Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Harley and Me: The Story of a Girl and Her Hog"

This is Sally:

She is a 2008 Softail Deluxe with around 700 miles on her.  She is very lonely in the garage with only the Road King and a couple dirt bikes for company.  As pretty as she is, it's time for her to find a new home where she will be loved.

Here is the story of how she became mine:

I know why dogs smile as their ears flap and their tongues loll to the side when they stick their heads out of car windows in the wind.  It’s freeing, possibly buggy, but freeing.  When you are on a motorcycle you feel the wind in your face and actually become a part of the scenery, instead of viewing it from an enclosed box.  You are so much more aware of your surroundings and the adrenaline flows (which could be the survival instinct kicking in!)  You smell things both good (bakeries, cookouts, etc.) and bad (road kill skunks, baking URPs—unidentifiable road pizzas, exhaust fumes, factory emissions, manure spreading day at the farm, etc.) but it is invigorating.  Here’s how I became a “Women of the Hog” member.

Though my husband Mark has ridden most of his life, I am a middle-aged gal who had only been on a motorcycle once or twice briefly.  He always rolled down the windows (no matter what the weather) to listen to a Harley pull up beside us.  He would take it in and say “Ahh, rolling thunder.”  But, then he started bringing home catalogs and watching all sorts of bike shows on TV.  Thanks West Coast Choppers, American Choppers, Milwaukee Iron and the rest of the bike shows on the Discovery Channel! 

Then he ordered his bike against my better judgment.  I was mortified that this was a fool’s errand that had to end badly.  Most of my family and friends weren’t terribly supportive either.  My friends in the medical field call them “donorcycles.”  Others regaled me with nasty accident and death stories.  (Like I didn’t know you could die.)  But, Mark does what he wants, so he ordered one anyway. 

The day we were to pick up his black Harley Road King, complete with what I call my “throne,” we bought helmets.  At least he believes in them!  I followed him home in the safety of my car.  He looked very happy.  Of course, I am always supposed to share in his enthusiasm, so I bravely joined him when we got home. 

It wasn’t so bad after I learned the “rules.”  Basically, they are no leaning, especially when stopped (the bike weighs 700 pounds without us), very little weight shifting while going slow, put your hair in a pony tail unless you want it slapping your face and don’t wear collars either for the same reason.  You will have to shift weight and leg position periodically to ward off a stiff behind.  No matter what, it will eventually happen and you need to stop and walk around a couple minutes.  Sunglasses are a necessity for glare and stuff going in your eyes.  Even in 70 degree weather you will want to wear a jacket.  Never wear shorts (those pipes get hot and Heaven forbid you skid, jeans and/or leathers offer some protection.)  Wear a heeled over-the-ankle boot for protection and to avoid your feet getting caught in the pegs.  Riding in the back is actually more comfortable because the driver breaks a lot of the wind and gets hit with most of the bugs, etc.  I trust Mark to be careful, so I just relax, daydream and look at the scenery (and spot deer or other hazards.)  I have nearly fallen asleep which is not really a good idea.  It’s nice for just the two of us to get away, though it’s not inducive to much conversation (or for that matter, getting chores done.)

Another little piece of advice is if you aren’t a  “professional” and plan to spit-shine that bike, do not use Armour-All on the tires (causes slipping in turns) and especially not on the seat!  We had a guy do Mark’s bike and he said he knew not to do the tires; we just assumed he would know the seat.  Well, first time out, I swung my leg over and proceeded to sail off the other side.  Not a pretty picture.  Fortunately, I was riding in the back and hubby was holding the bike up.

Another interesting aspects of being a “biker” is you are “one with the other bikers.”  This sounds hokey, but no matter what your social status, price of your bike, tooth-to-tattoo ratio (an emergency room standing joke about those with more teeth and less tattoos die much more often than vice-versa), you are in an equal “brotherhood” on the road.  Other bikers recognize you and wave like long lost friends.  I thought this was quaint until I realized it is not only arm exhausting, especially in the Spring when everyone is first out, but you have to take your hand off the grip to do it if you are in front.  My hubby has down the “cool” hand open and down to the side and nod kind of acknowledgement.  If you don’t wave, it looks rude.  So, do I wreck or look rude????  Well, I was raised to be polite…

We have nine covered bridges within a few miles of our home.  We frequently ride through them and I always thought it was odd that Mark would honk.  I thought he just liked hearing the loud echo (like the bike wasn’t enough?) but he later told me that he did that to “scare away the elephants.”  I know for a fact it works because I have yet to see one!

Then came the fateful day when Mark got the bright idea to get me my own bike.  (I think it was to get me off his, but he denies this.  It is hard to ride with any passenger though.)  I got my permit thinking well, if something happens and Mark can’t drive, perhaps I should be able to “limp the bike home.”   Then came a car wreck (not my fault man!) and my arm was messed up for the summer.  (Not to mention visions of “what if that was on a bike?”)  I put the whole riding thing on hold, but hubby didn’t. 

One day I walked into a Harley-Davidson dealership.  Mark said, “Pick out any bike here and it’s yours.”  I went for the smallest and cheapest and he said I wouldn’t really want to ride that after awhile, to go bigger.  Since I know nothing about them, I went for pretty one that was low to the ground so I could hold it up.  I chose a crimson red and majorly chromed Softail® Deluxe.  It is sharp, very old school-looking and oh-so-girlie.  I get comments on how pretty it is all the time.  It’s to easy to balance, not top heavy like many bikes.  I named her “Sally” so I could “Ride, Sally, Ride.”  What did it matter that I didn’t even know how to start it?

