Lately I’ve had cause to ponder the question, “What makes a biker a biker?” Are you a biker just because you own a motorcycle? Are you a lifestyle biker or an occasional weekend warrior? I even had a guy comment under a photo of me on Facebook that he just didn’t understand “people that would desecrate their bike just to make it look ridden,” as if I hadn’t put my time in or paid my dues. I defended myself, my 25 years of riding, and my 20-year-old rusted chopper that has seen every back road between here and the Mississippi.
I realized as I was defending myself that not only do I not know the guy who wrote that comment, but also that I don’t really need to defend myself to anyone anymore. My lifetime of travels and experiences speaks for itself. But what I do feel the need to defend is this:Wasn’t there a time when all of us motorcyclists took our first ride? Even the coolest of the cool had to start somewhere. When I first started riding back in the 80s on my little white Honda 400ELH, I remember feeling very grateful that the Hells Angels over at Rick’s Drive-In were nice to me. I knew I was a beginner, and I did feel the need to prove something, to myself more than to anyone else. I did want to teach myself how to ride harder and faster, and I did put in the time. I did hang out with the bad boys that I admired for the way they rode and the freedom of the lifestyle they had chosen. I wished that I could afford a cool Harley-Davidson, but at the time, I thought that dream might never be my reality. So I set out to have the coolest bike I could afford.
My Honda was green when I bought it, and I painted it flat black, and later white. I reupholstered my bench seat, replacing the pleather with real leather. I flat-blacked every chrome and aluminum part. I was actually really proud of my work. And I had little white go-go boots, just like the kind Nancy Sinatra wore. Those Hells Angels who I was afraid might smash my little bike with baseball bats said, “At least you’re ridin’, sister.” When I did move up from that Honda, it was to a bigger Honda, a 1100, and I was equally proud of that bike, changing every part on it a dozen or so times with shiny, flamed Arlen Ness accessories. So I did try the shiny thing.
Looking back on those years, I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed. It took those years to get to where I am now. I know I am stronger for every mistake and bad choice I’ve ever made. I did, however, set out to ride faster and crazier than any man in town. I did feel the need to test my limits of physical endurance, and I proved to myself that I can withstand ridiculous amounts of physical torture and endure prolonged periods of absolute misery. In search of myself and the woman I wanted to be, I put myself through hell! But is being able to withstand misery the test you have to pass to call yourself a true biker?
Is a young girl on a little white Honda a “biker” in your mind? Or do real bikers ride only Harleys? Am I any less of a biker if I trailer my chopper from California to Sturgis? When the rally is over, I continue on to Minnesota and pick up my pa, who has Parkinson’s disease, to take our annual road trip back to Wyoming, where we visit my deputy-sheriff brother, Joe. Oh no, I won’t be able to buy the sticker this year that says, “I rode mine.” But then, the dozen or so times I did ride, I didn’t buy that sticker, either.
I feel the need to defend my brothers, my sisters and my friends who ride Hondas, Kawasakis, or any bike other than a Harley-Davidson. I even feel the need to defend those who have chosen Sportsters. I feel the need to defend the weekend warrior or any friend who trailers her or his bike to any event. Why? Because I feel like every person who has taken that first step to learn to ride is a part of this family. Every rider shares the original feeling that we all had—to step out of the box and go looking for ourselves, for adventure, and for whatever comes our way.
Every day I see a world divided by war and hatred. We segregate ourselves in the name of religion, politics, nationality, skin color, age, sex, education, economic status, even beauty—the list is endless! When I first became a biker (which the dictionary defines as any person on a motorcycle), I felt like I became a part of one of the most unique families on the planet. I always knew that I was slightly different than most of the people around me. I had a wild streak—but not wild in the sense of drinking, smoking, doing drugs and partying all night. I felt wild like a wild mustang—like I did not want to be controlled, told what to do, or forced to live a certain lifestyle just because it is what you are expected to do. Feeling “accepted” by the biker culture gave me a base to explore my individuality. Going to Sturgis for the first time and seeing all of the eccentric individuals on Main Street was a liberating moment. This was a culture that accepted you for not being like everyone else. In fact, they celebrated it!
