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Love on Wheels : One Woman's Love for the Open Road

by Alene Sibley

I drop myself into the saddle with attitude enough to cause John Wayne envy, sinking into the seat; the cushiony leather caresses through my blue jeans like a pair of silk undies (imagine!). Ignition key turned, I knock the kickstand and heave the motorcycle upright. My right hand toys the throttle as my thumb fires the start button, revving the motor to life with the purr of a big kitty awakened from its nap in the sun. I tap into first gear and gently ease the clutch out again--kitty stretching its claws with a yawn--then in a flash, the everyday world is left behind as my bike and I head down the road of oblivion.

Yes, Motorcycle Mama am I...or so I'd like to think, although any self-respecting lady biker should probably take offense - but so what if I've never crammed into a pair of studded black leather jeans. Does that a biker-babe make? Recently my wardrobe grew to include a pair of black leather cut-off finger gloves, and lemme tell ya, the potency residing within these gloves borders tremblingly on the immoral; slide those street-hardened babies on and Vroomhilda I become. Daddy's worst nightmare. I'm thinkin' I'll spew some dust into the gaping mouths of those left in the smoke of my tracks and race off to find a tattoo parlor. Inside the sweaty basement depths I'll hold up for the day, hang with tattooed regulars of ill-repute while roses and unicorns and skulls with crossbones are etched across my body. Yes, do me up somethin' good with that needle of yours.

Afterward I plan to drag on a cigarette, squinting one eye shut from the smoke as it drifts over my road-wearied face. Little girls are mixed with fear and awe as they pass by.

I wake up in a cold sweat--oh it was all so real. Some of the details are real, the gloves for instance, and, well, the gloves. And the motorcycle, but really, mine is a Yamaha Virago, hardly your run-of-the-mill Harley Hog. But it tries. The engine is so quiet, though - ladylike. A Harley Davidson listens to my bike and snickers to itself, then sticks out its tongue and lets rip an earth-shattering rumble. My little bike covers her ears in shame.

Still, when coasting over the tar upon my bike, I sure give off the air of someone who knows. Knows something--the something only biker people know. Yeah, that's it.

Face it: Pretension rules upon a motorcycle. The simple act of parking brings hushed looks as I pull off my helmet to reveal the "feminine surprise." Obviously this is no longer the exclusive terrain of men, but you'd sure think it was. It's me departing the football field after tackling and rolling in the mud, growling football growls and patting my teammates on the fanny. I yank off my helmet on the sidelines: Oh, it's a girl...gosh.

Not surprisingly, motorcycling creates an rapport with other bikers on the road, as if we've all been invited to the same theme party.

A universal form of inter-bike greeting will be found here: the extension of two fingers up from the handle, ever so cool; optionally, a nod is thrown in. Unless confronted with the dilemma of Harley riders who do not wave, nor do they acknowledge the existence of anyone outside Harley's closed highway door. Theirs is the theme party next door, and we weren't invited. Still, each time I spot a shiny, feral Hog approaching, I think maybe, just maybe, this time I'll do that right thing and be waved into his world. Hesitantly, I extend my fingers in greeting, only to once again have them blown backward in the whoosh of his passing. Nary a blink in my direction! Next is the ol' lady driving her own Harley, her nose nestled firmly in the clouds. I am utterly alone, my un-American bike and me an insult to the road and source of shame to the leather-clad righteous. It's a Prix St. George Dressage competition, and I've shown up seated with proud ignorance upon my donkey--what could I even be thinking?

Riding onward, I soon encounter a passive biker like myself, and sure enough our fingers stand at attention for one another. My deflated balloon sucks in much needed helium, and I laugh inside the confines of my shielded helmet. We all know VW Bug drivers on America's highways will always see the other Bug drivers, as Porsche owners are busy regarding their own, but we motorcycle riders are the only ones who actually acknowledge one another.

Biking for me is playing dress-up while I make believe a statement is being made. Yet it need not remain a solitary sport; the man in my life also rides a motorcycle, same type as my own only larger. Being romantically old-fashioned, I prefer his owning the big one, and as a man, the Big One seems to hold some primordial significance for him as well. When cruising together, I choose to sit behind him rather than ride my own bike; it's a wonderful coziness and liberation from responsibility. All assumed statements evaporate as my status is altered to that of "passenger," my legs cuddling his while he mans the controls barefisted (alas, I am alone in my fingerless glove obsession.) The freedom of flight becomes ours together as we escape into that zone somewhere above the level of your average commute. In no other capacity is driving such a passionate adventure, a rolling metaphor of all that can be right in a relationship, even when the drive is a mere 10-minute odyssey to the store for a carton of milk. On the road to and from our mortal errand, we are freed.

I wonder if I could persuade him to join me in my dream visit to a tattoo parlor for some cheap and tawdry body-art, throwing in a few cigarettes as well. Unlit, of course, but we can pretend. And pretty soon it'll be me heading into the sunset sticking my helmet-shielded nose in the air as we Yamahas ride by the Harleys, who wish we'd wave. Sorry babes; this party is closed.