By Jim Laney
I seem to have a knack for riding on two wheels, with or without a road to follow. As a kid in the country I rode on dirt roads and trails through the pasture, built my own racetrack and jumped ditches. As a teen, my parents wouldn’t let me buy a motor scooter, so I rode a friend’s Vespa whenever possible, and later got one of my own in college. I traded it for a regular motorcycle in the late 1960s. Later I modified it to ride off-road as well as on the street. “Dirt bikes” were just coming on the market.
Moving to Wichita, I got a street bike in 1970. After a city bus pulled in front of me from a side street, almost causing a serious collision, I took a friend’s advice and got my first “Enduro” bike, which was a dirt bike also licensed for street riding. He invited me to vacation with him in southwest Colorado and we rode the Jeep trails in the beautiful mountains around Silverton and Ouray.
My young family fell in love with the mountains. In a few years our kids were old enough to enjoy the mountain trails, but we couldn’t all fit on a bike. So we got a Jeep, and I reluctantly took a 30-year vacation from dirt biking as we continued “four-wheeling.”
Then one day in my sixty-eighth year I was in Moab, Utah, hitting the area’s epic trails in a Jeep when I saw them: two guys, 70 and 72 years old, out-riding some younger guys on dirt bikes. If they could ride, so could I!
I picked up a good used dirt bike. It took months of practice, but the old skills came back. Well, most of them. My stamina and coordination aren’t what they used to be. There are some difficult trails I no longer ride. But at 77, I am still riding.
Things have changed since the 1970s. The bikes are much improved.And the protective gear, which was almost nonexistent in the early 70s, makes the riding much safer. I have suffered some scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones. If you are interested, there are trails suited for all skill levels. And in the process you can increase your skills. Just don’t tell yourself you are too old. I know of at least a couple of guys older than me who are still riding, and a couple of female riders about 50 years of age. And we are a very diverse group. I have met trail riders from all walks of life.
There are few trails in the Wichita area, but there are some interesting ones near Junction City, Manhattan and in northern Oklahoma. I have connected with many fellow riders on a website called “ThumperTalk,” which has a dirt bike discussion forum and even a thread for “Over the Hill” Some of us have met in Colorado in September and Utah in April for week-long rides.