Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On Riding Bitch

My previous post implied that "riding bitch" is a bad thing. So I feel the need to clarify my point of view. I certainly don't think riding bitch is a bad thing. It's all relative.

The title of this post refers to "riding bitch" not riding a bitch, so get your mind out of the gutter and read on.

What is "riding bitch" exactly? Well, it just means riding as a passenger on a motorcycle. At some point in history, someone came up with the phrase "riding bitch" for this pastime. Perhaps it followed the production of the T-shirt that sported the line, "If you can read this, the bitch fell off". Or perhaps the T-shirt followed the phrase. What came first? The chicken or the egg?

In [alleged] retaliation, another T-shirt appeared on the scene, "If you can read this, this Bitch has her own bike". And the next one, "If you can read this, the Asshole/Bastard fell off". All of which make me laugh, and falls in line with all the other witty sayings bikers create and plaster all over their helmets and sport on their clothes.

I feel certain that these shirts were purchased in large quantities by those who don't like being called a "Bitch", rather than in retaliation for having to "ride bitch". Since I've ridden my own for most of my life, that doesn't apply to me. I do ride bitch on occasion, and by choice. I even enjoy it, but for different reasons.

Now, in general, I don't like being called a bitch, because I'm not. I can be "bitchy" at times, but I am not a bitch, and more importantly, I'm not someone else's "bitch" (except in private, but we won't go there). Riding bitch is just a descriptive phrase. I prefer the phrase "riding pillion", but people look at you like, "huh?".

For myself, I much prefer the witticisms that address cagers who might be reading the stickers on my helmet, or the ones that describe who I am, rather than who I'm not. Such as:

"Guns don't kill people, cell phones do"
"If you're gonna ride my ass, at least pull my hair"
"Bad-ass White Chick"
"Honor the Fallen"
"Love me Love My Tattoos"
You get the picture.

In 2002 I was forced into storing my brand new Dyna Wide Glide just two weeks after selling my previous bike and bringing the new one home. This was my first totally brand new bike, and I picked it up shortly after the shipment delivery day. How well I remember that day too; the excitement and anticipation of breaking it in, and enjoying the rumbling sound of a Harley (yep, I love that Harley sound too, it's hard not to). I didn't ride it home. I preferred to truck it home, and get used to it in short rides, before riding the distance between my home and the dealership where I bought it.

I resisted buying a Harley for years because of the money, and my stubborn belief that they weren't any better than my Hondas. I had sat on Fatboys, Heritage Softtails, and Road kings. They just didn't "grab" me, not enough to justify paying $8k more for a new one. I knew all the jokes; "Are you gonna start that thing?" while sitting with my engine on, riding with a group of Harley owners. And in retaliation, I'd ask, "Is that thing driveway trained?", poking fun at the rumor that all Harleys leak oil. I laughed when my water cooled engine stayed that way, when the Harleys became too hot in traffic. Incidentally, mine has never leaked oil, nor overheated. It does, however, get extremely hot when riding in hot weather, making me consider wearing my English riding pants that have leather patches on the inside of the thighs.

So how'd I end up with a Harley? One day, a friend convinced me to take a closer look at a Dyna (what a silly name for a motorcycle!). I went with him to the local Harley dealer, and I sat on a Dyna. I now describe it as, "I don't sit ON my bike, I sit IN it". It fit me like a glove. Weighing in at about the same as the Honda Sabre I currently had, it was much better balanced and seemed to weight less when pulling it upright off the kickstand. The low center of gravity helped too, and the maneuverability in tight corners far surpassed the Honda. Add to that, the extra torque of the 1450cc over the 1100cc of the Honda, and suddenly, the extra cost was not an issue anymore.

Adding insult to injury, my Honda Sabre was only one year old, but had lost so much value in that one year, I ended up selling it for what I still owed on it (a little more than half the outrageously low price I paid for it). I also could not find after market custom parts for it, and I hated the racing bars it came with. The man who bought it was a reseller who bought up private sales to resell to dealers. He said, "This is one I'm keeping for myself". And well he should. It had a custom two-tone blue flame paint job, and about 400 miles on it. It was a nice bike, but it still wasn't right for me.

Having grown up in the Chopper era, and idolizing Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, the Dyna's buckhorn handle bars and longer rake appealed to me. The same year this model was made by Harley Davidson, a catalog of custom parts were available, as they do every year for all their models. Harley owns the niche for customizing bikes to fit an owner's unique desires in a machine. That's also worth the extra money for a HD motorcycle.

Today, my 5 year old Dyna has $12k in equity, and would probably net me more than that if I sold it. Not many Jap bikes can make that claim.

However, my anticipation of enjoying my new ride was soon to be postponed and riding bitch was my only option for a long, long time. Because of the fickle weather in New England, I rode it only 2 or 3 times between bringing it home in June, and the 4th of July weekend, when everything changed.

Now, I know you're expecting me to tell you I crashed on my bike, but I didn't. Beyond a few minor near misses and a few drops at a standstill, I've never been involved in a crash (knock on wood).

That holiday weekend, I was busy cooking for my daughters and a friend. My home was a charming two-story cabin 600 feet off the main road, out in the woods of Maine. The basement was fully exposed on one side due to the house being built on a slope. As I prepared to lay out food, I decided to take my two dogs down to their kennel runs at the bottom of this hill. The day before, it had rained, but this day was clear and humid. In my bare feet (I hate shoes), with my hand firmly attached to a dog collar on the way down this hill (perhaps 30 feet give or take a few), I slipped and fell.

Yup, I wasn't even running, nor running with scissors.

