What Exactly Is Bike Fit?


Written by Jules

May 5, 2021

Isn’t it funny how some things really don’t sink in until they become relevant?

Back in the ’90s when I was racing around on sports bikes and thought BMW’s the sole property of ‘males over a certain age’, it often amused me to overhear conversations with older people choosing their next rides based on bad backs, knees and hips!

However, I’ve noticed a certain fatigue setting in fairly early on ride days, which to my astonishment I then need a full day to recuperate from.

I’d get stiffer as the ride progressed and my pace would quickly slow as I got too tired or too cold, and although I’ve certainly had my share of fitness setbacks, when I compare myself to the average 50+ I always seem to be doing ok.

To be safe and competent on a motorcycle though, OK simply isn’t good enough. So, what happens when we accept getting older but refuse to mature, and how come I got here so damn early?

What do we really mean by bike fit, how important is it to stay current and is it reasonable to assume that ageing does / will impair your ability to ride a motorcycle?

We all know we must hang up our helmets at some point and like most of you, I am hoping it will be several years away yet.

I can still do the things I did when I was young (within reason) but it definitely takes more effort and has more impact on the rest of my life.

So, lets’ take a quick look at ageing and the changes we have little control over.

Depressingly it all starts in your 30s. This is the age your body begins to lose muscle, your strength and endurance taper off and your metabolism slows down.

Alcohol doesn’t move out of your system as quickly, you become less flexible and you start to pay for any injuries you may have suffered in your earlier years. Plus believe it or not your hearing suffers too – especially if you have a love of loud music, and have ridden with loud pipes or without earplugs.

Now It’s not all doom and gloom, whilst some people start these issues relatively early, others seem to stay sharp well into their 70s or later.

Vision starts to diminish on average at 40. Eyes become less flexible and you may find reading glasses annoyingly become part of your everyday life. This ultimately means that it will also take longer to focus on that turn ahead when you look up from reading the instruments. Older eyes take longer to adjust from one range to the other, to recover from bright light, and glare causes more problems.

I remember as a young rider scornfully wondering why some riders/drivers touched their brakes every time a car came round the corner only to find that it’s simply because the glare of the oncoming headlights means they can’t see clearly. Older eyes don’t see as well at night. Peripheral vision and depth perception often suffer, too.

It’s also worth mentioning that any illnesses or treatments may affect or change your stamina long term no matter what your age. For instance, you may not be able to ride as long without a break, you may find temperatures affect you and so find it necessary to adjust your riding times to suit.

Getting older and unforeseen illnesses at any age forces a change in behaviour. At some point, you have to recognise the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. For me, this means I have to be active in putting measures in place that keep me bike fit, both mentally and physically so I can enjoy my obsessive passion for many more years to come.

There is a real danger in complacency too as It’s easy for experienced riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills.

After all, we’ve been riding for years but this perception can lead to diminished skills, which in turn can lead to accidents. Don’t think riding a motorcycle doesn’t demand some level of fitness. When your body gets tired, so will your focus and senses. I certainly feel it after a day in the saddle, listen to your body!

Motorcycle riding skills are perishable and it’s important to keep those skills sharp so for me some advanced training was mandatory. RoSPA was my training of choice. I love that you have to re-qualify every 3 years which means staying current is no issue. There are others to choose from but you can pass your test at 20 and still carry an advanced certification at 65 – how does that keep you safe?

Its also interesting to note that the advanced riding ‘scanning’ technique, when used for 30 minutes around 3 times a week, can help stave off dementure!

We all know the possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed at 20, can turn into a long, drawn-out healing process if you are older so riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

If you are returning to riding, at the very least sign up for a day or weekend refresher. I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. Whatever you think you will need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your ass. Again I recommend taking an advanced riding course.

Weight gain is a real problem for many myself included and it doesn’t take much to see that carrying a spare tyre of any sort on your dream bike is not cool. So, if you, like me, are going to want to be riding your chosen motorbike until you literally cannot get your leg over and your wrinkly ass onto your bike then you, like me, will need to take a pragmatic approach to Fitness.

  • Exercise: Walking is low impact, beneficial to both the mind and body and great if your fitness level is set at zero or you are carrying a lot of weight. Cycling is great for maintaining your balance, strength and endurance and strength training can help maintain the muscles you need to hold up and operate your motorcycle. Oh, and let’s not forget mobility and stretching.
  • Use Your Brain: Making your brain stretch a bit seems to be the best way to keep it sharp. Keeping up with some form of advanced training will take care of this aspect of bike fitness.
    Don’t Drink Before You Ride: As you age, this may come to mean no nightcap before a morning ride either.
  • Ride More: Remember the old saying “You don’t stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding.” There seems to be some truth mixed up in this. Motorcycling (like sex) seems to provide stimulation to various parts of your mind and body that many other activities miss.

I have certainly met lots of riders who say that motorcycling keeps them young.

Personally, I have found that if I take the time to do some stretches after a long day in the saddle I wake up the next morning feeling like myself rather than expecting to see this 80-year-old soon as I look in the mirror.

Whatever you decide to do, stay well, stay fit and stay riding!

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