Born to be Wild

I hated that song!

Actually, I liked that song, but I hated what it had become: Hymn for all stereotypes, the song nine out of ten TV journalists would use, when featuring a motorbike on film, the first thought you have when you hear it, is bike. I hate it when they do that. You should always use the second thought. The first has been thought by too many others. And seriously, sometimes I thought I could hear the guitar playing that riff when I sat on my bike, like it was floating in mid-air coming with the bike like an invisible sound halo.

exhaust Harle-DavidsonBut what I hate even more is when colleagues use it when the film is about the TT Races on the Isle of Man or a cross-country trip on a trial bike through India.

“All the same guys! Two wheels and an engine, all bikes, aren’t they?”


For them, all bikers are just the same; one image, no matter if they ride Harley, a fast racer or vintage English.

“But aren’t you all born to be wild? Rockers and racers alike?”

Eh, no!

The spectrum is wide, from Johnny Barger (founder of the Hells Angels) to Valentino Rossi (the most successful motorcycle racer of all time) and don’t forget Steve McQueen and his Triumph TR6 Trophy in The Great Escape, all bikers but all very different.

Our choice of bike very much conveys an image and a certain life style. For a woman in the late 80s, it was rather difficult to find herself represented there. Women adorned bikes by sprawling over the tank or the rear half naked and dumb faced. No wonder they weren’t taken seriously.

There was more than one reason why I loved to be a biker and I wasn’t sure I even understood them all. It started as a rebellion and for all those Born to be wild reasons. Being a biker was in me. I couldn’t help it.

I loved riding a motorcycle for the freedom you find on two wheels, sometimes so intense, you wanted to burst with joy. Others did not see that point at all. Was it a generation thing or a general attitude? The concept of freedom seemed to scare people more than it seemed to make them happy. Most people didn’t want it, even shirked it. Why did freedom scare them so much?

The bike was my idea of freedom, happiness in perfection, no matter where I was, no matter which bike I took, no matter where I went. My bike made me happy.

half lide motorcycle helmetOne summer I walked into one of the big motorcycle shops, one of the many chains on the market that provided everything but mainly stuff for mainstream interests, so I wasn’t expecting too much. I had half an hour to waste since I was meeting somebody for an interview just around the corner and was too early for the appointed time. There I was with time to kill and money to spend. I decided to have a look at helmets, open face of course, I fancied a new one, the strap on my old had come loose lately.

While I perused the brain caps on display I couldn’t help but overhear an older biker (BMW type) giving advice to his son who obviously bought his first bike, needed a lid, and took his dad along to the shop, or maybe his dad took him.

“See son,“ the guy said, “this meets the necessary EU security standard, has a safety approved badge and it has been tested.“

He went on and on and on discussing the security aspects of just that one bloody helmet.

“Better safe than sorry, son!“ He said.

“Better grow up son!“ I thought.

I spotted my favourite helmet, a US police remake, Electra Glide in Blue style that would go nicely with my blue sunglasses. I tried it on and since I had come in the car I had my handbag with me and could, therefore, check what it looked like in my make-up mirror. It looked great from the back as well, so I proceeded to the till to buy it and then get on with work. I felt the father’s shocked eyes following me as I walked away. He was completely flabbergasted, I hadn’t even checked the security features.

How could I be so free?

Just because, man! I wanted wind in my face! I was a rebel. Rebels don’t do EU security standards.

summer bike motorcycle Harley-Davidson sportsterHere’s another story to prove my point. It happened during those long and hot summers on the Continent. The heat was stifling, way over 30° Celsius. If you wore black leather in this heat, you were more likely to faint at the next set of lights than to arrive safely at your destination of choice. I set off on a trip (200 km, minor roads) with denims, trainers and a T-shirt. I felt the wind cooling my skin and the sun shining on my face, no heavy gear restricted my movements, nothing made me sweat more than was necessary. Still, the ride felt more like a trip through the desert but that was ok. It felt right, it felt Californian.

When I arrived at work my colleagues looked at me with reproachful expressions. I didn’t wear any protective clothing. They (none of them bikers) felt the need to point out the dangers you faced when riding a bike without a jacket and protective gear. They felt the need to tell me. Why did these people assume they knew more about the dangers of riding a bike than me, the biker? I had been riding bikes for nearly 25 years and seen dangerous moments aplenty. I knew what could happen when feeling invincible while being vulnerable.

“But what if you have an accident?”

What if?

“Forget your fucking what if!”

This was what freedom is about. Freedom knows no restrictions. Freedom is the absence of worries, it starts in the head and it makes your heart burst with joy. Freedom is happiness, the choice you make despite the danger that comes with it. All things come at a price. Of course they do. Why do you car drivers think we do not know that?

We do know, and we chose to do what we thought was right for us because we wanted this freedom. We knew the cost; some were prepared to pay more than others.

I paid heavy for mine.


Read more in Riding Towards Shadows by Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

The ebook is available on Amazon.