An English major walks into a Harley dealership. No, this isn’t the start of an awkward joke. Or a dare. Or an accidental wrong turn off the highway.
It happened. And perhaps, it was inevitable that it did. Perhaps it was the culminating stage of my case of motoritis that had been progressing for years. (The early onset of this condition is chronicled in my previous reflections on doing scary sh*t.)
I’d been puttering along more or less happily on my little Honda Rebel 250. But I no longer wanted to putter. I wanted to roar. Motorcycles aren’t for those who want quiet lives.
What louder, badder, don’t mess-with-me motorcycle is there than a Harley Davidson?
Naturally, I did my research. I read online reviews, flirted with the idea of the now-defunct Yamaha Star, visited an Indian dealership to check out the competition. When I expressed interest in taking one of the Indian bikes for a test ride, the salesman demurred. I smelled a brush-off. And I suspected the reason why. Despite the salesman’s claim that no local dealerships were allowing test rides, I decided to try my luck with the Harley boys up the road.
Harley said yes. Sure, they wanted to sell me a motorcycle. But after checking my license and hearing my assurances that I’d brought my helmet and gear with me, there was no quibbling. And just like that, I threw a leg over a Harley for the first time.
And it felt good. Damn good. I remembered all too well my first catastrophic attempts to simply get a motorcycle started. I stalled out countless times. When I finally got the throttle engaged, I was so shocked that I lost control of the bike and down we both went onto the asphalt.
Not so today. The enormous Milwaukee 8 engine rumbled to life with the touch of a button. I asked and the machine obeyed. The grin stayed on my face through first, then second, then third gear as I made triumphant laps around the parking lot.
Some of the sales staff were less accommodating. At a different dealership, I got called honey and darlin’ so many times as to have a palpable effect on my blood pressure. But I wanted to upgrade my motorcycle more than I wanted to deliver a lecture on how to sell motorcycles to females, so I bit my tongue while quietly contemplating what it would take to start a woman-owned Harley dealership.
Because, as it turned out, I knew more than some of the men assisting me. In the wee hours of the morning, I flipped through parts catalogs and watched YouTube videos learning how to change rocker box covers. I’d always been an apt student, and darned if I wasn’t going to throw myself into learning as much as I could about the mechanics of riding free.
But of course motorcycles are far more than an intellectual exercise. There was the first time I caught my reflection after a ride, leather jacket on and hanging unzipped, helmet in hand, and the sight startled me. Same with when I saw my shadow as I rode through winding suburban streets on my sleek black Sportster. I was me, but me as I’d never seen myself before. And I liked it.
I’d reached the tipping point where excitement won out over fear. Sure, there are still some rides I don’t feel quite ready for. It’ll likely be years before I head out to Sturgis. Even Pittsburgh’s hills are notorious, and I practice my techniques for stopping and starting on inclines regularly around the neighborhood. It’s enough so that it gets noticed. In fact, it gets noticed by women. Women who ask how long I’ve had a motorcycle. Women who stop their cars, teenage daughter in the passenger seat, to say my riding looks good.
And that is the best part of it. I like to think my shiny chrome pipes are blowing out estrogen along with exhaust. I like to think of other women who never waited for an invitation, but simply believed they had as much right as anyone else to ride. And so they did. And so do I.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and imply no formal endorsement of any brand or product.