The rebel bikers of the 1960s and 1970s may have grown up -- but they haven't given up their penchant for motorcycles. In the United States, for example, the percentage of cyclists over 50 has more than doubled, from just over one in 10 in 1990 to one in four in 2003.
But this passion for cycling is not without risk. New research published online February 6 in Injury Prevention shows that older bikers are up to three times as likely to be seriously injured in a crash as younger motorbike enthusiasts. Indeed, while the average age of those involved in a motorbike crash has been rising steadily, so too have the rates of injury among those over 65, with the number skyrocketing by 145 percent between 2000 and 2006.
Researchers came up with their numbers by analyzing reports of motorcycle collisions so serious they required a trip to the emergency room between 2001 and 2008. During this period around 1.5 million motorbike crashes involving adults aged 20 and above required treatment in U.S. emergency care departments. Men comprised the vast majority (85 percent) of these incidents.
Trends in injury type and frequency were grouped by age: 20 to 39 (921,229 incidents); 40 to 59 (466,125); 60+ (65,660), to see if there were any discernible differences. Although injury rates climbed for all three age groups, the percentage shot up by a whopping 247 percent for those over 60. Bikers in this age group were also three times as likely to be admitted to a hospital after a crash as were those in their 20s and 30s.
Also not faring well were middle-aged bikers who were almost twice as likely to require admission to a hospital than younger riders.
Both older and middle-aged bikers were also much more likely to suffer serious injuries than their younger counterparts, with older bikers 2.5 times as likely to sustain serious injuries and middle-aged bikers 66 percent more likely to do so.
"The greater severity of injuries among older adults may be due to the physiological changes that occur as the body ages," wrote the authors, pointing to dwindling bone strength, changes in body fat distribution and decreasing elasticity in the chest wall. Underlying illnesses may also increase the risk of complications, they suggest.
An interesting side note: The authors did not consider the types of bikes involved in a crash, but pointed out that other research shows that older riders are more likely to buy bikes with bigger engines and that bigger engines are linked to the seriousness of crashes.