When I first received the invitation to fly out to Milwaukee to participate in the Harley-Davidson Blogger Summer Camp, I was struck by a number of worries.
I am a worrier at heart, and the idea of riding a motorcycle in the Mecca of motorcycling was both exhilarating and terrifying. What if I fell down? What if I couldn’t get the bike to work? What if no one liked me?
The extent of my experience with biking culture had come from performing comedy in biker bars, my favorite place to tell jokes. Whenever I’d pulled up in my dinky car to a bar with motorcycles lined up outside, I knew my set would be successful. These leather-donning patrons with tattoos and Harley-Davidson wear have been the nicest audiences I’ve performed for, the type who laughs and claps loudly and hoots and hollers when the punchline calls for it. If these bikers seemed to genuinely love riding and were also kind-hearted enough to laugh at a Pacific Islander comedian, then motorcycles couldn’t be that scary.
When I arrived in Milwaukee, I could tell I was in the heartland of biking culture. We drove past industrial buildings and brick homes until we reached the Iron Horse Hotel. A motorcycle welcomed me at the door with a sign above it: RIDE ME. The hotel was richly decorated in leather and wood and metal rivets, with an American flag hanging in the seating area.
The first night we were treated to a Garage Party at Hal’s Harley-Davidson. Garage Parties are events held at Harley-Davidson dealerships geared for ladies (but men are welcome, too), a kind of open house that invites women to learn more about riding.
The ladies of the dealership talked about their history with motorcycles. Some had been riding only a few years, others had been doing it since they were children.
But they all shared a type of confidence I had noticed with every single Harley-Davidson employee—a bold voice that spoke about engines and riding gear and navigating the road without diluting their speech the way I do—making my pitch really high when I feel nervous. They were women who knew exactly what they were talking about but were completely friendly, taking all our questions.
I learned how in-tune one had to be with the environment. Riding requires focus, both on the cars around but also on the weather—a cloud ahead could mean rain and rain would mean pulling over safely to put on gear. We learned about what kind of clothes to wear (lace-up boots give more stability) and what to pack when going for long rides.
We were led downstairs to the weight room where we learned the proper way to lift up a tipped bike. I wouldn’t even know how to start or what to touch on a motorcycle to get it up. I was still really nervous but I jumped up to do it. I placed my hand on the handlebar and my left hand rocking it back and forth until it was upright, and then I found the sweet spot and gravity worked in my favor and slowly but surely this giant beast was upright. The ladies helped me move the kickstand out, and I walked away, my chest all puffed up like I had slayed some giant beast. And I hadn’t even turned on the engine yet.
Another fun part of the Garage Party event was the Jumpstart—a motorcycle clamped into a metal contraption top allowed anyone to hop on and test out the bike. We were told we wouldn’t hurt the bike or ourselves. I watched the ladies hop on and learn how to shift between gears, play with the throttle, the engine vrooming loudly into all of our ears.
When they asked us if we had any questions, I had to ask mine. I asked, in a weird way because what is coming up next is a question most people with a working brain or who may have only had a partial lobotomy could ask and stop reading if you work with me or if I am related to you: What if I have a sensitive vagina? It’s on a motor and what if the symbiotic relationship between ladyparts and a huge, honking motor affects me? Yes, readers, it is a real issue to have a vagina that glows like E.T.’s heart. My vagina is sensitive — writing poetry, making clay pots and glazing them in rainbow colors, and wondering why people are unfriending her on facebook for SHARING TOO MUCH.
I didn’t get a straight answer, understandably, only that it would be something I would have to experience myself. Though one of the ladies did pull me aside and said, “It’s very pleasant,” which was exactly what I wanted to hear. I loved how open all the ladies were, even with my weird questions. I asked about the etiquette between riders, specifically, how do people feel when strangers ask to sit on your bike.
“Is it like when someone asks to wear your glasses?” I asked. One of the ladies answered that it’s a personal preference, but your bike is your baby, your personal space and a question like that is more like when someone asks to use your mascara.
Of course, I asked this after I had seen such a gorgeous bike outside and part of me was thinking maybe I could hop on one for a picture, a question I stowed away quickly. Despite almost making a social faux pas, I would rather go to a Garage Party with girlfriends than any other boring party where we eventually tell our birth stories (again) or what kind of Montessori we ended up enrolling our children in.
This was not that kind of party. This was high-octane energy injected into our veins, giving a small taste of what riding could be like and leaving me wanting more, more more.