I was drawn into the world of motorcycles because you can be exactly who you are, no matter how weird or ugly or imperfect that is. There were many years when I went to Sturgis completely alone and never felt lonely or afraid, because I felt like I was among family. I have always felt like every person on anything from a moped to a Boss Hoss shares my fundamental love of the road unseen. I could talk to any person on a bike about his or her favorite road, the experience of learning to ride, the wildlife witnessed, the people along the way, the mistakes made, the best sunrise, the best sunset.
I am grateful for the thousands of people that embraced me when I was a goofy girl on a Honda in go-go boots. I will forever consider any person on any bike to be my biker friend.
After so many years of riding, it seems odd to me that I come up against an attitude if I trailer my bike or if I am with someone on a bike that doesn’t “fit in” or if I haven’t been riding as often as I used to. I am not living the “biker lifestyle” every single day anymore. Does that make me a poser? Aren’t all of us bikers a bunch of misfits on some level? And shouldn’t we all continue to celebrate our common bond, rather than segregate ourselves because we are at different places in our lives?
This past April, some friends and I set out to attend a gathering of some of the coolest cats out there on some of the coolest bikes in the country. The third annual Choppertown Camparound in Black Canyon City, Ariz.,just 45 miles north of Phoenix,is a weekend event held by Pinky Pancake and Long John. Our hosts with the most, the infamous Jack Schit and his beautiful wife, Lady Diane, encouraged us to deviate from attending Arizona Bike Week and check out a smaller venue of friends that gather at Kid Chilleen’s Bad Ass BBQ Steakhouse. My friend Masyn came out from Boulder, Colo., and my friend Qian rode out from Los Angeles, Calif. My boyfriend, Mark, and I came from western Colorado, and we all met up the day before at the Schit compound in Mesa, Ariz.
You’d think Arizona in mid-April would mean a lot of long days in the blazing-hot sun. But when we rode through Monument Valley in 2011 to get to Arizona Bike Week, we rode in 30-degree weather and wore down jackets and Ugg boots. This year we anticipated the possibility of less-than-perfect weather, so we packed and prepared for the worst. But once we were at Jack and Diane’s comfortable pad and realized that rain was in the forecast for the bulk of the weekend, we had wishy-washy feelings about camping in the rain, especially when we had such cushy accommodations just down the road. When we woke up the next morning to yet another perfect day in Mesa, it was hard to believe that it could or would be dismal just up the hill. We struggled with what to bring to the campground to the extent that Jack’s driveway looked like a massive garage sale.
We got off to a late start that morning, as we’d stayed up until the middle of the night gabbing with our hosts, who we see too little of. We missed hooking up with Pinky and John’s group and were forced to try to find them along the route up to Prescott, Ariz. Jack had injured his back wresting alligators (or something crazy like that), so he was unable to serve as tour guide. We rode off in the direction of Prescott, knowing we couldn’t miss this group of vintage riders. But within minutes of climbing up Hwy 17, our sunshine disappeared and every piece of clothing came out. By the time Pinky and John’s group passed us at a gas station just outside Prescott, we were all so cold and hungry that we needed to hunker down, thaw out, and eat. In search of Qian’s daily requirement of fried rice, we made a few wrong turns and illegal changes of direction. Qian paid the price for that one—woo, that made her mad!
By the time we finished eating, the sun had long gone down, the weather was still ornery, and we were off to hook up with our friend Milwaukee Mike back at the Schit compound. We hadn’t even seen Choppertown Camparound yet, other than passing it on the freeway. We decided to ride up with Mike and friends the next day and just enjoy the hospitality of our friends for another evening.
We congregated at our new pal Keith’s place the next day and rode up with a group of Arizona riders that traveled at warp speed through the super-windy city. A bad-ass boy on a bad-ass chopper riding in front of me literally had pieces flying off of his bike. He rode with one hand at 90 mph while the other hand was trying to stop the pieces from flying off of his bike. I am not sure exactly what golf-ball-sized part almost hit my head, but he did eventually make it to the campground with a little help from some friends.
We stopped at a local biker hangout halfway up the mountain and then finally made it to Choppertown Camparound just before sunset. Yes, it took us all weekend to get from Mesa to Black Canyon City, just a few miles up the hill!
