March 3, 2024

Old Guys on Dirt Bikes (Their Words!)

NoMi riders prove age is just a number
By Ross Boissoneau | April 8, 2023

When you’re young, it’s fun to hit the trails on a motorbike, flying around corners, soaring over tree roots, zipping between trees, and just having a blast. That fun can continue as riders zoom into middle age and beyond—like those still doing it in their 60s, 70s, even 80s.

There are plenty of bikers in northern Michigan whose enthusiasm hasn’t been tempered by their years. People like Bill Edmonson and Dave Geisler, who are among a group of riders who get together Wednesday nights—the Wednesday Night Nationals, or WNN—to ride various trails throughout the region and beyond. While some members are in their teens, 20s, and 30s, there are a significant number of those at the other end of the age spectrum.

“It started 20 years ago,” says Edmondson of the group, explaining how he and some guys he worked with started riding together. “At this age now—I’ll be 69 next month—it keeps you going.”

“I love the woods; I love the trails. I can go slow and enjoy it,” adds the 70-year-old Geisler.

Their group, which is now overseen by Epic Powersports, has grown in the last decade; in mid-2014 it was regularly 20-30 riders, and “on Dec. 5, 2022, we organized a WNN ride on a Saturday with 56 riders,” says Geisler.

A Lifelong Sport

Edmondson was an early adopter of motorbikes. “When I was six, my dad rode [motorcycles]. I’d ride on the back of the motorcycle with him,” he says. That soon led him to riding his own, well before he could legally do so on the road. “I rode a dirt bike because I was too young for a license.”

Others came to the sport later. “For me it started in high school,” says Geisler. He bought an on/off road bike, but eventually realized it wasn’t particularly good for either one and converted to a motorbike exclusively for off-road use. His native Ohio didn’t boast a lot of trails, however, and by the time he married and had children, the activity became too much to balance. “I was a coach and parent till I sent [my kids] off to college,” he says.

That’s when he bought a new bike. When his kids returned home and saw a dirt bike in the back of his truck, they were dumbfounded. (Who knew dads had their own hobbies and interests?!)

Soon after he moved to Empire following retirement, Geisler found out that Dick Burleson, one of the all-time greats in the sport, lived nearby. “When I moved up, I read an article about Dick that said he lived in Traverse City. I cold-called him. He hooked me up with other guys my age. That’s how I connected with a lot of these folks.”

The 75-year-old Burleson didn’t start riding until he was 18. But, boy, did he make up for it. He became one of the top competitors in American Motorcycle Association (AMA) history, winning a record eight consecutive Enduro National Championships. “King Richard” was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999 and was named an AMA Legend in 2016. He recently returned from Daytona Beach Speedway, where he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

The Michigan native lived and worked in Ohio for much of his life. He attended a number of conferences at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, and he and his wife were having dinner one night at Peninsula Grill when the subject of where they wanted to spend their retirement years came up. “We said, ‘Let’s move here.’ It’s a wonderful place. My wife grew up in Holland; I grew up in St. Joseph. We’re lake people.”

Today he enjoys hitting the trails as much as ever. “It’s a lot of fun. Plus my buddies are here. It’s the joy of being out and about,” says Burleson.

All Ages Welcome

“Dick never lost his edge,” says an admiring Matt Harris, the owner of Epic Powersports and 10 Pines Ranch, a private track outside Mancelona. His was one of 10 families that purchased property in Mancelona that they converted into a track and camping area.

While it’s a private facility, Harris says they opened it up for one public race last year, and plan on two such weekends this year. “We sprinkle a few open rides where it’s open to the public.”

Harris’ passion for biking goes deep; he has also been around bikes all his life, though he doesn’t yet qualify for the “Old Guys” moniker. But the 42-year-old says he loves the fact he is part of the group of regular riders.

“As a younger rider, I’m looking at guys like Dick and Dave. I’ve been doing it since I was three. It would be a sad day to have to quit,” Harris says.

Not that that’s in the offing. Geisler points to a former northern Michigan rider Ted del Solar, who has since moved to Wisconsin, but who was riding until at least age 89. (Hence the nickname “Young Ted.”)

“You can fight it,” Burleson says of his age. “At my age I can’t ride at the same level, but I still ride pretty good.” And while he loves getting together with his peers, it’s not just about oldsters. “My favorite riding buddy is my 14-year-old grandson,” says Burleson.

Ride to Ride Again

What keeps the guys on the trails? They say it’s about camaraderie, competition, and staying young in body and mind.

“It’s just a hoot. It’s social, being with like minds across generations,” says Geisler. “It’s still a thrill—the thrill of getting through the trees as fast as you can,” he adds.

And they all enjoy being in the great outdoors. “It’s the joy of being out in nature, whatever the weather is,” says Burleson.

Geisler agrees. “The most memorable rides for me are the perfect snow conditions ride—frozen ground, 6 to 10 inches of fresh snow, first riders on the trail.”

Snow or shine, the group travels across the region to hit the trails. “Trail riders in Michigan typically drive long distances to get to new and different trails,” Geisler explains. Some of the hot spots that come up in conversations with the riders include Tomahawk Trail in Wolverine and trails in Evart and Cadillac.

Geisler says many of the riders give back by working to maintain the trails, working with the DNR and other entities. “I belong to a couple different trail bike clubs that are responsible for maintaining some of the Michigan trails. I am also working with the DNR on a proposal for a new trail in Benzie County, on state land near Fowler Road.”

Today, the guys still love to zoom through the trails, but are mindful of doing so safely. “Ride to ride again” is their mantra. “We’re just a bunch of trail riders. We know what it takes,” Geisler says.

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