Why do you ride?
This is a question that comes up frequently when incredulous friends and family, or even complete strangers, learn that I ride a Harley. Women, in particular, seem awed when they see me ride up on my Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. “I could never do that” is a common reaction. The truth is, you can and you should, if you have any interest or inclination toward it. Men seem skeptical of female bikers. Many of them like to brag about the number of miles they put on their bikes in a season. The truth is, some of my lady biker friends and I put on ten thousand or more miles in a season. Even though we live in Montana, some of us ride year round on the days when the weather cooperates and the roads aren’t covered in ice.
The truth is, it’s probably always been in my blood. I just didn’t know it until about seven years ago. You see, my grandfather moved from southern Louisiana to Montana with only what he could carry on his motorcycle. People who knew him in his younger days tell stories of the kind of antics he managed on his bike. Things like riding down the center line between two cars traveling in opposite directions down a two-lane road.
My dad and my uncle both had bikes while I was growing up and I remember fondly riding pillion with them on summer days.
Why did I begin to ride?
A few years back, I was living in Laurel and working in Billings, which is about a twenty mile commute, each way. At the time I drove an SUV and gas prices were soaring close to five dollars a gallon. I was looking for creative ways to cut costs. Originally, I was set on buying a scooter. I walked into the Harley dealership, which also, at the time, sold scooters, and told the sales person what I was thinking. She smiled and humored me. She took me to the scooters and talked about them in depth, but then she looked me straight in the face and told me that I did not want a scooter. At first I was put off by this, but as I listened to her reasons, I began to realize that what she said made sense. Scooters are great for in town but aren’t good for highway riding (at least the ones I was looking at).
I chewed on this for a while and eventually found a good deal on a used bike, late in the season. My dad had a motorcycle while my sister and I were growing up, so I talked him into giving me some lessons in the local school parking lot. I was hooked almost immediately, though my “starter bike” was maybe not the best bike for a beginner (a story for another day).
My very patient friend Jenny rode with me at no more than 65 miles per hour that whole first summer. She never complained about it, she just continued to encourage me and let me learn. One day, she and I went on what turned into a marathon day-trip. At one point, I missed a turn and wound up on the overpass for the interstate with two options: “we can turn around and go back to the turn I should have taken…” “…or you can learn how to ride on the interstate.” I chose option B and it was terrifying, until it occurred to me that everybody was going the same direction as me. That was a turning point for me. I knew I would never want to be without a bike again.
Why am I in love with riding?
The next summer, I fell in love with a bike. The lady who originally talked me out of buying a scooter, coaxed me into test riding a used bike from the showroom floor. I fought it at first, but she was pretty persistent about it.
Once I rode that Softail Deluxe, I was in love. I went in weekly and drooled over it in the show room.
One day, while I was at work, I received a call on my cell phone that went like this:
“This is Julie at Harley. Come get your damn bike.”
I knew immediately which bike she was talking about. “I can’t afford a new bike. There’s no way.”
“We are going to make this happen and I don’t care what it takes. That bike was made for you. Bring that black bike when you come.”
The next day, I traded my “starter bike” in on one that suites me much better.
The following summer Julie and another woman began an all-women’s motorcycle riding club called the Tenacious Dames. There were seven of us at the first meeting. There are almost 150 throughout the state of Montana as I type this. I have never been one to have many female friends, but this group of ladies is different. There are girls I would call my sisters in five cities across the state. The past two years, I have managed to put over ten thousand miles per year on my bike and most of them have been with ladies from this club. My life has been forever altered. The vast majority of my closest friends are also Dames and are some of my favorite people to ride with.
Riding is my sanity. Everything in my world can be crashing down, and if I can get out on the bike for an hour or more, I know I’ll make it. I have learned to be cautious, but push my own limits just enough to keep learning and improving. There are a few ladies that I get to ride with who challenge me every time we ride. There are others who learn from me when we ride. I think learning is important. There isn’t anybody who is a perfect rider. Nobody never has a bad day. I have learned to be both self-reliant and part of a group through riding. I have developed leadership skills that I didn’t know that I had. I have learned to be a bit of a mechanic. I have learned how to be more supportive and even more so, how to be receptive of support. I was never much of a hugger, outside of my family, but I have learned to have my personal bubble invaded, though I still tease a few of my friends about being “space invaders.”
Why do I want to blog about riding?
Throughout the course of the time that I have been riding, I have learned and grown more than I ever would have without riding. I have grown passionate about a sport that many women would never consider. I have had many adventures, most of them with at least an element of humor. I want to share all of this with you. I am passionate about riding and the positive things that can come from it. I hope you will join me as I muse and meander about motorcycles, the women who ride them, and what it has meant for me.
Thank you for reading!