Jun 28, 2024

Done and Out

Quite a few years ago, when I was still a young 69-years-old, I gave myself a set of criteria, “Creating A Baseline,”  for knowing when my physical capabilities and skills were no longer up to the challenge of riding a motorcycle on the street. (You might notice that I gave myself a slight out there.)  My skills were still pretty sharp when I wrote that article and I was being brutally critical and honest about how lame I think the Minnesota motorcycle license test is.  Today, having watched the collection of losers and fools who parade through Red Wing pretending they are big brave biker gangbangers for 9 years, it's way worse than I thought it was then.  Wobbling to a stop, wandering into a ditch, crashing into telephone poles and houses, and falling over trying to traverse a low speed intersection are unattainable “skills.”

A few weeks ago I took a 40 mile round-trip ride for lunch with a friend.  On the way there, my hands gave me some pain and aggravation.  On the way back, they were practically paralyzed by the time I turned on to my street.  It turns out—one more old fart thing—I am developing severe carpal tunnel in both hands.  It’s been severe enough that some mornings my hands hurt worse than they did when I had broken fingers.  At the end of that last ride I couldn't feel the throttle the brake or the clutch, and I was operating totally on memory.

So, after putting it off until it looked like we might start to get actual motorcycling weather, I rode over to the nearest ex-range (no longer used, due to the decline in motorcycle license applicants), warmed up for about 20 minutes, practicing the exercises I was about to run on myself, and went through the 10 exercises of the Minnesota motorcycle license test.

I failed.

I didn't fail the way you might have, given the same situation, but I failed under my 2017 standards. And that's the deal I made with myself. If I cannot ride that idiotic and easy course perfectly, I'm done. I didn't have anyone there scoring me. And I am a pretty harsh judge of myself, but by my scorecard, I picked up three points: infinitely worse than perfect.

I thought about making another pass at it. Giving myself the exact same second chance I would not give a student. Honestly, my hands hurt so badly. by the end of that practice session and the failed test, that it was just obvious to me that I'm done. I'm 76, this isn't going to get better, if I'm lucky it won't get much worse. 

My good friend, Andy Goldfine, regularly tries to encourage me with stories of his 80-and-over customers who are still knocking out a few thousand miles every year. I've looked into some of those guys and they all ride in a group. So that, if something goes wrong, they have someone to help pick up their bike, to haul their withered butts to hospitals, and even to help them  mount the motorcycle in mildly difficult situations. I'd rather walk than ride in a group.

So, after stewing in disappointment and recriminations, today I started planning up my 2012 Suzuki TU250X for sale.  And the recent past, a half dozen people have expressed interest in my TUX and I'll offer it to them before it goes up on the half dozen sale sites I'm likely to use.  The rest of my motorcycle pile—jackets, riding pants, all-weather gloves, boots, parts, accessories, and tools—will be sold or given away at the same time.

That's going to clear a lot of space in my lower garage.  For that matter, in the upper garage too.  Part of that Swedish Death Cleaning routine, I suppose.

I have been riding motorcycles since my first exposure at 15, in 1963. I am not one of those cool guys who has logged his life’s mileage so that I can brag “real numbers.” I didn’t even own a motorcycle with an odometer until 1983. By then, I’d been on (and off of) motorcycles for 20 years. That same year, 1983, I bought my first Aerostich Roadcrafter when I went through my first southern California monsoon season. I’ve been wearing helmets anytime I’m on a motorcycle since 1971 and assorted protective gear since race tracks started insisting on it in the early 70s. It will be weird not having a motorcycle and gear in my garage and basement, but I still have eBikes and that will have to do.


Geoff James said...

We've run a parallel path Thomas. It's over 2 years now since I sold the bike, although I still have all my gear from laziness as opposed to a change of heart. I still love reading about bikes but have no interest in riding again because I'm enjoying the fall-back interest of classic cars. It's something I can do with my wife too.

I hope that you have something to fill in the very large hole which retirement from motorcycling leaves. Every good wish for the future.


Kofla Olivieri said...

I am sorry to hear. When my rheumatoid arthritis begin acting up, I simply keep the bike in the garage. Not sure I am ready yet to stop riding. Good luck.

Cas said...

Hi Thomas,

At least you have the courage and sense to admit your age. Keep up the blog though. There are plenty of things out there to have a grudge against, not least the elections here in Europe and in the US, the far too numerous conflicts in the world, AI, climate change, etc. etc. etc. I think with your attitude and common sense, you have a contribution to make about many of these issues.

Look after both Elvy and yourself.


T.W. Day said...

Thank you so much for your encouragement, friendship, and everything else. This has been quite a "ride."

Kurt Schroeder said...

Thank you for a thoughtful article about such an important topic. What a smart way to go about such an important decision. I started riding at age 48 and now I am 50. I think and read a lot about motorcycle safety, practice in parking lots, and wear ATGATT. (The high vis Roadcrafter is almost TOO visible, but maybe that is just people stopped at an intersection and wanting to see what it looks like close as I ride by.) I found your blog from your last Facebook Marketplace post, and I'm thankful to be able to learn from your experience even after you have stopped adding miles.

T.W. Day said...

Thanks, Geoff.

Be careful what you wish for. The thing that has retaken the place motorcycling held for so long has been music and, specifically, singing and playing guitar. You get too close to me now and I might force a USB of my music on you. Thank you for the good thoughts and for all of your insights and experience over the years. I'll probably have a few more things to write about here, but they will be either observations stories from my ancient past. Take care of yourself.

T.W. Day said...

I'm not sure we ever get "ready to stop riding." That's why I created that Baseline for myself almost a decade ago. It wasn't about being ready, it was about recognizing that my skills have dropped below a point where I believe they should have been maintained.