Taiwan’s Grand Riders

“I Didn’t Stop Riding Because I Got Old, I Got Old Because I Stopped Riding.”

By Peter Starr, Photography by Richard Greer

John Lennon once said, “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” Following a two-week trip to Taiwan, I’m inclined to say he was right—and that Lennon likely cribbed the saying from Buddha! Going to Taiwan was a purposeful mission: to ride with the Grand Riders. Many know of these venerable motorcyclists through the TC Bank commercial that went viral on YouTube last year (search "TC Bank Dream Rangers" on YouTube to see it yourself). It’s in Chinese with English sub-titles, but it’s eminently understandable and emotionally potent regardless of language. The short film shows a group of geriatric, dis-contented men who decide to turn their lives around and relive a defining moment of their youth: a motorcycle ride around the island of Taiwan.The theme is about having a dream and a purpose for living out your years productively, and after watching the video I was left with a gargantuan lump in my throat and far-from-dry eyes. To give you some perspective as to why I was so taken with the accomplishments of these aging riders, it helps to know that I am 69 years old (with 53 years of motorcycling under my belt) and a 7-year cancer survivor. Possessing a motorcyclist’s attitude and vinegar regarding my diagnosis, I chose the road less traveled with my treatment, much as I have done with my motorcycle film-making career.

Imagine a group of octogenarians contemplating what would normally be a predictable and unappetizing future of becoming incapacitated and, finally, passing away. Then, out of some indefinable source, they acquire a thunderbolt of inspiration and decide to do something that really makes them happy, and makes them feel alive. If that sounds inspirational, I’ve just scratched the surface of what the Grand Riders are all about. What they embarked upon wasn’t a casual day-trip; it was a 12-day tour around the island of Taiwan, a journey of nearly 700 miles along roads that some had never travelled before. It was a genuine adventure.

In November of 2007, 17 expectant riders balanced their aging bodies over their two-wheeled vehicles and bravely set out on an adventure that many riders half their age would be wary of undertaking. They had ignored many who told them they could not do it and likely would not survive. The skeptics weren’t referring to traffic accidents, either: Some of the riders had cancer or degenerative heart disease, and all of them suffered from arthritis. Some believed that the only reason they were still alive was due to their daily intake of prescription drugs! Yet they all whipped themselves into sufficient shape to take the trip, many following a holistic regimen, as I did with my cancer.

The trip served mainly to prove to the riders—but also to others in the same predicament—that chronological age is merely a number. As Emma Huang from the Hondao Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of the elderly, told me, “For many, getting old means becoming useless. The elderly are stereotyped as doing nothing well. These people worked hard to take care of their families for almost their whole lives, and then when they got old their children and society prevented them from doing things that may be adventuresome or risky. To have the different imagination about the elderly, that is what we are about.”

So these 17 men cast aside the aspersions of their naysayers in challenging themselves to ride. This was no simple commitment to pursue or extend a lifelong hobby, because not all had been riding all their lives. There were some with years of experience, but that was decades in the past. Not only was physical training necessary to bring them up to the level of fitness necessary, but all had to pass a riding test.

Prior to that original ride in ’07, none had a current motorcycle license. Jhong Tian Wang said that for him, life started at age 70. That’s when he learned to drive, and to master good penmanship. At age 83, he learned to ride a motorcycle.

By Peter Starr
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