Sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you.
Now, get up …without using your arms, furniture, or another person.
Now, sit back on the floor.
Repeat, then repeat again.
If you can do these three or four times it probably means that your leg and core strength are OK, not necessarily great, but OK. If you can’t do this, then you probably should not be riding a motorcycle. Harsh? You bet! But you know what is even more harsh? Crashing.
Leg strength is critical for at least a couple of reasons. The obvious one is the ability to hold up a heavy motorcycle. More than a few times I’ve had a rider tell me they switched to a trike because they could no longer hold up a motorcycle. There are many great reasons to own a trike, but poor physical fitness is not one of them.
Steering a motorcycle competently requires our complete body. Our upper torso provides the necessary lean angle and pressure on the bars, and our lower body assists with support, directional input and stability. If you think this isn’t so, lift both your feet off the pegs/floorboards in a turn …kidding, don’t do that, but I think you get my point. Poor leg strength can be an indicator of overall poor fitness, and an invitation to crash your party.
Our body’s core consists of the muscles around our trunk and our pelvis. As you’re rising off the floor from that sitting position feel the strain on, for example, your stomach muscles. These muscles are essentially our body’s suspension system; they hold us together and keep us upright. A common complaint among riders is lower back pain after spending a day in the saddle. There can be several reasons for this, but primary amongst these (barring an injury-related issue) is poor core strength. Without a good sheath of core muscles to support us our spines and upper bodies literally pound on our lower vertebrae and hips. If you have an exacerbating condition, such as arthritis, a weak core can make this pain excruciating. At the same time strong core muscles can ease the pain of arthritis. Weak core muscles are akin to a motorcycle’s sacked-out suspension: you’re gonna flop around and be all over the road.
Doing something about diminished leg and core strength takes some work and a bit of dedication. A caution though; talk to your doctor before beginning any manner of exercise program aside from, say, walking. Walking, by the way, is great all-around exercise because it improves both cardio and muscle fitness. Think you walk enough? Check out your dog. If he is fat, you don’t walk enough. There are many excellent core-focused exercises, but some can damage older bodies that have missed a bit of maintenance over the years. For example: sit-ups. This is a very effective exercise, but it can harm injured backs and weak stomach muscles. On the other hand, “Planks” are superb, low-impact core exercises.
Here’s another little test for you. Can you turn your head the necessary 90 degrees to help see behind you? If you can’t and rely only on your mirrors for rearward info, you’re going to get hurt. Lack of flexibility in older riders is a very common, and dangerous, condition. As you’re researching your leg and core exercises, spend a little time reading up on stretching to improve your flexibility.
At this point I need to disabuse you of a notion you might hold: my physical self is not particularly impressive. At age 76, I’m at a decent fitness level and have good strength. But I certainly am a work in progress and will be for the rest of my life. A few years ago I discovered a nasty fact about exercise and aging. To wit, until a certain age —it varies among us—our exercise programs work to increase our fitness and strength levels. After that point we have to work just as hard, if not harder, to stay the same. Can an old person make significant gains in strength and fitness? Absolutely; but it takes more work and effort than it does for, say, a 35-year-old.
Want another fitness test? Put your pants on in the morning while standing up and not holding on to anything besides your pants. If you find yourself on your face on the floor, you’d better look into balance exercises.
As some of you have heard me say, I consider motorcycle riding a sport. One of my primary reasons for thinking this is because it requires a specific skill set to do it competently, and if we do it wrong, we get hurt. And this is why I harp a bit on physical fitness for us senior riders. We can’t get away with what we used to do, nor should we even try. But we can ride safely and enjoyably well into our later years.
If you’d care to explain to Kittrelle why his existance on this planet is no longer required, or any other pithy comments, you can email him directly at