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ALL Riders Are Retreads
(If they have ridden a motorcycle at least twice)

By: James R. Davis

Much has been made about the fact that many long term riders have at one time or another given up their riding in order to pursue their careers, raise a family, or for some other reason, then come back to the sport.

These riders, it is suggested, are far more likely to be represented in motorcycle accident and death statistics than are those who ride with a continuous history of doing so.

My reaction to those claims is: prove it. Do so without using anecdotal evidence such as "I knew a guy who was a 'returning rider' who was killed just last year." So? Have you not heard of other guys who died last year who had a continuous riding history?

But more to the point, there is no such thing as a rider who has had a 'continuous riding history'. Some people ride every weekend. That means they have taken a break from motorcycle riding for at least five days every week for some time. Others, far more in fact, live in climates where they must put aside motorcycle riding for at least three months in a row every year. Some, like me, have ridden motorcycles for more than 43 years and had at least one spell in four decades where he did not put his butt on a motorcycle saddle for a couple of years. We are all, in a word, retreads.

Which of the above, then, would you consider a rider with a 'continuous riding history'? If you don't touch a motorcycle for five days, are your skills on the sixth day as good as they were before those five days? If you do not ride for three months in a row, then when you finally do get up on your motorcycle are your skills undiminished from before? It is only academic to go on and ask if my skills after a couple of years of being away from the sport were as good as they were before taking my hiatus - we all know that they were not.

Three more significant questions have to be asked about these con-continuous riding history riders before you can begin to draw conclusions about how likely they are to become involved in a motorcycle accident:
  1. Relative to how long they were away from the sport, how long did it take them to become as skilled as they were before they left?
  2. How long had they been riding since they took their sabbatical?
  3. What changes have occurred DURING that sabbatical?

If you have taken a one week sabbatical, my guess is that you have lost virtually none of your skills and, thus, it takes essentially no time to 'regain' them. It might take you a week of riding to recover the skill level you had prior to leaving riding this past winter. It might take you a month or more to recover skills lost from a multi-year 'vacation'.

So, it would seem to me that if the answer to the second question - 'How long has it been since you took your sabbatical?' - has been longer than those recovery times, it is no longer relevant that a sabbatical was taken at all - in particular as to your odds of having an accident.

But, then there is that third question - 'What changed?' Well, if what changed is the bike - your previous bike was a Honda 350 and the one you have now is a Ducati Monster, for example, all bets are off. You are no different than a new rider the first time you take that baby out on the street. Granted you don't have to learn such things as what a friction zone is and how to use it properly, but you do have to learn how it feels and functions on that new bike. If what has changed is that you used to ride dirt bikes and now you expect to do some slab pounding, you are essentially a new rider again - regardless of how many years of prior experience you had or how well your skills used to be honed. Let me be very clear about that ... if you rode a motorcycle TEN MINUTES AGO, then got onto an unfamiliar bike, you are a retread at that point!

In essence what I am trying to get at here is that we - ALL of us - have non-continuous riding experience. NONE of us can afford to have a smug attitude that goes something like: 'Because I've been riding for years without an accident and because my skills are at least as good as anybody else's out there, I will not become an accident statistic like those retreads' - because we are ALL retreads to one degree or another.

My overall opinion is that older men and women who return to motorcycling after any length of time away from the sport need to take the time they need to recover their skills, and after that period of time they are no longer more likely than any other riders to have an accident.

[Further, relative to fatality statistics, the older of these people DIE more often than younger riders with the same experience and skill levels for one fundamental reason - they break more easily.]

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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