Breezy Riders
Older Travelers Take to the Road on Their Motorcycles
By Felix Winternitz
Want to know the most popular color among motorcycles and their riders these days? Definitely a silver shade of gray.

Silver-haired motorcyclists, in fact, are accounting for a huge percentage of the riding market. In the past two decades, motorcycle ownership among those in the 50-plus age group has increased substantially — more than 30 percent — according to industry trade groups.

“Most of the people in our chapter are seniors,” confirms Bill Martin, chapter director of the Gold Wing Road Riders cycle club on Cincinnati’s east side. “They like to call themselves ‘seasoned riders.’ The majority in our club are over 60, and some are in their 80s.”

The Gold Wing Riders meet every first Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m., at the New England Club retirement community in Anderson Township. (The west side chapter meets the third Wednesday of every month at the Green Township Senior Center; and the northern Cincinnati group meets at various times at the Otterbein Retirement Community in Lebanon.) The club heartily welcomes all motorcyclists (as associate members), but only owners of Honda Gold Wings can become full members.

Martin, who is 62 himself, says there are definite reasons why upscale motorcycle ridership can skew to an older audience: “The bigger bikes, such as the Gold Wing, are certainly more costly than most young people can afford. And younger people tend to like sleek and smaller bikes anyway,” versus longer-distance traveling bikes, which, because of their size, are more stable and prone to stay upright.

National sales of motorcycles in general topped a million bikes last year, up from 965,000 the previous year. While the challenged economy will no doubt put a damper on sales figures when they are compiled for this year, that certainly shouldn’t be taken as an indication of a permanent dip in the trend toward the popularity of motorcycles. Well before the economy hit the wall, in fact, the Motorcycle Industry Council was reporting that sales of new on-highway motorcycles had increased 91 percent since 1997.

Honda Gold Wings lead the list of motorcycles, along with BMWs, Ducatis, Triumphs, Kawasakis and Suzukis, that are popular with mature cyclists. However, some — such as former Cincinnati Chamber president John Williams and former WEBN owner Frank “Bo” Wood — still swear by their Harleys. (Wood even sponsored a “Road Hog” swine statue in Cincinnati’s famous Big Pig Gig public art display a few years back. An artist outfitted Wood’s pig with Harley-Davidson wheels and handlebar, embellished with yellow and orange flames.)

For those itching to tour the country’s byways and highways by bike, AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons) offers its very own motorcycle insurance program. They say they will never cancel your policy based on your advancing age.

AARP The Magazine, a publication for people 50 and over, lists these four road trips as perfect for senior motorcyclists:

  • Skyline Drive: From Front Royal to Rockfish Gap, Va. “Moderately curved, like a Sunday drive. …The route sweeps through Shenandoah National Park and crests the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

  • Newfound Gap Road: Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to Cherokee, N.C. “Moderately curved. … It’s the only route that completely crosses Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

  • California Highway 1: Carmel to San Simeon. “Curved, so don’t even think about speeding. Start with Hearst Castle Museum.” The reason you want to drive north and not south on Highway 1? So you’re on the INSIDE of the road instead of driving along the cliff’s edge.

  • Orlando to Florida’s Space Coast. “Straight. … The Space Coast is a 72-mile stretch of beaches that includes the Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral National Seashore.”