Older motor cyclists more at risk, testing shows

New Zealand  motorcycling legend Graeme Crosby (63),  pictured above with his Kawasaki,  urges...
New Zealand motorcycling legend Graeme Crosby (63), pictured above with his Kawasaki, urges riders to undertake specialist training before tackling New Zealand roads. Photos: ODT
He had won on some of motorcycling’s most dangerous race tracks, but former world champion Graeme Crosby realised he was woefully lacking the awareness and skills to survive on New Zealand roads.

I have not picked up a road code in 48 years!  Why the hell should I? I have a valid licence, issued after a successful lap around the block, followed closely by a black and white  Zephyr police car. I was licensed at 15. Over the next 15 or so years I travelled the world, honing my skills as a professional motorcycle racer and never looked at the road code  again.

Returning to New Zealand, I followed that  common male pathway. As my family grew in numbers, the comfort of the car lured me away from riding motorcycles for leisure.

In my midlife, with the family grown up, I also did what a lot of men do: divorce, then rekindle an interest in motorcycles. I began reliving my youth. At 50 and remarried, I was free to express my "larrikin biker" traits again.

Harley-Davidson did a great job of selling the dream of becoming a leather-clad gladiator or a "born-again biker" and I got back on a bike and back into the system. Sounds all too familiar doesn’t it?  But motorcycle technology had certainly not been standing still waiting for me all that time. These new modern motorcycles, with their clever design and good engineering practice,  are very easy to ride. They are  loaded with additional electronic features, such as ABS brakes and traction control, that will "protect" us. It’s that false sense of security  and perhaps an overinflated idea of our road-riding ability, plus a touch of arrogance, that puts people like me at risk. I felt I didn’t need any specialist training. I was cajoled into doing a competency-based test with motorcycle training school Pro Rider  in Auckland and failed miserably.

Crosby leads the field during a Dunedin Festival road race in January 1977.
Crosby leads the field during a Dunedin Festival road race in January 1977.
I was  a world motorcycle champion in the ’80s and the word "failure" is not in my vocabulary, so when I failed the test it made me think hard. I was identified as being at risk.

Out on the road, my speed had insidiously crept up unnoticed on several occasions and according to the instructor I was not aware of my surroundings, didn’t look in the right direction, neglected my blind spots ... and the list went on.I had not had the specialist training to recognise potential threats while road riding and I could not be expected to know what I didn’t know. I could have been blindly riding into situations that could have ended my life instantly. That started me thinking seriously about just how safe the roads are on a motorcycle.

I am sure as I approach my dotage, my cognitive skills have likely diminished, unwittingly, to a point where I am not able to react as quickly as I have done in the past. And if that’s not enough, the environment is really hostile out there, with more cars, and a virtual kaleidoscope of colour signage that pollutes my vision.  Every car  has to be treated as a potential death threat. It really is a case of being alert.  The statistics show that we "baby-boomers" are the ones most vulnerable apparently, particularly on the weekends. Call us weekend worriers if you will, but the facts back it up. Sundays, noon-4pm, is the danger time for us all and I fit that profile.

I am not alone.  Some of us are simply  ill-prepared to re-enter mainstream motorcycling. However, if we accept  we need some form of remedial training, we  can live to enjoy the weekend rides safely for many more years. Following two successful ACC "Ride Forever" silver and gold training courses delivered by Pro Rider last year, I now feel well-equipped to tackle the roads with confidence again.  So it’s all right to admit to not knowing the road code but it’s equally not good to do nothing about it.

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