Even the most cursory glance at a motorcycle gathering will tell you we are getting on some. Grey hair, bad knees, sore hips, and expanding waistlines have long replaced the wild-eyed young beasts who were everywhere in the 80s and 90s.
There are younger riders coming through, but the largest (by far) demographic riding bikes is men over 50 and indeed, over 60. And they are saying that 60 is the new 50. And for some it is. But for many it’s not.
There are two factors hard at work when you turn 60 and still ride a lot.
The over-riding paradigm here, is that every beer you drank, every joint you smoked, every line you snorted, every fight you had, and every crash you experienced in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, will demand payment when you sail into your 50s. By the time you hit 60, you are paying hard. You have no choice.
Every fibre of your being still wants to ride, but you just can’t do it the way you used to. You’re slower, because your reflexes are slower. You can’t ride for as long or as far as you used to. Some of you are starting to have trouble with your eyes. Some of you lack the strength to wheel your bike backwards because your knees are shot.
I know this because I was born in 1961. And many of my friends were born in that decade and the one before. And most of them have lived very hard two-wheeled lives. I know I have.
So just to give you some context about me, so that as you read on, you’ll understand what I am battling and how what I tell you might help you. Because what I tell you WILL help you. Guaranteed.
Like all of us, I carry a heap of old injuries. Many have occurred as a result of dumb shit and did not involve a motorcycle. Like the time I stepped off a foot-high wall in Austria and tore every ligament in my foot.
But I have also had a bunch of bike crashes. The injuries were fairly typical. Broken collarbones and scaphoids. The very worst accident I’ve had in terms of injuries was a 20km/h face-plant into the side of a mum-taxi which broke my neck (C3), separated my shoulder, and pushed my ulna and radius out through my flesh in a serious compound fracture. I’ve also crushed a finger in a low-side. But the big one was a real bastard.
I found this accident to be hugely problematic, as you can imagine. For six months I could not lift my arm above my head, and riding a bike – which I started doing four weeks after the accident with my arm still in a cast and my neck still in a brace – was very difficult. But I had to ride. Because I can’t just NOT ride bikes. It’s pretty much all I do, or want to do.
I was back in the gym after a month and crying with the effort it took to just lift the little girlie hand-weights. But I persevered because I am stubborn. And I have been lifting weights most of my life, so I know just how beneficial that is.
And eventually, after about six months, I could not only lift my arm above my head, I could lift it holding a 30kg dumbbell.
That’s how it works when you’re carrying injuries (and let’s face it, you just don’t bounce back like you used to in your 20s), and your body is aging and committing acts of treachery with each passing day.
It’s hard. But it works. I think that’s why it’s hard.
Most people will invariably choose the easy path when confronted with a choice. This is because most people are lazy. They search for miracle cures rather than doing what will actually work, because…well, what actually works means work.
Diets are good example. What makes you fat is no mystery. Poor diet and lack of exercise. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will get fat. This is how modern society functions. In fact, for the first time in human history, poor people are fatter than rich people. This is because people on the lower socio-economic scale eat crap and don’t exercise.
Do I have to tell you what such a lifestyle leads to as you hit 60? Yes, the entire panoply of bad-health horrors awaits you. And no, I am not preaching. I’m in no position to preach to anyone given the life I have led, the substance abuse I enjoyed, and the physical damage I have done to myself. So I’m not preaching. I’m just telling you what you already know.
But there is one thing that has saved me from having my riding career curtailed in my 60s. And it will help you keep riding, and it will stave off some of the worst effects of ageing.
It is called resistance training now. It used to be called weight-lifting, but people would confuse that with body-building and run a mile. To people who still think lifting weights will turn you into an Arnold Shwarzenegger, let Arnold himself disabuse you of that misconception.
Many years ago, when Arnold was at his mightiest, he was approached in the street by a man. This man said to him: “Gee, I don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to look like you.” Arnold looked at him and replied: “Don’t worry. You never will.”
Sure, body-building involves the lifting of weights. But at a level and intensity 99.0 percent of people will never achieve, or even need to.
But what you do need to do if you want to keep on riding into your old age, is get stronger and stay stronger. And the only way to do that is to lift weights.
As I said, I have lifted weights for most of my adult life. Before my accident I was bench-pressing 156kg. I can now only bench 110kg. But I can do it ten times for four sets. So forty times. In ten years’ time, I hope to be able to bench 90kg that many times – and there is no reason why I won’t be able to.
