chick bike

Is the HD Sportster a chick bike?

unknown legend chick bike

I’ve heard the question being asked before. I even asked myself the very same question in the past. Without thinking.

unlknown legend chick bike Harley Davidson Sportster So a chick bike is a bike for the weak, uncool, soft and clueless part of mankind? The part that belongs in the kitchen? Never to be bought by the other half of humankind, the tough, rough and able bikers of this world?

How arrogant! How yesterday! How dumb!

I know 1%ers riding a Sportster. Nobody would call it a chick bike to their face. Neither would they see it that way. They see its beauty and its advantages.

Because the question if a bike is easy to handle is not one that is exclusive to the “weaker sex”. Calling it a chick bike is nothing but sexist and stupid. Stick to stereotypes and you’ll never grasp the truth of what being a biker is really all about: freedom. Freedom from restrictions and prejudice.

unlknown legend chick bike Harley Davidson Sportster

The truth is: all these tough, strong and male bike riders out there will also need the help of their pals, when the Fatboy needs lifting up, won’t they?

towards Applecross – taking on the Bealach na Ba

A perfect ride – what did it take?

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe ErkenbachFun, for a start. And sun, not to forget. Me and my bike and some stunning scenery – that was a perfect ride for me. No breakdowns, no annoying cars, not a soul in sight. Just summer and the coconut smell of Scottish gorse, a sea breeze and a powerful engine roaring through the wilderness. And the riding was easy indeed. Added to that a little treat – a fruit scone, home-made jam and cream when the road took me back into civilisation. Perfect. And I had just the idea, where to find all that.

There was a slight breeze from the sea as I was getting ready for the trip. When I am alone I sometimes talk to my bike and I did that, telling her where we would head out for today. A seagull was crying out in protest when I started the engine. Once I was past the dodgy gravel of the driveway the sky was the limit. After about an hour I had my fist stop. I needed a coffee to warm me up. Even though the sun was out it was still fairly cold.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

I was at Plockton, looking very Scottish but somehow it was very English (at least by the accents you heard) and very touristy but also very beautiful. The views across the water were fabulous, just the perfect place to stop for a coffee. I also felt rather hungry and ordered a bacon roll to go with my latte. Looking out towards the bay and the harbour, I was determined to come back to Scotland to live; just me and my Harley. I should never have left in the first place. It just felt right to be here.  I belonged here. Even after Rob’s death, I did. Home is where the heart is they say, my heart most certainly was here. I even had friends here still, like Ewan, who seemed a real friend already, and I would find more, I was sure of that. It had always been easy to find friends in Scotland

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Riding-Towards-Shadows-Nellie-Erkenbach-ebook/dp/B07KCJ6TDL/I had parked the bike at the wee harbour, watching the boats on the water I got dressed to take on the next part of the journey. Funny how Ewan has always seen me as a biker, he had never questioned the woman part of it. I had a bike and I hung out with the Blue Angels, so I was a biker for him. As if in his world there was no sexism or prejudice. I liked that. I certainly wanted his respect and I did not want to overstay my welcome, I had to face going back to Glasgow soon. I wanted Rob to be proud of me and I wanted to do things right. With one last look over Plockton harbour I started the engine, it was time to say good bye soon.

But until then I had a wonderful day ahead of me, it was not even lunchtime, the sun was out, and I was heading for Applecross and the most challenging road Scotland has to offer for bikers. A steep single tracker that takes you all the way up to the cattle pass, the Bealach na Bà, winding up in tight hairpin bends where a long fork would find its limits. Since my HD was so new she was still pretty original and therefore an ideal bike to take on the challenge, reliable and nimble. But my, that was a challenge nevertheless.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe ErkenbachApproaching the climb coming from Lochcarron you saw a huge sign warning caravans and unsuitable vehicles before you passed the bright orange snow gates. They were open. At first the road took you leisurely up the hill, then it tightened slowly into a single-track road which means no two vehicles can pass each other, nor can a bike and a car, it was that tight. Passing places were used for that and often one of the cars meeting had to reverse. If you did not like reversing with a steep, unfenced drop right next to the roadside, well then you are having a problem. Being a biker, I was safe there, no reversing for me. I was lucky, there were hardly any cars coming towards me on my way up and I could drink in this fantastic view of the Torridon Mountains ahead and the sea and the steep climb behind me. These were the most awe inspiring and challenging ten miles of road in Scotland. There was no way I was going to miss them.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Rock broke the surface of the ground in many places, there were not trees and little growth. A rocky green and brown barrenness all the way up to 626 meters. It didn’t seem a lot but since it rose from sea level it felt more massive. In places like this you could feel alone and very small. The crofters of old would take their cattle along this pass, hence the name. No fun especially in winter or bad weather. And you certainly did not want to be caught out by fog or strong winds on a bike.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