Let the games begin!  If you have never had a “near death” experience (and want one), try learning to ride a motorcycle!  If you aren’t a card-carrying Christian, you will be!  My dear friend Barb said, “Well, at least the kids have a shot of one parent living.”  Cheery, but true.  You double the chances of one wrecking, but halve the chance of you both dying when you are on separate bikes.

My first problem was steering.  They don’t just whip around like a dirt bike or bicycle.  I found it nearly impossible to turn right and stay on my side of the road (or turn left and stay on the road at all.)  I panicked easily and this seemed like a perfectly good reason.  I began not turning left hard enough and teetering on the edge of the road nearly slipping off (actually a couple inches down) to the gravel or cinder berm.  I don’t know how I avoided falling, but I did manage to scrape weeds and get them stuck on my running board and petals.  Mark helplessly watched me in his mirror (I liked to follow) and said to himself, “Either she’ll live or she’ll die.”  This is one of several “Oh s__t!” moments.

Next, I hit the high side of a curve on a busy state route in the country.  I went slightly left of center (with an oncoming car of course) and recovered by “beautifully” swerving back to my side.  I wouldn’t have been busted by my hubby except he heard the scrape of my engine guard.  We went directly home and Sally sat in the garage.  I was banned from driving her until I took the “Rider’s Edge” course.

If you don’t learn another thing from me, I beg you to pay attention now.  If you ride (or plan to ride) a motorcycle, please WEAR A HELMET EVERY TIME.  Next, enroll in a
RIDER’S EDGE COURSE.  They have them for beginners and experienced riders.  They are offered by the state and many local Harley-Davidson dealerships.  It’s a four day intensive class which builds confidence and safety maneuver skills.  The state offered one is cheap, but you have to supply the bike, there are no cushy classrooms with snacks and they have many students. 

The class I took was from the Harley dealer where I got my bike.    The class is pricey, but there are many perks.  First, you don’t have to deal with transporting a bike.  They use Buells that are meticulously cared for.  There are only 6 students per class.  There is plenty of one on one time with the instructor (who often is the same instructor who does the state-run class.)  They have a comfy classroom complete with snacks and clean restroom.  There is also a nice graduation ceremony at the end.  When you send in the completion certificate, Harley gives you a $50 gift card.  With either location, if you pass the final exam you will get a card that lets you skip the regular test at the BMV. 

Of course, fairly early on the first day of the hands-on part I managed to go off into the mud.  It is really hard to get a bike out of that.  Even though a Buell is small, it took four
guys and a piece of plywood to get it back on the course.  How embarrassing!  I failed to adhere to often repeated command “right thumb, right now!” that refers to the off switch.  I told you I panic easily!  I did it while practicing “the box.”  It’s a really tiny area they
expect you to do figure 8’s and turn around.  I was sure the rest of the weekend I would fail this part of the test, but amazingly to me (and the instructor) I did it flawlessly during the final test!  The key is to turn your head where you are going and the bike will follow.  Really! 

But that wasn’t the only time I hit the mud.  The second day I wasn’t able to get stopped in time, but at least it was only a couple feet.  I never did lay it down, but I am sure I will someday.  (That’s why hubby installed the engine guard.  That is worth every penny of the $150ish bucks when you consider the damage it saves to the bike and maybe your leg.)

After getting my license, I took it slow.  So slow that after 4 years of owning my bike, I only have around 700 miles on it.  Some of that is Mark’s!  I finally went on an empty stretch of highway, but hey, I did pass the one tractor trailer!

We live a few miles from a Honda Gold-Wing plant.  Every summer they have a Honda Homecoming weekend with a bike parade.  They are generous enough to allow any bike to participate.  I don’t know how many bikes showed up, but they went on for miles. 

Now Gold Wings are really nice bikes.  If you want comfort and most of the amenities of
a car, they are great.  However, they are very quiet and frankly the parade gets boring
with only honking horns.  All down the parade route folks would give us Harley folks the
 “signal” to roll on the throttle and make some noise.  I obliged until my engine got hot. 
You have to admit, they sound pretty cool!

If you are thinking about taking this on as a hobby, go for it!  But be careful!  Here’s hoping that I won’t really have any reason to write another bike story because my riding skills (and luck) keep the shiny side up!  As for me, I think a sporty convertible car is more my speed.

Until next time,


  1. It's time to let it go Gale. Fun (maybe?) while it lasted. Someone else can enjoy it.
    Cher Sunray Gardens
    Goldenray Yorkies

  2. For years, my only mode of transportation was a Night Hawk 650cc motorcycle in San Diego CA. I dearly loved it and learned how to handle myself on it very well. It was my first bike and after I "grew up", we traded it in for a car with room for a baby's car seat!
    It has always been my dream to get back to a bike. Sorry, CUZ, but mine will be a Rice Burner!!

  3. Well imagine that they haven't invented an infant car seat for a crotch rocket! You are right, I should have a smaller bike. I can manage the dirt bikes ok. Go out and get your rice burner cuz!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s quite an experience for you having to ride a Harley for the first time. I bet it’ll be one of the most unforgettable moments in your life. I hope I can own one someday, even if the economy is a little down right now.

    Claudio McCarty


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