I also do a lot of stretching. I once did a fair amount of yoga, and I still do a little of that because it’s very low impact and it helps.
My weight-training, and yours should you take it up, is very basic. There’s a small range of classic exercises that work all the crucial bits – Squat, deadlift, bench-press, seated row, bicep curl, wide-grip chin-ups (weight assisted, of course), and tricep pull-downs. Look them up. They aren’t hard to find. Do them. There’s no need to get fancy.
Once again, I’m not training for size. I’m just training so I can keep riding. So I train for strength. And there’s nothing at all wrong with being strong. Or stronger than you are.
And relax, you’re not going to look anything like a body-builder. I promise.
Once you get past 30, you have to work much harder to make your muscles grow. As you age, your testosterone levels drop, so those “gains” you hear young blokes talking about simply become unattainable. The time to get big, if that’s what you want, is when you’re in your 20s. And that formula is simple. Eat lots of protein, lift very heavy weights for relatively low repetitions.
But if you just want to get strong or stronger, then you don’t have to lift to failure (when you can’t complete the repetition). You just have to lift weights regularly and have great form when you’re doing it. That’s the real reason gyms have mirrors in them.
I do not care how old you are. I do not care how weak you are. I do not care how many injuries you’re carrying. I am telling you that if you do resistance training regularly, five days a week for maybe an hour or so, you will get stronger. You can’t NOT get stronger.
By all means try to eat right. Cut as much sugar out as you can, and eat more protein than carbs. Drink in moderation if you must, and don’t smoke. All that helps. I have smoked most of my life, drank a bit here and there, and used and abused all sorts of drugs, so once again, I am not preaching. And once again, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.
What I’m telling you is: Get stronger. That’s it. Nothing else. You can still do all the shit you’re doing now – smoking, drinking, and sitting on your lazy arse watching Netflix. But for one hour a day, five days a week, every week, for the rest of your life, lift weights.
And stop making excuses. I’ve heard them all. Hell, I make them myself each and every morning. My internal dialogue is the same each day. “Just go for a swim today. Don’t do squats today. You’re not gonna dead-lift, are you? Your knee hurts, doesn’t it?” And then I throw my bag into the car and go to the gym and do all the things I have told myself I didn’t need to or want to do. And I have never once regretted going to the gym. Ever.
I can hear you now…
“I can’t do that because my knees are wrecked.”
“My back won’t let me do those exercises, so I don’t do any exercises.”
Shut-up. It’s not too late. Work around your issues. Your knees prevent squats? Strengthen them by doing other exercises until they’re strong enough to do squats. Never gonna be strong enough? How do you know? Who told you that?
Your back is ruined? It hurts all the time and you cannot contemplate any exercise? I’ll bet you spend a lot of time sitting on your arse, huh?
Start walking. That is also a form of resistance training. I can guarantee you that sitting on your expanding arse is not helping your back-pain at all. You must move. It’s how the human animal is designed. Walk enough and you’ll soon be able to go to the gym and get even stronger.
This is what will happen after your first day at the gym.
You will not be able to move and will wish you were dead. The lactic acid build-up in your lazy, unused muscles will scream at you that going to the gym was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. Never do it again.
Do you know what cures lactic acid build-up? More exercise.
After a week, you’ll notice it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. After a month, you’ll come to relish the immense feeling of well-being you’ll get after going to the gym. Bits of you will ache, but it’s a good ache. The ache that tells you you have worked your muscles well, and they need to rest so that you may work them again, and thus get stronger.
Because that is what’s happening to you. You’re getting stronger. And this will be reflected in your riding. How can it not? Keep it up and you’ll be riding well into your twilight years.
And don’t we all want to do that?
Is it hard?
Yes. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Does it hurt?
Yes. But it hurts less the longer you do it.
How can I lift weights when I have all these issues?
Go to your doctor and ask him what will happen if you lift weights. Go on. Then ask him to refer you to someone who can write you a program that will take into account your issues. Yes, that might cost you a few bucks. Maybe don’t drink beer for two weeks.
What if I hurt myself?
You will whimper, then you will heal. Then you will go back to the gym and take more care.
Will this really help?
Guaranteed. If you go to the gym five days a week for six months, the change in you will be utterly amazing.
Six months? Are you serious?
Bitch please. It’s taken you sixty years to turn into the aching blob you are now, right? What’s six months to fix that?
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.