For an increasing number of baby boomers, the lure of the open road and the rumble of a motorcycle engine is becoming hard to resist. And it’s easy to understand why. Having grown up with the iconic biker films Rebel Without A Cause and Easy Rider, the motorcycle has always been a symbol of freedom and power for the “Born To Be Wild” generation. So, what better way to celebrate the freedom of being an empty nester while thumbing your nose at the advancing years than straddling a new Harley?

The ride, however, is turning out to be not so easy for many older motorcyclists.

According to a new report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities for motorcyclists aged 60 and older were up 21.5 percent in 2016. Comparing this to the 5.1 percent increase in fatalities for all ages of motorcyclists reveals the gravity of this worrisome trend. So what’s behind this grim statistic and what can we do about it?

More Crowded And Dangerous Roads

The NHTSA reports that the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on U.S. roads increased 2.2 percent in 2016, and the slow upward trend of more vehicles fighting for space on the streets will most likely continue to climb. As roads get more crowded, the danger increases significantly for motorcyclists, who are much more vulnerable in an accident.

While this does explain the increase in motorcycle fatalities across the board, it doesn’t get to the heart of the sudden increase in deaths of riders over the age of 60. To understand that, we have to turn to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

America Is Getting Older

Baby boomers were so named for a reason: they represented a population explosion in postwar America. And now they are getting older. The PRB estimates that the 65-and-older age group will rise from 15 percent in 2016 to nearly 24 percent in 2060. More older drivers obviously means there will be more older motorcyclists, but as mentioned above, baby boomers have a certain affinity for the motorbike and are more likely to turn to the motorcycle in retirement than previous generations.

Slower Reaction Times And Rusty Skills

Many motorcyclists over the age of 60 had ridden in their youth, but due to busy lives raising families and tending to careers, had put aside their interest in motorcycling. Now that they are retired and the kids are gone, the open road is beckoning. Unfortunately, aging bodies mean weaker muscles and slower reaction times. Couple this with stale riding skills and motorcycles that are bigger and more powerful than the bikes they rode back in the 70s, and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, should seniors even be riding motorcycles? The answer is a resounding yes – with a few caveats.

Wear A Helmet

Without a doubt, the most important thing a motorcyclist of any age can do to protect themselves is to wear a helmet. Aging bodies, however, are far more likely to sustain life threatening injuries during a crash, so this is of even greater importance for older riders. We’ll say it again: wear a helmet.

Take A Class

Addressing those rusty skills is not only easy, but fun. Motorcycle classes can be a great way to reacquaint yourself with the motorcycle in a safe, controlled environment, and develop the skills you will need to contend with dangers on our modern roadways. A motorcycle safety course can also give you more confidence on the road and could even save you money on your insurance!

Know Your Limitations

This is one of the more challenging things facing older riders as those limitations can change at a much faster pace than a younger rider. Muscles weaken as we get older, and a bike that was a good match even a few years previously may be too heavy and powerful now. The good news is that there are plenty of options for riders of nearly all ages who want to feel the wind on their face. A motorized trike may not have the allure of its two-wheeled counterpart, but it can keep you out on the road and safe when the motorcycle is no longer sensible.

Be Adequately Insured

Anyone who has been to the hospital understands how expensive medical care is. For motorcyclists, a crash is far more likely to result in serious injury than the driver of a car. For this reason, it is important to review your insurance policy and make sure you would be covered in a catastrophic accident – especially if the other driver is uninsured.

Ride More Often

Lastly, we have some advice that may surprise you, but it is nearly as important as any of the above. It is much better to ride often to keep your skills honed, senses sharp, and muscles in shape. For the occasional rider, every trip on the bike is a refresher course, which erodes confidence and distracts from attention that could be directed at the traffic around you.

So, if the road is calling you in your golden years, it is perfectly fine to answer, just make sure you do everything you can to ensure your safety and the safety of those with whom you are sharing the road.