I had been fine going up but encountered a few rather tricky situations on the way down. Cars that would not reverse to the next passing place (No, I can NOT reverse up the hill!) or moments where I had to hit the brakes on this road full of gravel and the back wheel started overtaking. But I managed all these tricky moments nicely and once I had made my way down the pass into Applecross I could rest outside the Inn in the sun with a beer watching the sparkling sea. Yep. I made it.

Life couldn’t get better than this.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Riding back, I took the route along the coast from Applecross towards Shieldaig, a more serene beauty this time. The sun was shining, and the Scots Pine trees gave the scenery a touch of Mediterranean sweetness. The gorse framed roads were winding and climbing and falling but once you got the rhythm it was a fantastic ride. I felt one with my bike, the road and my life. This was where this whole trip had taken me. This was, what I had hoped for. I was here, right at this moment in time and I was happy. I changed gear and with a roar accelerated towards the horizon.

I felt free.

 

This is a chapter out of my new book Riding Towards Shadows, available on Amazon.

 

road movie turned book

I am in the last stages of publishing my book which was inspired by this blog but will be so much more than that. 

Riding towards Shadows Nellie Merthe Etkenbach

Riding Towards Shadows is my very own road movie turned book, a true journey to my heart, my way of dealing with the demons of my past; love, death, and redemption.

Arriving in my forties, I started asking myself who I really was, what my life was about and where I wanted to go from here. I had a successful career as a journalist, but something was missing and there was still a twenty-year-old unsolved issue. The man I loved had died in a motorcycle accident in the early 1990s in Glasgow, Scotland. I never told him I loved him. He never knew, or did he? The pain had never left me.

It was time to give him the send-off he never had. And it was time to face the shadows from my past.

That was the beginning of this journey.

All lovers of road movies know one thing; the means of transport plays a major role in this. I have been a biker all my life, now was the time to go for the real thing. I bought a Harley-Davidson and rode north, a thousand miles towards my past; not knowing, what or who I would find. Could it be peace and awareness?

Harley-Davidson woman myth legendI hope my search for inner and outer freedom, my way of dealing with my sorrow, and my determination to do things my way, especially as a woman facing so much sexism and stereotypes, will appeal to some and maybe inspire others. Never cease to dream.

Of course, this is also a story for all those lovers of road movies, motorcycles and the easy rider myth.

This is my journey; it taught me a lot. Let it inspire you, everything is true as I remember it.

 

Riding towards Shadows … soon to be published on Kindle Direct Publishing.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

900 miles (part2)

Why had I chosen the night ferry?

So I could get enough sleep for the second part of my long trip.

on the way northI was tired and fell asleep the minute I lay down, even though my whole body was aching and tense. I woke up half an hour later. An alarm had went off on some car on the deck right underneath my cabin. Somehow I managed to go back to sleep, only to be woken up again around 4 am. More alarm!

I cursed cars, engineers and ferry companies alike and went back to sleep. The Intruder has no alarm system, no need to be alarmed.

There were about 12 bikes on the ferry. All racers. A small English group who did not look left or right never mind greet and a Manx group talking races. We were all crammed together in a line, bikes secured with the straps provided. Considering the wobbly sidestand and my fear of my bike falling over I had strapped her tight, real tight. So tight, I had to muster all my strength and I still couldn’t get that bl**y thing off. The lock had jammed.

I turned round and said: “Hey guys, can one of you give me a hand?”

They were at it with the speed of light, started pulling and poking and cursing but they would rather have lost a few fingers than admit failure. It took some time but they managed to get my Intruder free. I thanked them and looked into two big grins. My need for help had made them happy.

I had not liked to ask. A matter of pride I guess. But staying behind, strapped tight to the ferry, wouldn’t have looked much cooler, would it?

But still I felt more “girlie” than I was happy with.

ScotlandThe rest of the long journey was smooth and uneventful. I took several breaks for petrol, coffee and toilets and arrived early and with a sore bum at my final destination.

night on the roadSoaking in the bath I pondered why I had found it so difficult to ask for help.

Does independence mean, you have to manage everything yourself?

Does emancipation mean you have to manage without men completely?

I doubt both.

Real independence and emancipation leaves freedom to ask for support.

