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April 10, 2020

Riding Bitch Can Save Your Relationship

I don’t care what you say about your control issues, or your ego, or your desire to prove yourself on your own motorcycle, I LOVE RIDING BITCH.

I love sidling up behind my man, a hand on his belly and his hip as I anticipate his next movement like we are dancing, him in the lead. I wait for his subtle shifts, watch over his shoulder, both of us eyeing the apex, ready for the sudden lean and whip through, my head moving to the outside of his for the counter, my hips sinking into the inside of the turn, pressed firmly into his. I love how on the straight-a-ways he reaches back to gently squeeze my knee because he appreciates having me close and having my trust. I nuzzle him closer and stop watching the road so that I can see the blur of trees, the wisteria filling my nostrils, the side of my helmet resting against his back. Sometimes I close my eyes and let my body respond to his, rather than watching and anticipating the road. This is usually when I miss the bear, but my body does the right thing in the sudden swerve, as if there’s nobody back there.

Scared bitch riders can really negatively influence how the bike is handled. They resist. They aren’t comfortable with the lean, so they try to sit straight up through the turns. I have had plenty of people on the back of my bike, and it’s especially difficult to lean a bike into a turn when your rider outweighs you and is a full foot taller. Not only do you have to adjust for the severe compression of the rear suspension, but their fears determine the ride. They might not know how to press their feet into the pegs when downshifting or stopping, so they slide around the seat, quickly re-distributing weight, front fork diving, and cracking helmets.

Riding bitch is like waltzing. You have to trust your partner. You have to pay attention to every single physical cue from the rider. You have to follow, even when they mess up or make an unfamiliar move. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what makes it fun. That is a true practice and test of agility, reflex, and emotional strength.

When I’m not riding bitch, I am riding my own 900SS Ducati, a beautiful yellow vintage bike that I have ridden countless countryside miles, camped with, took my children on rides, crashed on the track, put back together and scuffed up some more. I have ridden super motos, cruisers, Harleys, dirt bikes, mini bikes, race bikes, choppers, touring bikes, dual sports…I will try to ride absolutely anything, anytime.

As a teenager in Chicago, I would do a double-take on every motorcycle that passed. If I was lucky, they would notice and come back to get me. Mom always said not to get in a car with strangers, but she didn’t mention motorcycles. In my mind, I could quickly hop off and leave if I felt unsafe, especially without a helmet. Plus, someone holding handlebars couldn’t really rape or murder me. So off I went, grinning like an idiot with my hair whipping around into an angry nest, bugs jammed into the corners of my eyes, and holding the belt of a stranger, one hand on the rear grab bar so I wouldn’t have to entirely press myself against him. Eventually I would jump off at a street light and take the train home.

When I was 16, a boy I loved in New York City came through town with his buddy on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Suddenly motorcycles also meant overnight adventures, new terrain, unseen countryside and FREEDOM. I slid onto the seat behind him, unable to breathe because it felt so good to be pressed against him, holding on with one arm around him, the other boldly reaching inside his shirt to rub his naked chest, the heat building between us. We flew down Lakeshore Drive, dodging cars and potholes. This was the best thing that ever happened to me. I cried into the back of his jacket because I didn’t want him to leave, but also because I realized that this was a new understanding of my love for motorcycles.

I would get on the back of a lot of bikes, and through that process I learned that just because someone has a motorcycle, doesn’t mean they’re a good rider. There is a solid group of people who own motorcycles like an accessory to their status; proof of their cool factor. These people have shiny bikes without grime and oil leaks. They would never dream of replacing a clutch cable or changing a filter. They haul their bikes to places to ride. They hold their breath through turns, terrified to move their heads and they steer with the handlebars, rather than lean the bike with their hips. They are scared, yet they hold their faces in such a way that says, “I’m good! I’m cool!”

I stopped getting on with those bike owners after an unfortunate situation leaving me without a posterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. It was a Harley rider who came by my office daily to tease me about my “rice burner” a Suzuki GS550. “You haven’t ridden a real motorcycle.” He showed up on his Heritage Softail wearing a brain bucket, making fun of my full-faced helmet. His ball cap was hanging on his handlebars near his front brake – one of the no-no’s I learned in my safety course eight years prior. When the truck in front of us stopped short, he was unable to grab the brake until “stopping” turned into a sideways screech into the rear bumper. We were fine. It was later when the real wreck occurred. A car turned across our lane heading for a strip mall entrance. I saw her coming and knew we would be stopping short again. I couldn’t watch. Instead I stared at his brake hand so that I would know when to brace and stop myself from flying forward. I was holding onto the back of the bike with one hand when the car hit us. He never even saw it. He wasn’t scanning while riding. We were hauled off in an ambulance, my favorite jeans cut up to reveal my shiny white tibia. He, of course, had a head injury and would spend the next week in the hospital talking crazy.

It was my birth dad’s bike where I had my first bitch ride with a truly experienced rider. I found him when I was 20 and it made sense to me that he raced motorcycles. It was my first life lesson on genetics. It’s in my blood. I can’t help it. He was 39 when I met him; still full of vim, vigor, and hormones that kept him competitive. He railed through town with me so hard that I spent my time back there laughing maniacally, stopping myself from flying over his shoulder or flattening him against the tank, or scraping my knees through road kill. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. I learned a lot. I trusted him. Wrecking wasn’t a concern. I knew that he rode like this on a track. It was a bonding moment, where I learned the truth of my nature, understood its capacity for thrills, and felt like somebody who created me, would not risk killing me. 

I broke quarantine the other day, getting on the back of a motorcycle when I needed a lift back to my car. It was the first physical contact I’ve had with someone for weeks and I was equally delighted and grateful. He’s a trustworthy friend, but also an extremely talented rider and accomplished sidecar racer. I plan on being his monkey next season, so this was great practice. I climbed on and as we headed into the first turn, we both realized his back tire was flat. We began fishtailing as he expertly managed the brakes while straightening the bike. I moved my weight up and forward from the back wheel so that it wouldn’t wash out. I kept my body directly behind his, gripping his shoulders until at long last he came to a stop. I hopped off the bike laughing and congratulating him on keeping his shit together and both of us safe. I could tell he was simultaneously relieved and mortified.

This exchange is a beautiful intimacy and speaks loudly to the potential of a relationship. Whatever arises on the back of that bike, will be the exact same issues that arise in your relationships . Can you go with the flow? Can you let someone else be in charge? Is it ok that your mate is better at something? Can you celebrate that? What is the seed of your distrust? When you are scared, do you blame your mate for causing your fear? How do you and your body respond to fear? Are you good in an emergency situation? Can you remain calm?

Don’t get on the back of just ANYONE’S bike. 

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