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Many motorcycle dead may be in throes of midlife crisis
Scripps Howard News Service


May 28, 2006

An unusually large number of divorced middle-age men are dying in motorcycle accidents, prompting speculation by experts that many chose to take up the often-risky sport of cycling as a symptom of midlife crisis.

Scripps Howard New Service obtained death certificate records maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to paint a statistical portrait of 3,697 people who died in motorcycle accidents in 2003, the most recent year available.

Dead motorcyclist are overwhelming male (90 percent) and disproportionately white (87 percent). Although teenagers and young adults are over-represented in fatal car accidents, motorcycle fatality victims are disproportionately middle-aged with 46 percent in their 40s or older. About a third have attended college, compared to about half the general public.

The Motorcycle Industry Council, a consortium of manufacturers, said its marketing data show similar patterns for race, gender and age of owners. The council has tracked a rapid aging of the cyclist community, rising from an average age of 27 in 1985 to 41 in 2003.

"What we've been seeing is what we call re-entry riders, people who had motorcycles when they were in college and are now getting back into the sport," said Mike Mount, spokesman for the council.

The Scripps Howard study found that 20 percent of cycling fatalities were men who were divorced at the time of their deaths, a divorce rate more than double the national average. Safety experts and anti-helmet advocates alike were surprised by the finding. Some suggested the cyclists were experiencing midlife crises, or at least major lifestyle changes.

"That certainly is a new and surprising finding," said Oklahoma State University engineering professor Samir Ahmed, who will direct a study of motorcycle fatalities under a grant from Congress. "Although I've noticed that trend (of divorce) from motorcyclists I know. I guess they got divorced and decided to go out and buy motorcycles."

Anti-helmet advocates have long been aware of the accelerated rate of death among middle-age motorcyclists.

"These guys have put a little money away and now they want to reclaim their youth," said Tim Burchett, a Republican state senator from Knoxville, Tenn., who for several years has tried to repeal mandatory helmet laws.

American Motorcyclist Association spokesman Tom Lindsay agreed that the popularity of motorcycling among middle-age men is a factor in the rising number of fatalities. "Certainly, as we get older, we have to take care of our eyesight and realize that our reaction times slow as we age. We have to ride accordingly," said Lindsay.

But he was unaware of the unusual trend in marital status.

"I'm currently divorced. Maybe I should take the bus home today," Lindsay said.


Contact Thomas Hargrove at HargroveT(at)
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