I call my freedom liberté

Rhine On a sun soaked autumn afternoon I took the Harley for a run, took it because I can.

It might sound slightly obamaesque but that was the main reason apart from warm weather and time on my hands.

Yes, I can.

border to FranceI took it for a run as a statement because statements need to be made just now. Now more than ever, especially statements about freedom.

Normally I would probably have taken a route through France; not only because it is picturesque and quiet but also because it is close and I do the trip to France often, be it for cheaper petrol, tastier cheese or just the fun of being in another country. After all, France is just a 20 minutes ride away.

France is so close

But I didn’t enter France this time, too many controls at the border and a distinct feeling of unease after the terror attacks. I did not want to face police and military all geared up with deadly weapons checking me out. I wanted to celebrate life, feel joy to be alive on the bike after the death toll of Paris. I wanted to get the pictures out of my head, people dying, panicking, and desperate to escape. I wanted to feel free.

To feel free is difficult these days

borderI turned round and shirked France. Only to be stopped in my own country soon afterwards (I was already well away from the border at that time) by the police. Random vehicle checks they said but they didn’t even bother with the exhaust or possible illegal parts on the Harley. That was a first!

Terror throws its dark shade over all of us these days. Fear and retaliation is part of any news item the tv channels broadcast, everybody talks war and the politicians all sound like Churchill to me: “We shall never surrender.” Just like Winston Churchill 1940. We all know how deadly and brutal that war was. There are wargrave aplenty along the Rhine.

Freedom has become fragile

selfie with FranceHow often have I written about riding my motorcycles, how it means freedom to me. And now I am aware how fragile joy and freedom can be, and how importat freedom really is.

All it takes is a massive terror attack just across the border and it is threatened. The retaliation has started, bombs fall over Syria and France is somehow not abroad anymore. It is here and everywhere the terrorists can fire bombs.

The bike now hibernates under white sheets for winter. Strange thoughts of burial and death sheets went through my head as I made her ready to rest for a few months. In France they bury the dead but they do not bury in what they believe: in freedom.

France is everywhere and this is why I call the freedom I got on my run liberté: Out of anger and defiance of anybody who kills at random, subdues women and tries to take away our freedom.

 

I fear a new age is dawning and it is not a happy one. The fight for freedom has begun. I am just not sure if everybody is aware of the other thing Churchill said 65 years ago. That they would fight “…whatever the cost may be.”

sunset over France

 

There might be a high price to pay for La Liberté.

 

amazing encounters

Funny, how a motorcycle can form an immediate bond between perfect strangers, I have encountered that a number of times lately.

Kirschblüten Ortenau (7)I work for television and have taken up writing as well. My next book, a travel guide for bikers to the Black Forest (Southern Germany), is due to be published in autumn and I am in the middle of research and photo shoots. On the Harley of course.

Seelbach (13)The more people I meet, the more I am fascinated by the power of my bike as a common denominator; it immediately establishes trust because you know, you share an experience, a dream even.

Even in places that have absolutely nothing to do with bikes or bikers, I find them, those who have the same passion.

Seelbach (15)

In a pottery in Seelbach I met a wonderful guy called Georg the other day. Turns out he used to have a bike as well. And his bike (him being German it was of course a BMW) was the reason why he was able to train as a potter all those years ago.

He took his future boss out on a ride, who enjoyed the run so much, he gave George the apprenticeship. Now he runs his own beautiful pottery. Thanks to his BMW.

Do we not all know stories like this, where the bike has really made a difference and has even changed the course our life was taking?

Seelbach (19)I guess this is what I love most about this book project – meeting people, hearing their stories, taking pictures of their work and finding out more about the power of  riding a bike.

What absolutely and utterly amazes me is the fact, that even though you seem to have nothing whatsoever in common with some people: you have, the minute you start talking bike.

when the season ends

20141101_151243newThe autumn sun had sent rays of intense golden light and the vibrant forest colours just seemed to wait to be enjoyed.

An unusual warm spell and the even more unusual event of a Saturday free of work coincided.

I just couldn’t help it.

I needed to take the Harley for a run.

20141101_141039

20141101_151348Lucky bikers who live where winter never hits. I don’t and I know, on this very spot, there will be snow soon, maybe in a few days. It is always early up on the mountains.

20141101_150343I wasn’t the only one today who felt compelled to ride since it could just be the last day of the year you could. Bikers were everywhere and so were tourists; complete and utter mayhem.

Guess I wasn’t the only one who felt it might be the last chance today.

The last ride of the season always feels very different from the first. Now the bike is a long and trusted friend moving smoothly in the rhythm you want.

In spring it will feel like meeting your lover after you have been apart for a long time. You need to overcome a certain shyness and restraint first.

But now, at the end of the season, the closeness is complete and you don’t want it to end.

Why is it that we always want the things we can’t have most?

20141101_151332I just know I will think about my bike all winter, counting the days until spring.

The motorcycle cycle is cruel to addicts like me.

Age starts in the head

on the roadFor a biker age is always the enemy, no matter what age he or she is.