The desert mountain destination is a perfect spot for a group of riding friends to hang out at all night—eating, partying and hanging by the campfire into the wee hours of the morning. There is plenty of space to spread out with tents, and the scenery is beautiful in every direction, making it perfect for day rides.
The restaurant’s food and atmosphere were awesome, and in addition to the bar and music, everyone had their own mug of “moonshine” in hand. The group of riders that had gathered there from all around the state and country were really cool, down-to-earth bikers.
I wish the weather had been better and that we’d had more time to spend at the campout. My friends and I felt a little disappointed that we hadn’t had a chance to ride with and spend much time with Pinky, John and friends, as if we had failed at our mission. But I’ve always believed that the key to enjoying any motorcycle adventure lies in enjoying exactly what does happen, rather than whining about what doesn’t go as planned. Because really, how many bike trips go exactly as planned?
So what makes a biker a biker? Bikers come from every walk of life. I’ve met and made friends with bikers from countries all over the world—bikers of every race, nationality, age, sex, occupation and income bracket. I’d like to think that it’s not about the type of motorcycle you have, how fast or how far you ride, the amount of miles you’ve logged, or the destinations you’ve seen. It’s not a test of physical endurance or mental strength. Isn’t it about a hunger, a desire, for freedom and adventure? We could choose to focus on all of the different levels of “commitment” that we have to this lifestyle. We could segregate and divide ourselves accordingly, or we could respect and appreciate that the simple love of the road unseen makes this a brotherhood unlike any other. United we stand; divided we are just like the rest of the world, segregated by hatred.
I hope Choppertown Camparound continues in the years to come, as Arizona riding is some of the most beautiful in the country. I’d like to do it again and take day rides to Sedona, Jerome, Tombstone and other local spots. In the end, I enjoyed meeting new friends and hanging with old. Isn’t that what it’s really all about? It’s got to be the goin’, not the getting there, that’s good. Thanks for having us, Pinky Pancake and Long John! Hope to see ya’ll next year, and somewhere on the road in between.
21 thoughts on Backroads With Betsy: A Biker Is a Biker, a Brother, a Friend
Hi Betsy,All the love and respect in the world for you. You are a the true issuance of a real American woman, and biker put together. Your words are more than inspiring, they are intoxicating. And I’m drunk for biking. I have never heard a woman put a perspective on being a biker quite like you did, and I have to say, you take situations of a human’s perspective (stereotypical though they may be) and transform them from translucent to transparent. Bravo lovey! I would be honored to run into you on the road someday. All the best to you, your guy, and all your friends and family. Thank you for this article.
I myself have been riding motorbikes for some 47 years. Yes, the first time ever putting a leg over my Honda 50 mini-trail I felt the need to prove I could ride it, to both myself and parents. When moving up in displacement my need to prove I could handle it continued and so on. For the last 26 years I had mainly been riding sportbikes and getting into the whole sportbike “groove,” until 2010 I jumped onto a cruiser (’05 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000). I still have my sportbike but also enjoy my cruiser very much. After all these years I have come to accept anyone and everyone who rides any type of motorbike. The fact he or she is riding is a beautiful thing to see and I know they are experiencing the thrill / feelings we can’t describe to an “outsider,” for lack of a better word. All I can say in closing is IT’S NOT WHAT YOU RIDE, IT’S THAT YOU RIDE!, plain and simple. Keep up the great job everyone, on a putting out one excellent magazine and giving the world a view of what motorcycling is all about.
I think anyone who put miles under their wheels is a biker. I have major respect for a lady who rides and travels.
Really enjoyed this story. Reminds me of the saying, “If you have to ask you wouldn’t understand.”
Hi Betsy,First and foremost, thank you for writing this article. I have had a dream for so long now to ride my own bike that I’m embarrassed to tell you how long. One of the reasons that I’ve not fulfilled that dream is because I’ve stubbornly refused to put my fanny on anything but a Harley! Hello! I can’t handle a Harley yet and I wouldn’t be caught dead riding anything referred to as a rice burner. I am 5 feet 2 inches and weigh 120 pounds. I am now 52 lovely years old! I need something small to gain experience on. My snobbery has robbed me of my dream. After reading your article I was compelled to share this dirty lil secret. You have inspired me to start where I need to start without shame! I will endure the snide comments from the unenlightened in silence as an amend for my ignorance.
