Time to Ride!

I’ve been riding my own motorcycle for about thirty-five years.  I love riding my bike.  It’s probably one of the most empowering feeling a woman can experience.

HD sprint

My first exposure to motorcycles happened one evening after I met my husband, Bob.  The year was 1970.  He owned a 1967 Harley Sprint 350,  made in Italy.  That model was produced before the quality Harley Davidsons of today.

Early in the 1980’s, Harley Davidson nearly went extinct.  Mismanagement and Japanese competition nearly killed the Company.  “In 1981, however, a group of executives who loved the company and its product closed ranks to rescue Harley-Davidson from decline.” (from Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time by Daniel Gross, et al.)  By adopting Japanese quality control and production methods, these executives reinvented Harley Davidson.  Bob and I had a grand opportunity to buy shares in the new company.  Ignorance and a lack of funds stood in our way.  In hindsight, we should have taken out a loan.

The evening Bob broke out his small Sprint, I stood on the sidewalk watching him ride it down the street in front of his apartment building.  Half-way down to the end of the road, he did a wheelie.  His “trick” scared me to death.  Later that evening Bob admitted it was his first wheelie and he also confirmed that it frightened him as well.  He sold the bike soon after.

We married in September of 1970.   Bob never got over his desire for another motorcycle.  In the meantime, he followed the Harley Davidson company.  In 1982, we were talking seriously about buying our first home.  I knew how much Bob wanted another HD, so I told him, “Before we take on a mortgage, I want you to buy a motorcycle.  If you don’t do it now, you may not be able to get one.”

In 1982, we went down to one of the local Harley Davidson stores.  We lived in the Nashville, TN area.  We met and made friends with the owners of that dealership.  Bubba Boswell, the son of the owner, was learning the business so his father could retire.  Bubba sold Bob his first authentic, made in the U.S.A. Harley Davidson.  He purchased a Roadster 1,000 with a “Fat Bob” tank.

Bobs first bike

The day he picked it up and rode it home, I followed him in our car.  I was so nervous for Bob that I didn’t allow a car to pull in front of me and behind him to exit the I-40 split.  I felt bad afterward as the driver blew his horn and flipped me the bird for my action.  However, I didn’t want anyone else driving behind Bob and his new motorcycle.

We arrived home safely and, later that day Bob, and I went out for a ride.  I was anxious at first.  He had what is called a passenger “sissy” pad attached to the back fender.  However, he didn’t purchase a “sissy” bar.  The sissy bar gives the passenger a false sense of safety.  The bar is designed to help prevent the passenger from sliding back and off the bike.  I had to hold Bob around the waste instead.  When we finally arrived back home, I knew I was in love with riding.  Later that week, Bubba called Bob to tell him about the Boswell rides which took place once every month.  We were eager to ride with the group and met all sorts of great people, some of whom we rode with during off-ride weekends.  It was, however, on one of the Boswell’s rides that I got the bug to ride my own motorcycle.

We were riding in a group of about thirty motorcycles when I spotted a young woman several bikes ahead of us.  She was riding her own root beer brown Low Rider.  The year was 1985.  I was mesmerized by the sight of this woman whose long dark hair was tied off by a white scarf.  Her hair and the long white scarf danced in the wind.  I thought her vision was the coolest vision I had ever had.

At lunch, I ran up to her and asked her about her bike and experience.  She encouraged me to get a bike for myself.  Bob and I talked about the idea that evening.  The more we discussed the subject, the more we decided that, for budget reasons, I should get a Japanese-made motorcycle.  Later that year, however, I came home from a business trip and was greeted by a wonderful surprise.

I walked into our garage where I immediately noticed a bright light hung from the overhead garage door rail.  The beam illuminated a shiny royal blue 883 model Sportster with a huge red bow on the handle bars.  My heart skipped several beats when I noticed the words scrolled on the tank.  They read Harley Davidson.

I immediately realized Bob wasn’t home.  I didn’t want to ruin his surprise, so I quickly ducked back out of the side door, locking it behind me.  I jumped in my  car.  I rode around for about an hour at which time I drove back into our cul-de-sac, approached our driveway and saw our car sitting in the driveway.  I got out of my company car, opened the trunk and pulled out my suitcase.  As I entered the garage, Bob was standing in the garage next to the bike under the bright light.  He was beaming ear to ear.  I did my best to act surprised and must have been successful because it wasn’t until several months later that I confessed to Bob.