Just think back on the time when you were a teenager and just could not wait until you were of age and finally allowed to ride.

How can you passionately wait? Who can count the endless nights you lay in bed dreaming of your future bike?

Age is agony when you don’t have it.

Things get better in your twenties. With a driving license and a passion for bikes, you are as close to heaven as you ever will be. You take on the most impossible trips, ride in the most impossible conditions and simply believe it is absolutely and utterly impossible that you will ever get old.

You do and you do realize that in your thirties, but nor because you feel any less about riding or ceased dreaming about it. No. You cherish and polish but underneath the sparkly surface you begin to feel the pain. After you have lost the first friend on the road, you see that age is: age is what some people never have.

Which then, in your forties, makes you wonder about the things you don’t have but always wanted. This is, where the Harley kicks in, at least it was in my case. And you fulfill that dream because now, you can. Now you must, because if you don’t, it might be too late.

HD Sportster 48 edition

rainy driveWith a lot of people I know, age becomes awareness of being old when you have turned fifty. Some never stop talking about it. Others try to hide it by dressing like they did thirty years ago. Most just don’t ride anymore because they feel old: their eyes find it difficult to focus at close range, their backs hurt after two hours straight riding and cold, rainy weather makes their bones sore. Age kills will.

I talked to the guy today. He used to own my other bike, the customized Suzuki Intruder.

I sold her because I found her just too difficult to handle and I never did more than two, three hundred miles a year on her.  I am 62 now I am too old for this so I bought a BMW. he said.

Suzuki VS 1400

I am determined never to get that old!

In my head I never want to be as old as that. I shall never resign to a BMW.

A bike is not for comfort, it is an expression of who you are. I thought so In my twenties and I do think so still.

And I am NOT a BMW!

 

 

 

women at war

I have fought against stereotypical images of woman since I can remember. That was one of the reasons, why I bought a Harley-Davidson, I guess.

It is not only the woman I am but the woman I was perceived to be, that made me want to change things all those years ago.

I bought my first bike, I was nineteen then, with the revolutionary spirit of a student ready to fight all odds. Especially the machos who tried to impose their views of how a woman should be. I was determined not to let that happen.

And it didn’t. But it was a hard fight.

Many women on wheels will know the feeling. They might have fought the same battles. Some did decades before I did. Real battles, too.

The female dispatch riders, common in World War II and not unknown of in World War I.

What amazing women they must have been. A life at war, much harder than it is today of course but the gender roles seemed easier to transgress at a time when nothing was as it should be and the men were fighting far away.

Celebration of the Centuries 2014

In the UK women started their Enfield bullets and rode through wind, weather and war. Truly spirited and very brave females.

Inspiration that still exists and quite obviously so in historical re-enactment: female performers with costumes and bikes of the forties proved that this weekend in Fort George in Scotland.

http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/celebration/events/event_detail.htm?eventid=26900

 

Celebration of the Centuries, 2014

To re-create the past is what historical re-enactment is all about.

Sometimes the past seems more modern that the present, at least where women on wheels are concerned.

wherever the road may take me

What is joy?

When the sun sends sparkling calls in the morning, when you have time to spend on what looks like a warm lazy summer’s day, and the road outside just seems to wait for you.

Joy is, when you have time to take the bike for a run and the weather is kind.

 

You get your gear together, that in itself is joy because you are anticipating what is to come, the smell of leather seems like the memory of past miles driven.

I can’t stop smiling. I take the bike for a run, I say.

Where are you going?

Now that is as philosophical as it can get.

Where am I going?

The most amazing fact about the solution to this quibble is – there is no need to know.

Utmost freedom is the answer. And that is pure joy.

I do not need to know where I am going. I don’t need a plan, a map a schedule. There aren’t many roads to take here and I know them all. I can’t get lost. So I can give the answer that includes all the freedom you can have on a bike.

I go wherever the road may take me.

Simple as that.

 

Harley City

I never expected this place to be a Harley place. Tells you how much I know about this world. Brazil is new territory for me.

HDI am in Rio de Janeiro and they are everywhere, parked on pavements, squeezing in between dense rows of traffic and roaring along the beach front late at night.

This is Barra de Tijuca, a noble suburb of Rio de Janeiro. It is young and it is rich and it is always warm, mostly sunny: A perfect place to own a bike. But the crime rate being as high as it is, it makes you wonder how on earth they manage hold on to their machines.

Barra de TijucaThe bikers seem as artificial as this place full of high rise flats and hotels along the vast stretch of white sand and blue water. I sat in front of a bar with a tattoo studio the other night and  the local MC turned up, one after the other. All shiny new Harley-Davidson models parked in a row. The guys sat down and their colours were as shiny as their exhausts. Brand new.

Owning a Harley-Davidson and wearing colours seem the necessary ingredients for life in one of the most intriguing cities in the world. It seems to go with the mentality of showing what you’ve got that seems an integral part of all areas of Brazilian life.

In a way a motorbike is equivalent to a new handbag or expensive shoes. Show-off material to let others see you are cool and you’ve got the means.

The upper middle class is taking over. At least in Harley city.sunrise