This is a wonderful site “Dawling” and I’d love to motor up the road to meet you Betsy and your b/f Mark. I’m an older coot (61) and have ridden on most every kind of bike ever made. Stopped riding about 18 years ago, but starting again now and looking forward to it. Your beauty is only exceeded by your eloquence Betsey and it’s your inspirational thoughts that light the way for newcomers to break the bonds of restricted lifestyles so they can truly find themselves. I fully understand the phrase – “Bikers have more fun than normal people.” Keep the rubber side down sister.
As my biker friends told me when I started riding, “It doesn’t matter what you ride, just as long as you ride!” Amen to that!
Hey Betsy,I’ve learned over my forty years and all over the states that most people are jealous and haters. You ride and live for you. Who cares what people think. I’ve been judged my whole life because of tattoos and earrings. Your higher power knows what you’re about. God speed sister. See you on the road i think you are the coolest.
Betsy…are you my long lost twin sister in thoughts? My gosh, I love the way you think! I can’t wait to meet you someday , hopefully at Sturgis if not before. I’m from S.W. MN so maybe we’ll meet midstream sometime between here and your hometown of Duluth. Hugs to you and all that you are!
Betsy! If you haven’t yet, please write a book of your adventures!
Another great article by Betsy who continues to show her special touch with virtually any subject. As for the “desecrated bike” remark, someone needs to tell that poor soul that machines are meant to be used and that each one has its own “soul” and personality as derived from its design, manufacture and the energy of its owner.I hope Betsy attends the International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this fall so we can meet this extraordinary woman!
Great read Betsy. A lot of truth there. Who’s to judge any of us. You of all people for sure shouldn’t feel the need to defend yourself or your bike (which looks awesome). Glad you took the high road and wrote a great article that maybe one day that guy will stumble upon and realize, “Oh crud! She’s right.”
In my mind, a biker is a rider. I know folks who are just owners and not riders. They are not a biker to me. As part of a HOG Chapter, many of us willingly sponsor our own “Honda Girl” because we love her and that she rides,not what she rode. We all started out on that first ride and in order to handle the road and the miserable weather we have to endure, takes doing it and doing it and doing it. I proudly ride with my friend who has a Honda. She’s a good rider and a good friend. Honda Girl did buy a Harley-Davidson Deluxe but only because that’s what she wanted. Her new name is Ms. DE-luxe and she dropped it her first weekend doing a Ride Like A Pro class. That is my kind of biker!
In my opinion, this is the best article I’ve read from Betsy. I like that Betsy has learned that in life you don’t need to worry yourselves about what other people think, that Betsy lives her life to fullest, and she’s a positive person. We all need a “Besty” in our lives. I also understand that Betsy at first felt the need to “defend herself” against a man who obviously has problems but took the higher road and just wrote a fantastic article.
Amen, Betsy! I so love and agree with your point of view! I’m not a newbie, nor can I ride every day, or even every weekend, but I love my rides and riding.All the best to you and yours!
Well said Betsy. You have made a great statement, one that I hope gets a few more people thinking. You, my friend are a huge inspiration to a ton of people. And regarding the look of your bike, yours and Bean’res old purple one are the two best bikes out there!
Never mind the beautiful desert mountains…I like the beautiful desert flowers on their motorcycles.
Another great article! I was thrilled to have met you at my first Sturgis, 2012. You rock! I got to thinking about your comment in your article on the “I RODE MINE” sticker/patch. So what is the “real” meaning of that saying? I trailered “my ride” to Sturgis from Pennsylvania. I did not rent a cycle. So to me that “I RODE MINE” patch that I bought states just that. I rode mine around Sturgis, into Wyoming, and Montana too. She and I loved it!
I’m a newbie…so eager to get out there with other women who can remember getting their feet wet, too. Not everyone remembers. Everyone has to start somewhere. A little support goes a long way.
Bravo! I share the same sentiments as you! I enjoyed your article and observations. As a biker of more than 20 years, I have changed motorcycle brands several times. And honestly it comes down to what is available and what I could afford. I just wanted to be on the road with the wind in my face. And if I didn’t have a motorcycle, a bicycle would do. I thank you for bringing to the table why we all ride! It’s to breathe.