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Get your motor running: the retirement crowd going for motorcycle burn-ups

The number of over-50 silver-riders climbing aboard a motorbike is roaring ahead: they now account for some 30% of all spending on bikes. Photograph: Tim Platt/Getty Images

It's not so much a case of Born To be Wild as born to be mild: a new generation of bikers is taking to the road, and they are not twentysomething speed freaks but sensible fiftysomethings.

The number of over-50 silver-riders climbing aboard a motorbike is roaring ahead: they now account for some 30% of all spending on bikes - a total of £340m last year - up from 17% just seven years ago.

Saga, the insurance and holidays company that specialises in the over-50s, underlined the growing trend, spending £26m to snap up the motorbike insurer Bennetts, which specialises in providing cover for trophy rides such as Harley Davidsons, Triumphs and Ducatis.

Related: Saga roars into middle-aged biker market with new acquisition

Some 43% of its clients are into their sixth decade, and 77% are over 40 - with many new to two wheels. Almost 3,000 over-50s passed their motorbike driving test last year.

And they like to dress the part and have the best gear - a report for Saga by the Centre for Economics and Business Research thinktank, due to be published next month, shows that spending by these aging bikers on bikes, helmets and other related equipment is growing 10 times as fast as those in younger age groups.

Saga's decision to buy Bennetts comes after a year when sales of motorbikes rose 10% - the biggest increase in five years, according to the Motorcyle Industry Association (MIA). The MIA said its own separate research shows that there has been an increase in over-50s looking for motorbike insurance every year since 2009.

Many may be rediscovering the carefree days of their youth - when Barry Sheene was Britain's world 500cc champion and a global superstar. According to a Saga survey 40% are returning Easy Riders, who are coming back to biking, having tried it out in their younger days. More than 80% said the main attraction was "the freedom of the open road".

The top three motorbikes on Saga's insurance database of older riders are all sport bikes or tourers. The most popular is the Suzuki Bandit, some models of which are popular with stunt riders and wheelie schools. The Honda VFR and Honda CBR and are the other top bikes.

Stephen Latham, head of the National Motorcycle Dealers Association (NMDA), said: "People who are riding for enjoyment tend to go for a racing bike, something that they can enjoy the thrill of, or they go for the 'cruiser market' such as the Harley Davidson or Triumph where riding is more about companionship."

Saga spokesman Paul Green said for many it is a fun alternative to a second car: "There's an increasing number who can now afford to have a bike, as well as a car, and are taking their bike test for the first time."

Hugo Wilson, editor of Bike magazine, said: "If you start motorcycling now in your 50s, there is a good chance you always wanted a bike in your youth but never got one. Now you might have the money as well as the time and commitment."

He added that it had become more difficult and expensive for younger people to get a bike licence in recent years.

But the increase in older motorcyclists is not just down to older men on big bikes. Motorbike insurance specialist Carole Nash said there has also seen a rise in the number of female riders over the age of 50. In 2011, women of this age made up 14% of its customer base; in 2014 this had risen to 20%.

Professional British motorbike racer Maria Costello said she had noticed more mature riders visiting her Facebook page, Woman on a Motorcycle.

"Everyone who joins my group puts up a picture of themselves and we had quite a few over the age of 50 join recently," she said. "I get the impression some are coming back to this, though there are many more who are new to it."

Rob Farmer, 52, discovered motorbikes as a teenager and has never looked back.

"It's one of those things, it gets in your blood and you've had it. Once you try it, it's fantastic. It has never left me and I never tire of it," said the building and energy management system engineer, who lives in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

"My dad took me to the speedway when I was tiny, and that whole thing of the noise, the bikes, the smell, it stayed with me. My first bike, when I was 17, was a Suzuki 120.

"I think riding a motorbike is very liberating, and every opportunity I get I am out on the bikes. I'm not a speed freak. I've got five bikes and none of them is particularly quick. It's about having the sort of bikes that give you a bit of passion.

"On a motorbike you have a lot more freedom. You can sense everything; the smells, the rain. You are out there in it, living it, not just looking through a windscreen, so it's a lot more real.

"It's a big social thing. A lot of my friends are guys I started riding with when I was 17. When I was doing an apprenticeship, everybody else at that time at college all rode motorbikes.

"There are not many younger people coming in to it. But we do get some younger people who try it and get the bug, and that's it, they're off.

"A lot of us are the same age. But we have a chap in our street who is well into his 70s, and a friend's uncle who is in his 80s, and they still ride.

"My friends and I meet up, go for rides, travel to places in the summer. I went to Istanbul with one and that was a decent trip. You just meet a lot more people on the way who probably wouldn't talk to you if you were passing through in a car. It makes you more accessible to other people.

"We will get to a point where the joints seize up. But I will carry on as long as I am able to. I used to ride in all weathers, but now won't do the long trips if it's too cold.

"My wife isn't too bothered about travelling on the bike so I'll have a couple of trips a year without her. We had a terrible trip to France a few years ago and she got off when we got back and said: 'You know, I'm not bothered about going by bike anymore.'"


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