When you think of a woman who is a ‘biker’, your imagination may invite the image of those pin-up poster vixens; you know… the ones with long, tousled locks arranged artfully to enhance a heaving cleavage spilling out of a tightly-tied halter top, lounging languidly against chrome and leather with hiney cheeks peeking out from short shorts, and perfectly rosy-painted, half-smiling lips to accentuate the ‘come hither’ gaze…
Well, that’s not me.
I’m the sensibly- warm- T-shirt-layered, lip balm-slathered, sturdy denim jeans-clad, road-friendly over-the-ankle boots-tied , leather-jacketed and chaps-wrapped type….with the ‘let’s roll’ grin. I am less like a biker babe, and more like an accidental apprentice of Bandana, the Lesser Goddess of helmet hair. In my defense, I sometimes sparkle with a touch of bling on my T-shirts.
Those who know me recognize that I am not a risk-taker, but a practical woman. Most are surprised when they discover that I am a biker. I do admit, knowing me all my life… I am surprised about it too!
I inherited the ‘cautious gene’, which was fortified by my parents’ safety rules. Their safety scale ranked from mildly harmful things like chewing ice, petting an unfamiliar dog, and jumping on the bed, all the way to handling fireworks and hitch-hiking as the worst possible activities that would surely leave me horribly mangled or worse. Probably worse. Motorcycles were so dangerous that they didn’t exist on the continuum. They simply were Not. An. Option.
Enter true love. (What else?)
My heart was wooed and won by a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast. As a youngster, he befriended others like himself and along with those rough and tumble boys, he learned firsthand the hazards and skills that eventually became educated instinct and expert handling. In our early marriage, his proficiency and gusto for motorcycling was an equal and opposite match for my rules and cautiousness. I rode with him occasionally, but not with confidence or to the extent of enjoyment. Our impasse was an agreement that I loved a man who loved his motorcycle, and it could be his ‘thing’, while not mine. ( except for my sustained enthusiastic appreciation for my man wearing his chaps and leather jacket….now that is my ‘thing’!)
Add two dozen years of loving a patient yet persistent man, and time for dependent children to grow to adulthood. With our nest empty, there came more frequent opportunities for my man to ride and me to be left behind safely folding laundry.
One October morning, the crisp snap in the air was warming in the bright sun….the orange and gold and red leaves beckoned me outdoors. The learned haven of laundry utterly lost its comfort. Having fun with my man trumped clinging to my old fears. That ordinary day became the turning point.
My man often rode with a group of experienced riders as part of a local motorcycling club, and was joining them for breakfast. When I agreed to ride that morning, he was determined to provide the best possible situation to coax me into accompanying him more often. He promised me a short ride, no high speeds, and some interesting people.
When we met the group, everyone seemed to know one another. Glancing at the twenty or so bikes and their riders, it was embarrassingly obvious that I didn’t belong. While everyone was dressed in leathers and boots, there I was, so uncool, wearing an old denim jacket and canvas hikers, squinting against the morning sun glaring into my helmet shield. Although not one to be overly concerned about appearances, I wanted to blend in. Feeling so much out of place, I had to battle my introverted nature and the dreaded gut feeling of stuck-out-like-a-sore-thumbness. I didn’t dare remove my helmet! Even as a rookie rider, I knew that helmet hair is a most unattractive sight, and that would surely end any shred of confidence I was attempting to muster.
A smiling blue-eyed man greeted Steve, then introduced his wife to us. We spoke briefly and our short conversation revealed that not only was she an elegant and articulate professional, but evidently she, like me, had not yet found a certain comfort level with riding. Meeting her prompted me to think that I might have something in common with some in the group. Mr. smiling blue eyes mentioned that the sun was sure to be a problem for me, since we were heading due east for breakfast. He pulled an extra pair of sunglasses from his pack, and handed them to me as if we were old friends. I hesitated at first, but he insisted I use them for the duration of the event. His offer of kindness and my kindred circumstance with his wife, made all the difference. It surprised me into a new mindset….one of budding possibility….. I might…. actually…. have (gulp)….fun?
Considering that unexpected revelation, when the kickstands went up, my inner biker awakened. Maybe I was influenced by the warm autumn sun on my back….maybe it was my man’s strength so near me on the seat, or his careful and calming assurance while expertly maneuvering the backroads….I discovered myself smiling at the rumble of the engines as we rode in formation, slowing then gaining speed again around the curves, leaning into them so effortlessly. Riding inspired a heightened awareness of all my senses… above all, a feeling of absolutely being in the present moment. All thoughts of to-do lists, all worries of my workaday world flew out of my mind, leaving a completely new freedom instead.
As it turns out, with encouragement from my favorite man, the kind gesture of new friends, and a little experience, I let go and literally threw caution to the wind.
Since that day several years ago, I ride frequently and have become accustomed to balancing two- up on sturdy wheels. Instead of being separated from nature by four-wheeled steel and glass, I am acclimated to being part of the rushing wind. I anticipate the wild scents along the two-lanes, like the sweetness of fresh cut hay, the dank earthiness of roadside mud, the aroma of blooms. How better to notice the many hues of the color green, recognize startled fear in the eyes of sparrows flushed from their roost on split rail fences, or feel the subtle change of air temperature on my face as we glide into a tree shaded stretch of road? I still get nervous at high speeds especially when flying past other vehicles just feet away from us (yikes!) but am proud to report that I no longer flinch. I climb into my seat with the finesse of a pro, appreciate the hug of my leathers, the thundering of pipes.
We often ride with a group of friends, (Mr. blue eyes and his wife included) all fellow adventurers who appreciate biking through the great outdoors. We have rumbled along together and barely outrun rain storms, not outrun rain storms, shivered through outings of teeth-chattering cold, sighed after a stop for cooling drinks on blistering hot summer afternoons. We have taken week- long trips into the sun-kissed copper mesas of the desert southwest and the evergreen pine forests of the southern Rockies. We have gloried through the S-curved byways in the deep woods, moss-tinged, Smoky Mountains. We’ve ridden over hills beside thousands of other bikes in rallies, and partnered up with just a few beginning the day with eye-opening cups of coffee then ending it cruising into a favorite small town stop to eat locally famous fried chicken. These friends have our backs, and we have theirs as we share the companionship of roaring along the red-dirt edged back roads into sure exhilaration.
By the way…. the authentic and truly beautiful biker women I know don’t pose on motorcycles… we ride them. And those mythical pin-up poster biker babes? If you’d like to spend time with them, you’ll have to stay home with their calendar.
You can fold my laundry while you’re there.