The next riding experience we had was during a passenger ride through Milwaukee. We were assigned to different Harley-Davidson employees who would ride the bikes as we sat as passengers. We geared up in our gloves, bandanas, jackets and helmets and before we chose our riding partners, I asked, “What am I supposed to do with my hands? I’m a hugger!” They explained that we could hold onto the rider, but to lean the way they leaned, to not to make any sudden movements. We were in good hands, but still needed to be safe. One of the riders named Leon called to me and said, “Come here, hugger!” And off we were.
I placed my arms around him and my chin on his shoulder to hear what he was saying (and because I have poor boundaries). I watched how he responded to traffic, and he explained what he was doing as he shifted gears and navigated the roads.
We hadn’t gone very far before I belted out, “I can see why people love this!”
It was instantaneous, the electricity that zipped through my veins and the stupid grin that wouldn’t leave my face as I felt truly cage-free. I was experiencing the air, the incredible record-breaking heat and the gorgeousness of Milwaukee. We passed the lake and throngs of people on the sand. It looked more like Cabo than Lake Michigan. We rode past spacious mansions, and I learned later that some of these homes don’t even have air conditioning; they just open the doors and the breeze from the lake cools down their homes. Though I’m sure if I had a home that big, I would have A/C plus a personal slurpee machine.
Here I am after the ride, holding onto Leon like I am a newborn koala on a bamboo tree.
On the last and hottest day, we got to ride the bike ourselves. We had two awesome women instructors — Deb and Tracy — who patiently walked us through each part of the riding experience we would have. We learned how to mount a bike, where the ignition was, where to place our feet and hands. I loved how incredible and thorough they were and how interested they were in our experiences. We weren’t rushed or pressured to ride at all. If we wanted to do it, and all the women in my group did, they would be with us during every step.
We took lots of water breaks between each mini-lesson and actually worked on the hot pavement, pushing the bike across the lot until finally, we were ready to ride.
Even though I stalled the engine a few times, I was never discouraged. I knew I could do it, hold on to the clutch, release when I had to and realize I was more powerful than the machine I was riding; I just had to learn how to do it and enjoy the entire ride.
We had tons of other experiences off the motorcycle, too: a visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum where we learned about the deep roots H-D has in American culture—leather jackets as pop culture symbols and motorcycles as milestones in history.
Of course, we had a little time for pictures.
We met the great-grandson, Bill Davidson, who stopped by our lunch to talk about growing up in family like his. I couldn’t stop staring at his rings and bracelet.
He started to ride at the age of six when his dad rode with him on a bike and then jumped off, leaving this kid to handle it by himself. I doubt I could let my six-year-old ride a motorcycle by himself. I can barely trust him to flush the toilet without making my water bill seven hundred dollars.
We were treated to a Milwaukee Brewers game on the Harley-Davidson deck. We were right above the bullpen. I leaned over and could see some of the players pitch to each other. Number 55 looked up at me, and I waved at him like he was a Beatle and he waved back, which is always how it starts, right? Waving is a gateway gesture to making Mona a Baseball wife. You’ve been warned, entire Mariners roster.
It was incredible. We were taking this picture while one of the players made a homerun. That’s the kind of power we have. Collectively, we are a hit. I loved how we were slowly immersed into riding, given a few tastes like the Jumpstart at Hal’s, then as passengers, then finally as riders ourselves.
And even though we didn’t ride off into the sunset, I felt something truly had changed. I had a stunning jacket to take home with me, but it was less as an accessory and more a reflection of what was inside—feminine and powerful.
Harley-Davidson wants other people to experience this, too. My Time to Ride series is phenomenal insight into how other women have experienced the Harley-Davidson lifestyle.
I know I’m not the only person to ever shy away from a motorcycle because of the fear I have of the unknown. Harley-Davidson will always have lifelong customers, but there are others–men and women, young and old, people of color—who would benefit from investigating more and not just merely looking at a motorcycle. We all have cages around us, real and imaginary, and a motorcycle allows anyone to break through that and find out what life is like without barriers. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those who have had just an inkling of curiosity, Harley-Davidson is ready to map out your ride.
I have really needed this adventure. It reminded me I am a badass. Though I didn’t need a motorcycle to prove that, it was the physical hurdle I needed to get over the emotional and mental obstacles that have been in my way. I had to be more powerful than the motorcycle to control it. I heard a saying during my trip, one that Harley-Davidson embraces: On the other side of fear is courage. I have to remember that. I am more powerful than the battles I am facing; I can handle this. After all, I just rode a Harley.
Tell me what life with “no cages” means to you for a chance to win a Harley-Davidson Women’s Pink Label Embellished Nylon Jacket.
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