Grandma Rides A Road King Finding Courage Along the Way

This biker granny inspires to make their dream of riding a motorcycle come true

By Shelly Fowler, Rolla, Missouri

Seven years ago I became a motorcycle granny. I decided to take up motorcycle riding a couple years after my divorce when I was looking for some adventure. I was stuck in a rut and needed a change.

The resolution to ride was not easy nor was it made with years offorethought and planning. Yet, it has dramatically changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.

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grandma rides a road king and finds courage along the way shelly
Shelly grins from ear to ear riding her first motorcycle, a 2006 Suzuki Boulevard “with all the trimmings.”

The easiest part of this decision was actually learning to ride a motorcycle. Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) classes are offered locally, where riders are instructed on proper riding technique on provided motorcycles. Confidence in your ability to handle a bike is continually stressed. This was key to my success as a rider; I needed to believe in myself. After a weekend of training, I received a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license.

Believe me when I tell you that I heard all the negatives about riding from my kids and family. “Those things are dangerous.” “You’ll get yourself killed.” And, “Mom, you don’t need a bike!”

The hardest part of the decision to ride was making the financial commitment it takes to pull off the dream. I needed a motorcycle of my own and all the safety gear, none of which is cheap! I purchased my first bike from an eBay auction, sight unseen — a 2006 Suzuki Boulevard, with all the trimmings.

A quick trip to Omaha and $6,000 later she was mine. She was perfect, black and chrome, and she fit me to a tee. I joined a local motorcycle club as a full member and learned from more experienced riders and met new people with a similar passion. Your local club is a great source of support for new and less-experienced riders.

After a few months of practice I rode with friends to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This was in June and we rode through all kinds of weather. I quickly learned the value of a good rain suit and heated gear. We rode to Sturgis and Montana, stopped at Devil’s Tower, and toured the area around Mount Rushmore. I learned to just relax and enjoy the ride. My motorcycle offered me total freedom with my knees in the breeze and wind in my hair.

grandma rides a road king and finds courage along the way suzuki boulevard
Shelly put lots of miles on her Suzuki Boulevard, enough to know that she required a bit more power.

grandma rides a road king and finds courage along the way harley road king
Similarly styled to the Suzuki, this Harley-Davidson Road King offers Shelly more touring comfort and horsepower.

I found that I really enjoyed the long rides and traveling to interesting places with no real destination in mind. This type of riding required a bigger bike with more horsepower. So, I sold my Suzuki and purchased a new Harley-Davidson Road King. Now with the motorcycle of my dreams, I immediately began planning a trip to the east coast.

This trip took place in July, and the temperature went into the hundreds. I traveled through a “blast furnace,” making regular stops for ice, which was stuffed into every part of my outfit. During one of these stops while pumping gas, I heard, “Hey, does your husband know you have his bike out of the garage?”

Now picture me; hot, sunburned, sweaty, dirty, and bone tired. I looked over my shoulder to see a mid-fortyish, greasy, long-haired dimwit standing there, to which I instinctively replied, “You @#%!, this ain’t my ol’ man’s Harley!”

Generally speaking, you meet the most interesting and friendly people on your travels. Unfortunately for him, I was not feeling friendly. I experienced several near-misses during this ride; you know, the ones that cause you to suck in your breath and use the brakes hard while praying your guardian angel is paying attention.

grandma rides a road king and finds courage along the way maine
Shelly poses with her Road King beside the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. “Maine was a true adventure; fresh lobster, wonderful scenery, and people that talk funny. The trip tested my patience, endurance, and riding abilities to the limits,” she says. “I had never ridden so far and so fast in my life, covering 700 miles in a single day. That was a true iron butt day.”

By now, most of you probably think that I’m a bit crazy! My Road King (Big Blu) is always testing and daring me. My decision to become a biker granny may not have been the wisest in my life, but it has been one of the more courageous. As a rider, you must always be prepared and watchful, yet learn to relax and enjoy the ride.

grandma rides a road king and finds courage along the way shelly riding
Shelly ultimately was amazed at her own physical and emotional strength. She exclaims, “I learned that I ride a big bike because I can.”

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13 thoughts on Grandma Rides A Road King Finding Courage Along the Way

  1. As a retired 62-year-old I took up riding with the MSF course and purchased a classic 1986 Honda 700 Shadow. It was a lovely bike and I even did a ten-day cross-country ride on it. I soon realized I wanted a bigger bike and settled on a 2012 Haley-Davidson Heritage Softail. I love my cross-country trips on it. Recently I met an elderly gentleman who was admiring my bike outside a restaurant. We chatted a bit and soon his daughter came out. They then proceeded to mount their Indian Scouts and ride off. The old guy was 97 and rode bikes since he was 16! You’re never too old.