I would never hesitate to help somebody who asked me for help. Maybe it is because male bikers never do ask female riders for assistance, that it felt so strange and uncomfortable when I had to. Which it shouldn’t, actually.

Men and women on bikes do the same things but they are not the same.

Or to say it with George Orwell…

All bikers are equal but some bikers are more equal than others.

 

900 miles (part 1)

early startThere was no time to worry about it. After two days of travelling back from South America to Europe (a bus, two flights and a rental) I arrived home late at night, had a beer, repacked and went to bed. The jet lag would disappear somewhere along the 900 miles I had to go I hoped.

Next morning I woke up at 3, got up at 6 and started the engine at 7am sharp. The sound made my heart jump. I was on my way North; 900 miles just me and my new Suzuki Intruder. We had to go on this run north because I need a bike where my partner lives, which is unfortunately rather far from where I live.

The Harley stays at home.

I know my VS1400 is not a touring bike, far from it but all the more reason to feel great about doing it and about doing it alone. I like to have the freedom of riding alone. Yes, sometimes I miss the thrill you get out of riding in a posse. But my trip was different and personal.

I had got a lot of amazed incredulity when telling people what I was going to do – ride a chopper in two days from the South of Germany to the Scottish Highlands. Alone. Most women looked seriously shocked at the mere thought. Men mostly looked uncomfortable.

every 100 milesI wonder why? I have a credit card I can use; the bike is insured and has road coverage. My route takes me along busy European motorways, no deserts to cross anywhere, hardly an adventure, really.

So what is the problem? The only one I encountered on the first part of the trip to Rotterdam was my bum. Yeah, the seat looks great but it doesn’t feel it after two hours.

I must admit I was a bit nervous about going up the ferry with that long fork but it turned out no problem whatsoever.

There was a group of racers from the Isle of Man on the ferry with me. We gave each other a nod, no more. They must have thought it weird as well, that woman all by herself. So they rather didn’t talk.

nothwards boundHad I been a man, I am dead sure they would have been over in two seconds.

If a male biker is on a trip alone he is either cool or independent.

A woman on a bike, alone and unattached is strange and awkward to handle, it seems.

As if there was a difference.

No matter how far I travel, women still have a long way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

coffee to go

Is logic a predominantly male thing?

Yeah, you guys out there, I know, I know. Don’t shout “Of course it is!” at me.

I might just agree…. surprise, surprise!

And you know why?

easy in a carBecause I went for a coffee.

I took the Harley for the first ride of the season. The sun was out and there was no stopping me. I needed to be on the road again.

The air was still cold, especially going over the mountains, the sun has not the power yet to warm quickly. I guess there were no more than 5 to 7 degrees when we set off. But what a joy it was to start her (she kicked in at the first try) and roar along empty country roads. After an hour the cold started to creep into my fingers. My cheeks and chin felt frozen, the half helmet not protecting much.

I ached for a coffee. My body ached for warmth. So I stopped at McDonald’s.

I left her right opposite the front door and walked in. Clammy fingers nestled with gloves and sunglasses, trying to get my wallet out of my pocket.

A young woman seemed busy behind the counter, though for no apparent reason because I was the only customer. She was all done up, heavy make-up and an attitude to go with it.

“A large café latte to drink in!” was what I said to catch her attention. The words were difficult to get out because my chin felt frozen.

She gave me a look through dark mascara lashes and carefully pressed the order into the touch screen, making sure that her perfectly manicured fingernails with golden glitter varnish took no harm.

She gave me another one of these I-am-bored-like-hell looks and said.

“To drink in or to go?”

???

I couldn’t believe this stupidity. Not only had I told her I was staying in. How on earth did she expect me to drink the coffee while I was driving???

Ever tried that on a Harley?

Well, she obviously never and it took me some time to get over so much stupidity.

I finished my latte and walked out into the sunshine. Harley waiting.

to go

While I got ready to go (gloves, lid, jacket and things) I noticed a wee boy who kept a safe distance of about 20 meters. He can’t have been older than two and a half years. The wind played with his blonde curls, blue eyes followed every movement I made while all the time he held his two little hands quite firmly pressed on his ears. That wee man knew it was going to be loud the minute I started the engine. He was prepared. And he was absolutely fascinated.

I started the engine and a smile washed over his face. I smiled back at him and drove off waving a gloved good-bye to him. When I was about 50 meters away he waved back. He had waited until it was safe enough to uncover his ears.

How much logic in such a young boy and how little in a woman ten times his age.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?