The following day, a Saturday, we took my bike out, and I got on.  I had been learning to ride and practicing my skills on Bob’s motorcycle.  We often went to the vacant Grand Ole Opry parking lot on Sundays where I would practice.  I started my 883 and began riding.  Bob would run from one end of the cul-de-sac to the other end as I would ride toward him practicing stopping.  I already knew not to lay on the front brake, because one practice ride on his bike, I gently laid down his bike on the front crash bar when I failed to use the foot brake but grabbed the hand break instead.

Riding back and forth in the cul-de-sac, I soon became too brave for my britches.  I thought to myself; I can do this.  So, much to Bob’s alarm, I left the cul-de-sac and began riding the bike through the neighborhood.  I was riding in the newer section of our subdivision when I rounded a corner too fast.  It was dusk, and the light from the setting sun confused me as I realized I was going too fast.  I had to make a split-second decision between laying down the bike on the asphalt versus the soft new grass of the front yard of an unoccupied house.  I chose the grass.  The bike did an 180-degree spin then toppled over with me on the bike.  I found myself sitting in the mud.  My right leg was pinned under the bike.  I sat up and turned around to see if anyone was around.  I needed help freeing my leg.  No one was around as all the surrounding homes were new and unoccupied.  I finally freed my leg, got up, bent down and picked up the bike.  I thought, I need to get Bob so he can come get this damned bike.  Then, however, I recalled what Bob once told me.  He said, “When a person lays down their bike, if that person doesn’t get back on it immediately, that person may become too afraid to ride alone again.”  Thus, I climbed back on my bike, started it up and drove it home.

Bob was panicked.  It had been over a half hour since I left the cul-de-sac.  He and our neighbors were looking for me.  He was standing in the driveway when I drove up.  My right turn signal was hanging off and dangling in mid-air.  Covered in mud, my bike had a small ding on the tank.  Bob was not pleased.  However, he was gentle with his scolding.  The following morning, he refused to ride my bike to Boswells.  Instead, he insisted that I ride it.  I did.  I followed Bob through all the back roads to Boswells, drove up the ramp and into the garage area.  A few weeks later, I picked my bike back up.  Bubba fixed everything but the small tank ding for next to nothing so we wouldn’t have to file an insurance claim.  That was my last incident for several years.

If you ride a motorcycle then you understand the saying,  ‘It’s not if you will crash, but when you will crash.’  I have had two significant crashes over the years.  Each time, I got back on my bike right after or soon after.

After my first crash, I refused to leave my bike where I crashed.  Instead, I insisted on riding it to the emergency room so I could have a gash on my chin stitched.  I recall the two guys we rode with begged me to ride on the back of Bob’s or their bike to the hospital.  The woman who rode with us pointed out that part of my chin was hanging down.  I looked down at my top and saw blood.  A female witness patched my chin, and off we rode with me on my bike.  Several days later one of the guys commented to me, “Next time don’t be so macho!”

My last crash was a nasty one.  We were in Myrtle Beach for Spring Bike Week.  Our friend and my Iron Cowgirls’ business partner and his girlfriend were with us.  Rick and I set up an Iron Cowgirls’ booth for the week.  Before the rally, we all went for a ride to Charleston, S.C. for lunch.  About thirty miles south of Myrtle Beach it began to rain.  We stopped to eat breakfast.  When the sun came back out, we got on our bikes.  Bob felt apprehensive and suggested we not drive the two hours to Charleston.  He had a foreboding intuition.  Being stubborn, I dismissed his fears and insisted we go.  We did.