  2. I love these articles. Although I grew up on dirt bikes, and my dad had a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and I was a passenger for many years behind my husband, and I had my endorsement for more than 30 years, I never had my own bike. So five years ago at age 59, I took the motorcycle safety course and bought my first motorcycle. It’s a Suzuki GZ250. Until my last few rides, it was OK because the size of the bike doesn’t equate to the sense of freedom that comes over me when I am on the road. I want a bigger bike for longer rides, but none of my girlfriends ride and I am single, so I go back and forth about continuing to ride, even though I love it. Riding solo all the time is getting old. However, these stories confirm I still need to keep doing what I love to do, even if it’s solo. Thank you for sharing your passion!

  3. No, I don’t think you’re crazy. Bikers have a special sort of sanity that’s all! I love this attitude: “I found that I really enjoyed the long rides and traveling to interesting places with no real destination in mind.”

  4. This is such an inspirational story of a mature woman making a life-changing decision to ride a motorcycle.I made the decision to ride at the age of 41. At the time, I had a magnificent riding partner, my husband. I passed the local motorcycle course, bought a 1999 Sportster 1200 and we were on our way. After nine months, we found the motorcycle of my dreams – a 2002 Luxury Pearl Blue Heritage Softail. We enjoyed our rides, me on my Heritage and he on his Ultra Classic, until he became ill and passed away. That was more than five years ago and since that time, I became a grandmother to a wonderful little boy. I gave up riding for a while but renewed my passion last summer. Still not quite 60, I have to say that I look forward to 60 and being a grandma on a great motorcycle!

  5. Well it’s great to read about us “Grandmothers” who ride. Even though I have my grandkids call me “Nana” so I don’t feel so old! I bought my first Harley-Davidson in 1998 at 52 years old after I got quite depressed about the death of my two youngest sons (in a car crash). I’m 66 now and on my second Sportster. The first one was a 1990 Sportster 1200. I upgraded to a 2005 Sportster Custom, which is much heavier than the first one, but it’s nicer and I got a good deal. I took my longest trip last summer to Montana to see lady biker friends who used to live in my territory. I just plain and simple love riding. It’s my therapy, which is keeping me from being sad or bored. Biker chicks rock!

  6. Glad you came to Maine. Our roads are a challenge for any rider! I am 62 and just started riding two years ago. I currently have a 2014 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron. I am considering trading it in for a Softtail, but am concerned about the weight. We’ll see when spring comes and the test ride happens. I love this web site.

  7. Whatever age, if you are considering taking to the road on a motorcycle I would encourage you to do so! Yes, it’s dangerous, but what isn’t? Yes, it’s a little crazy! But it is the most exhilarating and empowering thing I have ever done. I started at age 59 on a lowered Yamaha 650 that cost me $3,300. Ten thousand miles later I sold it for $3,300 and stepped up to a slightly used 2005 Harley-Davidson Deluxe. It now has 96,000 miles on it and is running strong. Then five years ago I bought a brand new Street Glide for long distance rides from California to Illinois, Ohio, and Virginia to visit my grandkids. I am now 67 and still feel the same excitement that I did when I started. Just tell yourself, “I can do it!” You really can!

  8. It is so nice to hear of other “grannys” out there who have just begun riding. I have been riding yeo years now. My first and only bike is an 06 Softail Deluxe that I fondly named Bob. I will be 63 my next birthday in August and love every minute I spend on my bike. I have found quite a few other lady riders in my area and we have taken quite a few fun trips. North Carolinas mountains offer some great twisties. My husband also rides so I have the opportunity to take off with him and some other friends. Normally, I am the only female in that group that rides her own bike. The guys have been great in taking into consideration I am still learning. Keep the shiny side up and rubber side down. Ride safe.

  9. In the same month that my first grandchild was born, I decided to learn to ride my own motorcycle. Having been a passenger all my life, it was time for me to learn to ride. My first bike is a Suzuki Boulevard S40 and it’s a great size and starter bike for me. My dream bike is a Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe and I’ll get there. I want to feel very confident and experienced first. Riding has been the best experience and given me so much self confidence! I’m 57 years old, 5 feet 3 inches and loving every day!

  10. Shelly Fowler is my oldest daughter and I am proud of her. Riding a big bike like that isn’t for the faintest. I have a 2007 Yahama 1100 V Star and would also like a larger bike but I’m not an avid rider like my daughter is. Great article Shelly. Love you!

  11. I am a 63-year-old grandmother of five boys. I passed my test at the age of 50 after my husband gave me a week of intensive training for my birthday with the promise if I passed he would buy me my own Harley. To both our amazement, I passed and true to his word my first bike was a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster, which I had for about four months. My hubby decided it was not powerful enough so I moved on to a Dyna Street Bob. Since then, I’ve had a Softail Deluxe and now have my all-time favorite bike, a Fatboy, which I love to bits. We ride as much as we can in the UK and Europe when possible.

  12. It is so nice to read a story so close to my own. I am a 64-year-old great-grandmother and took to riding after my divorce in the early 1980s. I ride a Harley-Davidson Big Twin and love every minute of it. It is so encouraging to hear of more women riding these days. In the early ’80s there weren’t that many of us. Ride safe ladies.

  13. Love the article. She is such an inspiration. I ride a 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special and am planning my first road trip in April, the first of many to come.

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