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.


Route 66

Yes! It is unavoidable and necessary. Inescapable. Like Pavlov’s conditioning and involuntary reflex action. You just must.

You own a Harley – you do the Route 66.

I always thought that’s what I wanna do, one of these days. Me and my Harley – like the unknown legend in Neil Young‘s song. Long blond hair floating in the wind. I could picture myself quite clearly, I could almost smell tarmac and  feel the heat coming off the cylinder. I could see myself ordering a burger sitting on engine red faux-leather in some roadside diner.

Like Thelma and Louise I pictured my self  looking dead cool and sexy in tight leathers. Dangerous and not to be messed with. On the road. Alive. Nothing more. An outlaw going through Texas (was that on the way?) or at least heading for the West. Have my own movie. Live my own story.

Until last week.

I watched a documentary feature on the telly. Route 66. The camera crew followed a posse of Norwegian bikers on Harleys. They had a tour guide (!) with them. Everything was prearranged. Motels, diners, picture spots. The guide made them pose underneath road signs, made couples kiss over the borderline of two different time zones. They stopped for a coke (!) in a cozy (!) biker bar and gave them time to haunt the souvenir shops. Fancy a Route 66 dishtowel? They said they had always wanted to be different.

What an bunch of numpties!

Route 66???

NEVER, EVER! Not like this.

So, American bikers out there: is there a cool route to take somewhere in this vast and beautiful country? A road where you can ride into the sunset and not from picture spot to picture spot??



Freedom – how the way you wear a piece of cloth can make all the difference


I know ! Everybody mumbles about freedom when it comes to riding a Harley – Davidson. I won’t. At least not in the sense most bikers would. Not now.

If you have ever been on a bike, you know how a ride can make your thoughts wander. Mile after mile you are alone with you machine, the sound, the smells, with your thoughts. You have time to think. Unless of course some housewife decides to suddenly pull out of a driveway without looking or a pensioner to cross the road right in front of your front wheel. These are other stories.

I was out on a long ride through beautiful if slightly cold autumn weather. The roads were clear of leaves, traffic reasonable, I enjoyed my run thoroughly. And yes, I felt free. A happy woman if ever there was one.

After an hour or so I stopped at a set of traffic lights when I spotted a young woman with a plain black scarf on her head following a man I assumed was her husband. She always kept three steps behind him. She never looked up. Her husband did. He stared right in my face or what he could see of it. My black bandana covered my mouth and nose. Protection from the smells and dirt of the city I had just escaped.


That was the moment when I felt the freedom of riding a Harley intensely as never before.

That woman and I both wore a piece of cloth. I wore it to cover mouth and nose, she to cover her hair and her beauty. She walked three steps behind her husband. As they think a proper woman should.

I let the clutch go and roared away full speed. Free. Independent. Strong.

As a proper woman should.

How the way you wear a piece of cloth can make all the difference.


For some very strange and obscure reason it is incredibly hard to describe feelings. You experience them in their intenseness but are at a loss when it comes to communicating them to others.
Emotions trigger song, poetry, stories, pictures, videos, blogs; all kinds of genres that all have one thing in common – they need more than a word to describe the feeling in its complexity.
Of course there are words for fear and joy and pleasure. But you do not really sit on a Harley-Davidson and think Oh yes, I feel pleasure just now.
You might on a BMW though….
Sorry, I should not be so cheeky. I know they are very reliable.
But not adorable.
Like mine is. Thrilling. That’s what she is.
When I ride her I feel like I am on a first date, butterflies and all. And I feel as powerful as a Viking God, deadly in his majestic cruelty. Nevertheless I still feel I am a woman, maybe even more one, oozing relentless sex appeal. Exceptionally different. A chosen outlaw because I will not accept the same rules as everybody else. Not on a Harley!
This is how she makes me feel.
Pretty much for a “just a machine”.


Looking back on that very special moment I wonder what made it so special. The fact, that I had waited for such a long time? Strangely enough I had not been planning it. Or pictured the day from the moment I got her onwards.

In a way it probably was like taking a new baby home. Your life changes the minute you are home.

At the dealer’s it had been coffee and a few signatures, then I was taken outside. There she was. She had materialized in black and chrome.

I was given a small introduction to introduce me to e few technical features but also to make me get used to her. Like being introduced to somebody you don’t know and being small talked through the initial insecurity.
We slowly circled her, he was talking I was listening and admiring at the same time. What a beauty she was. But she didn’t feel mine. Yet. Was still strange. Tough , black and remote.

Only when I started to put all the gear on: jacket, scarf, gloves etc. I began to feel that this was me. Me really doing it. I put the sunglasses on and mounted her.
Was this going to be the unity I had hoped for?

Starting her I wondered about the sound: not as loud as I had expected.

I just drove off. She felt hard and tough but also easy to handle and very straight. A no nonsense thing. Just like I had wanted her to be.

Round the roundabout towards the next crossing, waiting for the traffic to allow me to take a turn. That was me standing there. Me and my Harley.
My joy rose with the rise of velocity. Faster, happier.

A loud roar escaped me, then a few hysterical giggles. I felt as powerful as a god or a godess rather. Although I did not feel particularly female at that point. On the contrary.

I felt tough, a real biker now. Finally at home because I was on the move. Safe in my adventurousness.


At first it was easy.

The thought of having done it was enough.

Secret smiles would cross my face at the oddest moments – I’d bought a Harley!

The weather did its best to stop me going mad. An icy cold winter held my country and me in check. It felt as if spring would never come.

It did of course. And heaven decided to celebrate the day of days with glorious sunshine and temperatures above zero. March. After a night with very little sleep I was a nervous wreck.

Two hours now as I am writing this. Two hours and she is mine. The nervousness is painful. Tears lurk behind my eyes. AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS!! The happiness is hardly to be borne. I feel as if I could explode in laughter, tears and screams at the same time. I wonder if all those tough bikers feel the same. Inside only, of course.

What if I look like an idiot at the dealer’s. If I can’t get her started? If I drop her in front of everybody?

Amazing how ridiculously “teenagy” you can behave in your forties.


Of course she does. Doesn’t she? If a woman knows anything, then she knows how to shop.

Aye, right!Image

I decided to do it in style. Buying a Harley-Davidson isn’t like going out to get some shoes and end up with some more shoes, a jumper, a coat, a sandwich toaster and a skirt. And maybe another skirt in a different colour.

A bike is a one and only job.

Only you….. and me!

So I went to the hairdressers (I needed an appointment anyway), I dressed in black and made my way to Rick’s., the Harley-Davidson dealer. Felt like a million pounds.

I could see a row of bikes though the window as I got out of my car. Temptation behind glass. Happiness was close and manifold.

Entering the massive showroom nearly took my breath away. But I tried to look as blasé as I could.

A guy came towards me. He didn’t look at all like someone who is selling a dream of freedom and power. More like someone who is selling insurance policies. Shouldn’t HD salesmen have tattoos all over their skin? Long hair? A dangerous demeanor about them? At least a beard?

What can I do for you? He asked clean shaven.

You can make me happy. I replied and added with a slightly cheeky smile: With a motorbike!

He grinned. Do you know what you want?

A Sportster 1200 forty-eight edition, black. I said as sharp and clear as possible. These were the magic words that would open up a new dimension for me. Like a matrix key or a spacecraft for another universe.

Coffee? He asked.

Yes! I grinned.

The deal was made. She was mine.