Getting Old, It’s Not All Bad
by Thomas Day
There are some advantages to getting old. The obvious upside is not dying young. Personally, I think a lot of folks overrate the value of living fast and dying young, but none of those folks are available to debate the subject. We’ll just leave it at that and move on to more useful aspects of getting old. An upside of getting old is realizing that learning stuff today is not much more painful than it was 40 years ago.
Last spring I was one of the lucky few dozen MN-Sportbike.org members who took advantage of the group’s annual (sometimes semi-annual) technique training event at the DakotaCountyTechSchool’s driving range. After a period of resistance and ignorance, I found that I’m not too old to learn something new and useful about riding motorcycles. This group is blessed with the kind of membership that gives Minnesota Nice a second level of meaning. They put up with me, what more do you need to know? It did surprise me that I could pick up so much useful information in so short an event. The combination of closed course riding and excellent instruction is hard to beat.
In life and on the net, I’m mostly a lurker. If I’m not taking a nap, I’m usually reading, listening, or thinking and writing about the things I hear other people say about their lives. That’s the source for most of the material from which I write. In my nearly-sixty years, I’ve had a varied career and personal life and I have a lot to compare to what younger and older folks say about where they are and where they hope they are going. It gives me something to do with my time and limited resources.
One thing I apparently don’t have in common with many of you out there is money to spend. I am basing this statement on what many of you ride and what you pay to get on the road. Spending $11,000 on a liter bike is miles out of my budget, but that’s just the down payment on a new high-buck bike. At the MN-Sportbike event, I heard guys talking about insurance payments that ranged anywhere from $3,000 to $6,500 a year. Doing a little basic math on these numbers, for example the $11,000 bike and the $3,000 insurance payment over the five-year life of a typical loan at 6% interest, this two-wheeled hobby is an investment of about $30,000 (not counting taxes and more taxes). All of these calculations are assuming you don’t ride the bike. If you ride the thing, maintenance and fuel costs just add more big numbers to the total. After five years, the bike is, hopefully, worth about $6,000 to $8,000, which brings the five-year expense down to only $24,000, give or take a few thousand (still assuming that you didn’t actually ride the bike).
In my declining years, I look at investments as something that must provide an equal return for my effort. That return can be financial, emotional, visceral, or some other “al” word, but there has to be a payback if I’m going to risk my current low maintenance lifestyle. If I don’t break even on the exchange, I don’t do it. Two or three years after you’ve moved on to another $30,000+inflation bike, I’ll be thinking about buying your old bike. And I’ll buy it if it is cheap enough and I’m still interested and something better hasn’t come out that will reset my sights to move my new-bike-acquisition-target-date out another five to seven years. Then, because I don’t have a lot invested in the bike, insurance costs me $200 a year. Most bikes don’t depreciate much after the first five or six years, so my losses are mostly costs of operation.
The planning and anticipation are almost as entertaining as actually buying and owning a new bike. By “new,” I mean “new to me.” I didn’t used to be like this. When I was a kid and a wanna-be-racer, I “needed” the newest and fastest bike I could afford. I couldn’t afford much, so my bikes haven’t really changed currency all that much. When my bones started too regularly, the “need” turned into “want” and, later, into a fond memory of something that I could describe, but was no longer a compelling argument.
Another thing that has changed for me in this aging deal is that the ride is more interesting than the destination. Some times, I don’t bother to work out a destination before I take off for a few days. If I have to ride someplace on a schedule, I usually arrive late, get lost, or forget about the obligation altogether.
Much to the disappointment of folks who want my money, I have convinced myself that I know how much BS marketing really is. Cars, motorcycles, big screen TVs, or a zillion dollar house won’t make up for a crappy job. You can’t change who you are by carefully selecting the stuff you own. The Mn-Sportbike event pointed this out more clearly than I could ever describe it. One experienced rider pounded the track as well on a mid-1980’s 650 Honda as did the rest of us “intermediate riders” on current, big-bore bikes with modern tires. The fastest expert rider blasted around the asphalt on his 125cc two-stroke, passing a collection of modern liter bikes and some very fast riders like they were objects in a parking lot. It’s not what you ride, it’s how you ride it.
One of the really cool things about having been wrapped up in frenzied activity when I was young is that I don’t feel driven to make up for lost time today. The “mid-life” crisis seems to most strongly effect people who took the traditional path to success when they were young. They studied, worked hard, got good jobs, lived in nice houses in expensive neighborhoods, bought a new car every two years, and contributed to the nation’s consumptive economy. All the while envying people who did what they loved and scraped by on whatever money came from living for the moment. At about age 40, a life spent following the success path often turns ugly on the path follower. The middle-ager realizes he’s lived half (or more) of his life and most of it has sucked. So, he buys a motorcycle, a protective bandana, some leather with fringe, and pretends to be one of those freaky dudes who scared the crap out of Hunter Thompson. And it’s not the same because it’s too late; too old and fat and slow and timid.
I work in the audio and music business, read a lot of computer rags, occasionally thumb through a car magazine, and I’ll read most anything moderately technical. Magazines, in general, have shifted their focus from pretending to be consumer advocates to being blatant extensions of corporate marketing departments. We’re living in the ultimate “buyer beware” world and consumers are dumb and getting dumber, while marketing departments are clever and getting more so with each psychological and subliminal advertising breakthrough. George Orwell would feel pretty damn prescient if he’d have lived this long.
But I don’t really care about that. My kids are smart and practically immune to consumer-speak. We’re doing fine, even if the rest of the country is buried in credit card and long term debt. A couple of old folks, beater bikes, a couple of nice guitars, a quart of Kentucky bourbon, and as little debt as I can maintain and you’re looking at old age my style.