Note to younger riders from an old rider: Sure, have as much fun in the sun as you can, but if you have Northern European ancestry, be aware that too much skin exposed to sun for too long can kill you. Not right away, but much later in life. Skin cancer is no fun at all. I speak from sad experience.
When I was a kid (1940s and ’50s), I spent as much time in the sun as I could. My folks encouraged it, being outdoorsy types themselves, and motorcyclists, to boot. So, in the summer, depending on where we might be living (my dad was an Air Force pilot, so we moved a lot), I’d be outside as much as possible, usually getting sunburns instead of tans, thanks to my English and Scottish heritage. I had light blond hair, green eyes and skin blems aplenty.
My mother had auburn hair, green eyes, was be-freckled and grew up in Abilene, Texas, spending as much time outdoors on horses, bicycles or motor scooters as possible, being the quintessential Texas tomboy girl. My dad was born in Santa Ana, California, and likewise spent every minute he could outside, hiking, fishing, bicycling and in general, having fun in the sun, sunlight being free and money in short supply during the Depression. So, it was natural for them to consider it commonplace for their kid to go outside after school and get those bad sunburns. The fix of the day was suntan lotion.
When I began riding motorcycles in 1963, there must surely have been people warning us against too much sun, but I don’t recall them. So, when summer rolled around, I’d ride as much as I could, usually with a porridge-pot helmet I’d inherited from my dad and whatever clothes I’d throw on to get on the bike. More sunburns ensued.
Fast-forward to today. I am 63 and have had three melanomas and two basal-cell carcinomas. The dermatologists I’ve seen over the years have all said the same thing: These potential killers all probably came from overexposure to sun when I was in my teens and early 20s.
About here is where you’d usually expect an old guy to warn young guys not to do as he did. Not me. My advice is to do what you want in the sun, but be aware of the risks you’re taking. We motorcyclists are risk-takers to start with, just by being out in the traffic without sheetmetal and airbags around us, so we understand risks at the gut level. The key to survival so you can keep on taking the risks you want to take is full understanding of all the risks, and the same sunlight that makes the ride so much more than a car trip can ever be also has to be clearly understood as a risk, too.
There are lots of myths about skin-cancer risks, including that if your heritage, unlike mine, derives from Africa or the Mediterranean or Central America, you don’t need to worry about skin cancer. All people are at risk from ultraviolet radiation that gets through the atmosphere’s ozone layer, so it’ll pay to spend some time reading up on the subject before you ride from L.A. to Chicago wearing only a cool T-shirt, fingerless gloves and a bone-dome open-face helmet. And my wife points out that all too many beautiful young ladies seem to be riding pillion with sleeveless tops, shorts and flip-flops these days.
Enjoy your youth, have fun in the sun, but know what you’re actually doing out there. That way, you might also be able to enjoy middle age and beyond.