On our way back to Myrtle Beach, Bob was in the lead, I followed behind him and Rick and his passenger, Cindy pulled up the rear.  It was a nice day, and we were enjoying the ride when suddenly I spotted a stray dog on my right side of the four-lane highway with a grassy median separating the lanes.  I slowed down when I spotted the dog.  I thought I saw the dog dart out onto the highway, so I swerved to my left.  I over-reacted and soon found myself off the highway.  I was on the narrow portion of the median where there was no grass but had traction.  I was concentrating on keeping my bike on that traction path while looking ahead trying to gauge where I could safely reenter the highway when I spotted a huge semi-truck tire depression in front of me.  I knew I had to ride through the depression.  I braced myself and held my breath as my mind yelled, Sh**.  I made it through the depression, sighed relief and thought, I should be fine now, as I also spied my escape route several hundreds of feet ahead.

Suddenly, however, my handlebars began to vibrate violently.  I felt confused as my mind asked,  What the hell is happening?  Then my mind screamed, This shouldn’t be happening!  I suddenly felt my front wheel turn into the grassy median.  I knew I was going to crash.  I did.  The next thing I knew I was face down and lying on the highway.  Later Bob told me he watched in his rear-view mirror as my body flew over the handlebars and tumbled onto the highway.  I tumbled down the highway several times until I stopped.

When I realized I was lying on the highway, I became alarmed.  I was at the bottom of a small hill.  I knew large lumber trucks traveled this highway on their way to the paper mill north of where I was lying.  I immediately jumped to my feet and ran over to where my bike was lying.  The handlebars were separated from the bike and lying close by.  I thought, My handlebars broke off in mid-air.  That’s why I felt the vibration!  I was standing over my bike cursing to myself when Bob and Rick with Cindy pulled up.  As Bob walked over to make sure I was okay, I said, “Bob, I think my handlebars broke in mid-air.”  Of course, Bob was too upset to listen more closely and Rick, who, at times, could be a know-it-all dismissed my comment later telling me the bars broke when I crashed.  Everything was happening so quickly that what I knew happened got lost in the flurry of events.

Fortunately, a Park Ranger was driving in the opposite direction when he also watched me crash.  He stopped to help.  We were about fifteen miles south of the Georgetown hospital when he offered to Bob to take me to the hospital.  Bob asked me to go with the ranger and asked Cindy if she would ride along with us.  I wasn’t comfortable riding with a strange man, so although I agreed, as the three of us walked toward his truck, I stopped, turned to him and said, “You better not do anything wrong because I’ll beat the sh** out of you.”  He smiled and assured me he was harmless.  He was.  He drove us to the hospital and dropped Cindy and me off. He gave us his name and phone number asking us to call him the next time we were all in Myrtle Beach.  He was a nice guy.  He wanted to have us over to his house for a barbecue the next time we were in the area.

I was fine.  I had a lot of road rash.  I have spots all over my body, including on my chin where the top layer of my skin was ripped off.  Those spots have no pigment to their color.  I have to apply a flesh-color crayon to cover the colorless patch on my chin.  The poor dog wasn’t as fortunate as me.  He did run into the median.  A couple in a truck stopped.  They were going to take the stray dog home with them but, when they tried to catch it, the dog panicked, ran back across the highway and was hit.  He died.  That made me very sad because, if only I had not overreacted, he may still be alive.  We found out later that lots of dogs were dumped off in the same proximity by careless owners who no longer wanted their dogs.

That night the shower I took was, by far, the most painful shower I’ve ever taken in my life.  Since the top layer of skin had been scraped off, I had lots of  sub-layers of exposed skin.  I had been wearing shorts that day and had a tank top on to boot.  Too, South Carolina has no helmet laws in place.  I was extremely lucky I wasn’t more severely injured.  That first evening Rick told me Bob sat down on the grass and cried when the ranger drove off.  Five years later, Cindy told me that they all expected they would come back to a dead body on the highway.  Thank my lucky stars, I’m still alive and only have to cover my chin with makeup to cover the patch.  I must admit, the following day I asked Rick who had a second motorcycle at home if I could ride it while my bike was in the shop.  I know, I’m slightly deranged.