Out in front went my right leg. Behind and beneath me went my left leg. Down went my butt on top of my ankle, which would have been fine had it been on a flat surface. But since I was traveling down a 45 degree slope, my weight forced my foot up at that angle as I sat on it, and snapped both lower leg bones, just inches above my foot, effectively dislocating my foot at a very alarming angle. Not compound, but damn near.

I heard the break, loud and clear. Upon inspection, and seeing the bottom of my foot facing out to the left when it should be facing down, I immediately started screaming for help. Thank God I had company, or I might have been screaming for help for hours before anyone heard me back off the road so far from other houses.

In all my years of playing hard with extreme sports, I have never broken a limb. I did fracture a few vertebra in my back with no lasting damage, and most of my fingers, in my years of owning horses, but legs and arms? Nope.

What followed was a total "fustercluck" by the ambulance drivers, who first tried to splint my foot, and nearly got my other foot squarely in their face, and then had to call in another rescue team because they were both too small to carry me up the incline to the driveway. (I still refuse to pay the double ambulance charges they hit me up for.) I was cognizant of everything all the way to the hospital, until they drugged me to set the break. I received a temporary splint, in preparation for major surgery on the following Monday (the surgeon was not available until then - small town inconvenience) and a boatload of drugs for the pain.

Then, on Monday, I went back for surgery to repair the damage, still in a stupor from pain killers, and received a metal plate with 4 screws on the left side, and 2 screws for the diagonal break on the right side. Oh, and some wicked looking staples holding it all together, and another temporary cast.

Two weeks later, they removed the temporary cast, and the staples, and applied a new cast. As I looked at my ankle, still swollen, black and blue and pink and ugly with Frankenstein scars on both sides, my thoughts were, oh Lord, will I be able to ride again? How about walking, or walking right? I took picture of it too, to remind me later of my mortality.

Four months later, they took the cast off, but still refused to let me put any weight on it. During those four months and after, I crawled up and down the stairs to my bedroom, on my hands and one foot going up, and my hands and butt going down. Mostly I slept downstairs in my recliner. I now live in one story houses only, with no porch steps either. I'm not taking any chances on another stupid slip.

To top everything off, just weeks after I was allowed to walk on it, I slipped again and almost broke the right one, but instead pulled all the ligaments and tendons, which took longer to heal than the broken left one did!

During my casted days and rehab days following, I went outside and sat on a stool and polished my already clean, brand new Dyna, or worked on my computer. I fell off the porch steps more than once, trying to navigate up and down them with crutches. I did find, however, that those crutches gave me much longer arms when getting after my dogs, LOL. But mostly they were a pain in the arse, and the arm pits.

My right leg grew in strength and size while my left leg atrophied. I was warned that my Achilles tendon would also be frozen in position and would require extensive physical therapy after the cast came off. Boy, they weren't exaggerating. It didn't move any which way without excruciating pain.

I fired my physical therapist, however, after two visits. It went like this: Arrive, struggle in on crutches, sit for 30 minutes waiting, sit on a bed for another 15 minutes waiting, and then watch as the therapist moved my ankle slightly in several ways, asking me, "how does that feel?", each time. Then they put a freezer boot on me (wait 5 minutes for that) and left me for another 15 minutes before sending me home. The bill was $80 each visit, for 5 minutes of interaction with the therapist. Perhaps they earn their pay in other ways, but as far as I was concerned, this was criminal. And since this accident happened during the only six months in my entire life when I didn't have medical insurance, I wasn't gonna pay that kind of money for something I could do myself, and do it better. I was definitely in the wrong business!

I devised my own exercises and stretches and kept track of progress for my visits to see my surgeon. When he finally released me from wearing the walking boot, six months after the accident, I put on my 10 inch-high lace-up work boots and asked to go riding, as a passenger. I was still having moments of extreme pain whenever my foot would move in a way that had not recovered in motion for that angle or direction. Riding [bitch] brought out those movements every time we hit even a small bump on the road. I learned to lift my foot off the peg whenever I could, in anticipation.

I quickly started complaining about comfort too, as riding pillion on a seat made for looks made my butt go numb in the first 20 miles. The back rest was replaced with a taller one. That helped. I rode as often as I could, but watched in wistfulness as others rode MY bike, both before and after I put on the new pipes, knowing that my ankle would probably support me, but should I experience the painful twinges I still had, I might react unfavorably while riding. And I had to admit that there was no way my foot could pull the gear shift lever up, as my bike had no heel-toe shift option. My overall concern was not for me, but for the possible damage I might cause to my brand-spanking new bike. The money I paid for it never entered into the equation.

So ride bitch I did, for 4 years, with only a few solo rides during that time. There were other factors that kept me from riding as much as I wanted over those four years which I won't go into, such as the crappy weather and my workaholic tendencies, but riding bitch does have benefits. Kicking back and relaxing as a passenger while still enjoying the wind in your face is a unique enjoyment; closing your eyes as you lean into a turn and really "feeling" it, seeing things along the way that you never saw before, or simply relying on the driver to keep you safe while enjoying the act of riding. Being close to someone who means a great deal to you makes it all the better too.

On occasion, while watching the driver go through the gears, or navigate a twisty road, I'd still get that overwhelming urge to be back on my own machine, but I was reminded that everything in life has its good points, even riding bitch... er, riding pillion.

For me, and all who ride their own and enjoy riding for all those reasons most solo riders do, it's still a primary choice. And for those out there who only ride pillion, for whatever reason, I know the joys you experience too.

Perhaps I'll make two T-shirts that read, respectively, "If you can read this, I'm riding my own / riding pillion this time, because I wanna, and I can".

However you ride, ride safe, ride free.

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