When I had to take my bike in for a service recently, my husband very kindly offered to follow me on his own bike and ferry me home, thereby saving me from having to walk half a mile to a station and then take a 40-minute train ride home.
“Can we take the Harley?” I asked.
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You may know that Chris is in love with the 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Bob he’s had on loan through the summer. He’s always finding very weak excuses to ride it, so I was keen to see what it was like. Sure, my heart’s always belonged to Triumph Bonnevilles, but maybe that’s just because I had never been on a world-famous Harley.
Would it transform me into some kind of fist-fighting barfly who insists on wearing only a bandana to protect her head when riding and spends a significant amount of time picking bugs out of her teeth? Would it embolden me to give up my degree and hit the road with nothing but a pair of cowboy boots and a map for company? Would it, at the very least, inspire me to ride more so I can take my big girl test and get a big girl bike?
Essentially, I was expecting life-changing experience. That might be a little demanding from an 8-mile journey across Cardiff’s metropolitan outskirts, but that’s how I roll.
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So, after dropping off my badass Lexmoto at Cardiff’s The Pit Stop (who, incidentally, are great – no lady patronising at this place!) I swaggered up and swung a leg over the back of the hog. I had to swing my leg high and awkwardly thanks to the presence of the sissy bar. It was a less-than-graceful act, and the cool biker image I was trying to portray immediately evaporated.
Initial thoughts: even with the sissy bar this was easier to get on than the much taller adventurer tourers I am used to being a passenger on – eg, the Triumph Tiger 800, Triumph Tiger 1200, Ducati Multistrada 950, and Chris’ old V-Strom. I liked the foot position; my feet were only slightly further forward than on other bikes I’ve been a pillion on, but the small reduction in knee flexion seemed to make a big difference.
These positive impressions were all made before we pulled off. Anything good I had to say was forgotten – no, destroyed – by the next 20 minutes. As soon as Chris accelerated I slid backward on the smooth, rock-hard seat, and my lower back hit the sissy bar – cold, hard metal digging into my back. I tried to shift forward, but the seat is so tiny and slick there was no room to negotiate.
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Additionally, I had not really looked at the sissy bar before I got on the bike, so I was not totally sure of its structural integrity. Could I trust it to support my weight? Horrifying thoughts that maybe it was just an aesthetic feature, or that it had not been fitted properly, left me paranoid. I worried it might crack, leaving me to slide off the seat and land under the vehicle behind us.
This sense of impending death was intensified by how low the seating position is. As I say, I’m used to riding pillion on adventure tourers; I am used to being high up, able to see into people’s cars and, more importantly, able to see past Chris’ helmet. I am used to being able to see what is coming on the road ahead and prepare for it accordingly.
So, if Chris needs to brake suddenly I usually have some warning to get clenching. If we are heading into a tight bend I know I need to lean into it – and am happy to do so, because I feel safely far away from the ground. Not so much on the Harley.
All I can see is the back of Chris’ helmet bobbing around in front of me, occasionally threatening to crash into my own. We are low down, and I feel incredibly vulnerable. This heightens my fear. I can see nothing of the road ahead and have to react blindly to whatever is thrown at us. Fear factor cracked up another notch, I am a bag of nerves and we have only been going for 3 minutes.
At some traffic lights Chris turns back and shouts: “I’m going to hop on the motorway, so you can feel how cool it is when the bike accelerates quickly!”
Knowing I cannot politely express in the short time of a red light how terrible that sounds, I weakly respond: “Yay.”
There is no going back. The light turns green and Chris gives it some welly. I mean he really lets rip, up the slip road and onto the motorway. A primal, involuntary wail comes from deep within my lungs. The ancient, lizard part of my brain reacts by tightening every muscle. Adrenalin pulses through me and I feel sick.
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Every bump punches me and bashes me harder into the sissy bar. I am terrified, more terrified than I have ever been on a bike; I can’t see where I am going, I can’t see what cars are around us, my back is killing me, and any minute now I am going to breach this “back rest” and fly off to my very untimely death.
“OK, enough,” I internally yell at myself. “Pull yourself together.
“I just need to relax. The journey is short, after all, and now we are moving at a consistent speed it isn’t so bad. I know Chris is a good rider – I can trust him. I don’t need to be able to see. I am just not used to this type of bike. Lots of people love these bikes. Maybe if I just relax I will enjoy it.”
Those are some of the lies I told myself.
Still, I chilled out a little, just in time for us to exit the motorway and continue our journey down smaller, slower, more roads. Well, they’re supposed to be slower, but Chris was still trying to make sure I got a chance to “enjoy the acceleration.”
Every time I tried to relax, a little a jolt from bumps in the road increased my anxiety and pain. In my head I decided I would write a review of this experience for TMO; passengers need to know. I started constructing the review but it wasn’t really in the form of complete sentences – just profanities strung together.
On we sped, down a fast country lane. The tension returned to my body but this time I gave over to it, resolving to simply bear this hell until the end of the journey or death, whichever came sooner – I no longer cared which.
Eventually we got onto busy streets of our town, stop-starting our through traffic but, at least getting closer to home with every terrifying moment.
“It will soon be over,” I thought. “It won’t get any worse.”
So, of course it did. While heading down a hill, a parked car decided to take advantage
of the 2 meters between us and the car in front and pull out. Emergency stop. Brilliant. Guess I’ll be needing to wash these pants, then.
But it didn’t stop there. Chris had mentioned the phenomenon of scraping pegs on a Harley. I thought it was something that only happened with especially aggressive riding. Wrong. Not too far from our house there are two very tight corners. Which led to pegs being scraped. Pieces of metal shredding. The bike I was sat upon being disintegrated beneath me. At this point I was a whimpering, pathetic blob of a human.
I kind of hated myself for being so uptight. I so wanted to enjoy being on the bike, but, as you may have picked up by now, it just was not for me. I worried Chris would be disappointed that I had not enjoyed it – or, more to the point, I ABSOLUTELY HATED it. As we pulled into our driveway I was trying to work out how to convey to him, without crying, screaming or kicking it over, that I was was not such a fan of the bike.
When the engine finally went silent, I staggered off the passenger “seat,” quietly removed my helmet, and said: “No. Just no. Never again.”
Which I think rather nicely summarizes my feelings about being a passenger on the Harley-Davidson Street Bob.
CHRIS’ TAKE: In defense of the Street Bob, it is not billed as a two-person motorcycle. Harley-Davidson sells it with a solo seat and you have to pay a fair bit extra to have passenger seat, passenger pegs, and sissy bar added. I would discourage anyone from actually spending that money. The Harley faithful refer to this style of passenger seat as a “brick,” and that description is accurate in both size and feel. I only asked Harley to add these accessories because I needed a place to strap luggage for road trips. The sissy bar, by the way, is a very stable item and there was no need for Jenn to worry.