While I was at the hospital, a highway patrol officer came by to take my statement.  My adrenaline was rushing through my body by then from realizing what had happened.  I forgot to tell the officer of my suspicion, that my handlebars had snapped in mid-air.  The only person who mentioned the handlebars was the fellow who helped us by picking up my motorcycle and dropping it off at our hotel.  He was a custom bike builder.  I told him what I thought happened.  I also told him what Rick said.  He assured me that the bars did not break upon impact.  His knowledge of motorcycles and his intuition suggested that they had broken before I crashed.  Thus, once we were back home, I began to conduct an investigation.

mb-s AIH

My bike was an American Ironhorse Texas Chopper.  The first phone call I made was to call the American Ironhorse Company.  I talked to the company’s vice president.  He acted concerned but didn’t satisfy my questions.  Thus, I also called a bolt manufacturer in the Nashville area.  I had the two sections of the broken bolts.  I talked to a bolt maker.  I told him the outside of the bolt was chrome.  However, the guts of the bolt looked like soft metal.  As I answered his questions, he told me he suspected that the bolts were an inferior make.  He further speculated that  the interior metal was inferior while the outer portion of the bolts were chrome versus the bolts being solid chrome.  I called a few lawyers in the area, but none of them seemed interested in talking further.  That I failed to mention it to the officer who wrote the report was a problem.  I soon dropped the issue but convinced Rick that the bars had indeed snapped in mid-air and as I rode through the depression.

I did call American Ironhorse a second time, but no one in management would talk to me again.  Ironically, when my bike was repaired and returned to me, it was better than new.  It was apparent that the assembly-line paint job had been dramatically improved.  The paint scheme was more dramatic and had more of an individually custom paint appearance.  My bike no longer looked like an assembly line bike.  The bike was white with cascading gray, biting skulls on the tank and fenders.  Both Bob and I believe American Ironhorse knew they had used faulty bolts.  Instead of talking to me again and chancing a lawsuit, they instructed the paint shop to give the bike a custom look, hoping I would be happy.

Since that crash, my riding has become more conservative.  It was such a violent crash that I recognize how fortunate I was to come away from it relatively unscathed.  I never want to have another experience like that again.  I also now listen to Bob when he has a bad feeling about something I shouldn’t do.

I’m now riding my ninth motorcycle.  In 2008, I traded my third Ironhorse Chopper, a hard tail (no suspension) one for a HD Cross-Bones.  I love my Cross-Bones which HD doesn’t make anymore.  However, my favorite motorcycle of all was my first Ironhorse.  It’s pictured below.  The model was called the Outlaw.  The paint scheme is a custom paint job.  I specifically asked for the colors.  The scheme reminded me of the “Billy Bike,” Dennis Hopper rode in the 1969 cult film, Easy Rider.









Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

7 responses to “Time to Ride!

  1. I agree with Sheila. Wow, Maribeth. Good story! I’m now convinced that I am a devout coward! You’ll never see me on a motorcycle. I guess I prefer my danger in other forms. Ha!

  2. What a great story – thank you for telling it! I’m not a biker myself; I had a couple in my youth but they seem too fast and powerful for me now. One thing I notice unfailingly – while a car driver describes a destination, a biker always describes the journey. It’s the adventure that thrills, not the objective.

  3. Thanks Frederick. You’re right. It’s all about the journey. For instance, I recall riding my chopper through the mountains. Going around hairpin turns made me want to cry for my mommy. Ha, ha. I did do a ride called the Dragon in the Smokey Mountain area. I think there’s 113 curves in eleven miles. I was in the store at the beginning of the Dragon looking at a board where photos of people who crashed on the Dragon were posted. I was going to buy a top that said, “I Rode the Dragon,” but changed my mind because I didn’t want to jinx my ride. I went out to my bike. My husband was standing next to my bike. I quietly told him I was a little nervous. He told me not to do anything I didn’t feel 100% comfortable doing. Later he told me a guy on a sport bike, aka, crotch rocket, walked over and asked if he was planning to ride the dragon on the chopper. Bob said, “No, but my wife is.” The guy looked at Bob and said, “Man, you need to discourage her from doing it.” I decided just to take my time and not chance anything, so I got on the bike and we all (about eight bikes) began riding. As I was about to go around the first tight curve, a guy on a chopper going in the opposite direction came around the corner. I said to myself, If he can do it, so can I. I did. I rode the Dragon on a chopper!

  4. Great story!!!!!!! Glad you were ok!

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