Returned rider learns valuable riding lesson

Returned 5rider Ed Smith

Returned riders are those who had got a motorcycle licence as a teenager or twentysomething, then stopped riding while they had a family, returning to riding in a midlife crisis.

They now represent the biggest and fastest growing sector of riders as well as dominating the crash statistics.

Rather than preaching and quoting statistics, Kiwi rider Ed Smith (pictured above) tell us his tale of returning to b king ad learning how to slow down!

Returned riderReturned 5rider Ed Smith

In 2006 I became the typical middle-aged returned biker after many years off. I was 48 years old and had been a biker since learning to ride on my mother’s 1950 BSA Bantam 125, at the age of 12. I had owned several bikes over the years, starting with my first, a 1951 BSA B31 350.

To say I was a passionate biker, would be an understatement, I loved bikes and riding them everywhere. I deeply regretted selling my ’73 Suzuki T500 in ’77 to get married, though I still have the missus after 40+ years, so didn’t regret that bit.

Anyway, family off our hands, my wife allowed me to get another bike.

After some looking around an acquaintance said he was selling his bike as he was unwell. Turned out to be a mint condition ’89 Suzuki GSX600F, his pride and joy and he had really looked after it. The price was good, so I bought it. It was a good fit ergonomically and the test ride saw me returning with the biggest grin on my face anyone had seen for a long time.Returned 5rider Ed Smith

The most powerful bike I had previously ridden was the T500 with about 45hp and a top speed indicated of 112mph (180km/h). It did the ¼ in about 13 seconds, similar to a Ferrari of the day. It was a fast bike back then, only shaded by the Kawasaki triples, the 500 and the 750. I used to ride it at 100mph (160km/h) everywhere.

The GSX600F was rated at 80hp, almost twice the power, but of course better handling and it actually had brakes that worked more than once from speed.

I had to get used to the acceleration and handling of a much more powerful machine. Don’t laugh, you R1 owners, with your 150hp+.

One time I was enjoying a local “test road”, now not available for “bike tests”, and was accelerating in third and loving it when an R1 went by as though I was standing still. I guess 150hp and a 20kg lighter bike does make a bit of a difference. The Yamaha R1 was the first road bike to crack the ton in first gear. That’s mph, by the way, not km/h. Nowadays litre bikes can go close to 300km/h with a gear to go.

Lesson learnt

So, what did I learn? The reason why returning middle-aged bikers were overrepresented in fatalities.

I was racing a hot Audi one day. We accelerated up a hill with me easily matching him and I thought I was the bee’s knees. At the top of the hill, the road turned to the right over the crest with a bank and culvert on the left and a drop to the right.

I had driven this road for more than 30 years in all manner of motorised machinery and knew it like the proverbial. However, this was a bit different.

I was travelling much, much faster, following a car with 4WD and four large sticky tyres, one on each corner. I was on two rather skinny tyres and as I leaned into the corner, realised I was about 20km/h too fast. Oh, boy, did that pucker me up!

Click here to read why cars corner better than bikes.

I found out that modern bikes, (well, even though it was an ’89 model, it was modern to me), had reserves of braking, tyres and handling unbeknownst to older bikes. I also found out that my reflexes were still as sharp as ever.

I braked hard and leaned as far as I could, desperately muscling the bike over. Braking hard into a corner is not recommended but the bike didn’t twitch and I narrowly missed the culvert, skimming the white line and made it around. On the T500, it would have ended in tears.

After that experience, I slowed down, realising that modern power means you are approaching corners at far greater speeds, and accelerating much, much more quickly.

The number of motorcycle crashes on corners, testifies to the inexperience of older and newer riders with the performance of a modern bike.

  • Now tell us your returned rider story! Send your story and photos via email.

4 Comments

  1. The best thing I did as a returning rider was to take a road craft course with StayUpright – taught me more than I ever knew, even though I thought I knew how to ride back in my early twenties. Nope, wrong. I knew very little as I had never had any proper training.
    Best investment ever (would save way more lives than loud pipes!!)
    And I do a refresher course every 3-5 years, great fun actually.
    Cheers
    Mick
    ps – the very, very dangerous situation the author found himself in would probably not have happened if he’d had some basic road awareness training.

  2. Ed, you might not agree with Tourer1 and Daniel but I hear what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter to me how you choose to ride, but if a mate of mine told me this story it’d weigh heavily on my conscience not to say something that might save their life.

    1) You lost control of your judgement, 2) you lost your situational awareness and you were on the edge of 3) losing control of your bike at speed mid-corner. You were on the edge of messing up or losing your life. And this situation will likely happen again someday because it seems you only learned lesson #3.

    Put those years of experience and your better judgement to good use and ride smart.

  3. …..”my reflexes were still as sharp as ever”. ????
    If returning riders reactions were as sharp as they remember, there would be a greater number of old racing riders still winning top races, and those racers stayed current.
    Racing on a road? Need to prove yourself to someone, like you are a teenager? Even when your Suzuki was modern most riders knew acceleration was great but cars could run around you in corners on a track, even if the bike was a Ducati scraping its pegs.

  4. I’m sorry but it means you got it all wrong. The machine responds to your request and not the other way around, so your decision to ride hard and race and Audi is to blame in this case and in all the others.
    You don’t need to understand a machine to go fast and you don’t need a new machine either, they all go fast if you push them. You need to understand that public roads are not built for that kind of riding and the fact that you rode a motorcycle for 20 years does not make you good at it.

    No school or government program will teach that.

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