't compete and tends to get the label of sports tourer. If you're tempted to venture into the 900 cc superbike market, then you'll find at least another 30% more power and another 15 - 20 MPH on the clock. In fact the only thing that has been reduced is the weight.

OK, OK I here you say, just because I've got the power, doesn't mean I have to use it. True, restraint is an important skill for any motorcyclist, but the beauty of modern motorcycles is the ease at which they allow you to ride fast. Triple figure speeds are relatively unnoticeable and you'll find yourself getting drawn in to riding faster and faster, while having the time of your life.

Learning unlearned skills

If you're a born again biker, your motorcycle test probably consisted of a number of laps round the block while being assessed by a driving examiner standing on the corner with a clip board. Today a learner motorcyclist has to complete basic training, a theory test and take their test on a large (typically 500 cc) bike to gain an unrestricted licence. The test is now conducted in radio contact, with the examiner normally following on another motorcycle, so he'll be able to see exactly what you are doing. However, all this is largely irrelevant if you haven't ridden for a few years, as no matter how tough your test was, you almost certainly will have forgotten what you learned. In fact learning to ride a bike is not like learning to ride a bike at all - if you don't keep the skill fresh, you will forget. I personally go rusty after just 2 weeks without riding, think about how 2 years may affect you.

Ideally you want to get used to the power of your new bike over time, but any accident investigator will tell you, that they often deal with motorcycle fatalities involving bikes which have not even been run in. I recently heard of a 'born again' fatality involving a Yamaha R1 with just 64 miles on the clock. Sadly, many riders are killed at speeds that their machines can easily handle, but they simply don't have the skill to control.

Motorcycle accidents - don't become another statistic

Hopefully if you've managed to get this far, I haven't put you off returning to biking, which is good. If you go into it with your eyes open and take it gradually you will significantly reduce your risk.

  • Get some training - On average instructors spend about 5 hours a day in the saddle and will work with you to improve your safety and riding technique. Depending on your ability, they may even introduce you to some of the more advanced techniques or focus on areas that you feel need attention.
  • Choose the right bike - A Honda CB500 or Kawasaki GPz500 can do about a 120 MPH and 0 - 60 in about 5 seconds. I guarantee it has enough power to scare you silly in a bend and still do 60 MPG. Yet motorcycle magazines call them middle weight commuters or all-rounders. It's definitely worth taking it easy with your first bike. Buy something cheap and average to re-learn on and then only upgrade it once you are sure you are ready. You are highly likely to drop your first bike, so buying someone else's scuffs means you wont be so bothered if you add to them.
  • Buy some new gear - Your 15 year old helmet will not still be up to the job of protecting your head (a good helmet will last about 5 years). Spend as much as you can afford on a new helmet, gloves, boots and leathers. Remember if you are on a budget, it is better to have a complete set of budget gear, rather than a top of the range helmet and jeans instead of leathers. £200 - £350 should see you well protected, with budget gear.

Ride within your limits

    Once you're up and running be prepared to learn at your own pace. They'll be plenty of bikers who will be faster, but unless your trip includes a detour to the Accident and Emergency, you may in the long run get their quicker if you take it easy. Focus on safety with progress rather than the other way round.

Above all have fun - that's the whole point !


Riding a motorcycle is a lot harder than driving a car