Arts & Culture
10:00 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Essay: A Woman and Her Harley

Harleys line the street near 62nd & Layton for the 110th anniversary celebration of Harley-Davidson.
Credit Mitch Teich

Lake Effect essayist Heidi Friedrichs

"Wow, that’s so cool!”

That’s what I hear from onlookers when I’m riding my motorcycle.

They stick their head out the car window, and ask “Does that bike go fast?” or “Is that fun?” or “Is that easy to ride?”

Yes, yes and yes.

That’s how it’s been since I started riding about three years ago. Everywhere I go it’s like that. People smile at me and wave me through intersections. I gratefully acknowledge their kindness and silently thank them for not running me over.

That’s what I love about motorcycling – it connects people with one another through the sheer fact that we all like to play. And so, when I went to Bike Show at a Harley dealership, it was with this in mind: I wanted to play with the big kids now.

I still blame my sister for talking me into buying the V-Rod, but honestly, it was time for me to take it up a notch, and get the right bike for me. My first motorcycle, a Sportster, was not designed for a woman of my age and shall we say, "talent" for riding. Plus, it was just too damn loud, in my humble opinion.

When I saw the cobalt and silver 2007 V-Rod at a dealership, I didn’t even know this kind of bike existed. It was all curvy and racy and sexy - I thought, "That’s the bike for me!" It just begs you to drape yourself over it and have your photo taken (like here, though clearly I’m not really the draping type).

Fast forward to the weekly Bike Night at Harley Davidson Museum. After riding down with the group of riders from the dealership, feeling all cool and confident and strong, I roamed around the grounds, made a few friends, had a beverage, got back on my bike to head home, and "click-click...click-click-click" – nothing.

I knew it was bound to end – the fantasy of being a cool/hot biker chick. It was just too good to be true. The bubble burst the moment I couldn’t start my bike. Funny, the guys started drifting over little by little to offer some advice, which was super nice, and I was flattered by their sincere interest in my dilemma. Security guards, veteran bikers, older men with walking canes, even the woman who had led our ride came over to investigate the trouble.

No one knew exactly, except for one guy, Tom, who owns a Special Edition V-Rod. “Just walk away with your fob and come back in a half hour,” he advised. Well, did I listen? No. I listened to this other guy, who clearly had had a few beers in him already by this time, who slurred (think John Wayne): "Well, I’ll push you and you steer and pop the clutch!"

Well, since I always do what I’m told, I did what he said. But I was more worried about how ridiculous I looked on this expensive machine wobbling down the main strip than popping the clutch and throttling the bike – but I managed to do all three things at once: worry, throttle and pop the clutch. And still nothing happened.

We were the circus act that evening as everyone stood around and watched our charade, thinking only who knows what but my guess is something along the lines of, "That chick doesn’t know s— about her bike."

Ah, but I do. It turns out the V-Rod has a very fancy-shmancy security system, which is very sensitive, and apparently doesn’t like crowds, kind of like me. She was freaked out by being surrounded by so many other bigger baggers and so she pouted, flickered her warning lights, gave me the silent treatment, and stubbornly shut down.

I sadly went home – without my bike – and embarrassed that I didn’t know how to fix the problem. By then, it was storming, and I wouldn’t have ridden home anyway. Still…..

Bright and early next morning, after a fitful night of second-guessing myself, I returned to my bike at the museum and made nice with her and she fired right up, of course. A little R&R was all she needed – and time to cool her engines. The V-Rod is a very forgiving bike.

Reminds me of a relationship I was in once … but I’ll save that story for another time.

Heidi Friedrichs, a native of Wisconsin, writes essays and short stories about life in and around Milwaukee. She holds a degree in Journalism from UW-Milwaukee has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and websites in Florida and Wisconsin.