Without a doubt, motorcycles and the people who ride them elicit strong positive and negative reactions in many people, including perceptions of freedom, rebellion, power, danger and excitement. They also represent a brotherhood—and sisterhood—of strength, unity and camaraderie.
As an author of romance novels who enjoys giving her characters motorcycles to ride, I’ve done research on bikes, talking to friends who ride to get the facts and details right. As a writer, my watch word is curiosity. Very simply, I wanted to find out why bikers are fascinated with riding. Too, nothing intrigues me more than speaking with someone who’s passionate about what they do. For this post, I did exactly that, spending time talking with a woman who’s been riding bikes—all kinds of bikes—most of her life. (And who was gracious enough to educate a non-rider like me. Many thanks!)
Meet Joan Sorce, motorcycle lover. She’s also a real estate agent and a mother of two.
Joan says she’s been crushing on motorcycles since she was a child, and for years, she rode dirt bikes and street bikes with boyfriends and family members. When her son was about ten years old, she began riding dirt bikes with him. It was something they enjoyed together for about five years, until her son outgrew it. Then, she bought her first street bike, a 250 Kawasaki Ninja in bright yellow.
What does she love most about riding? “It’s like a moving meditation,” Joan explained. “I’d liken it to yoga. That may be a strange comparison, but it’s true. It’s very freeing, and uplifting,” she said, smiling, and her eyes got a faraway look in them. I could tell she was visualizing it, and at that point, I almost could too. “I put on a lot of miles by myself after a hard day,” she continued. “It’s my way of relaxing.”
Joan owns both a Harley Davidson Sportster 883L, and a Harley Davidson Street Glide. These she affectionately refers to as Little Scoot and Mama Lou, respectively. Little Scoot is a blue, lighter weight bike with a smaller engine than Mama. Mama Lou is 800 pounds of big and beautiful in an ice blue flip color that changes to purple when the light hits it. It’s customized for Joan. “Customizing your bike really showcases your personality,” she said. “I didn’t really understand that at first.” She’s also interested in maybe getting a rat rod someday.
DID YOU KNOW? A rat rod is a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates the early hot rods of the 1940s, 1950s, and early-1960s.
How does she decide which one she’ll ride? “I love them both, but it depends on what mood I’m in. Little Scoot is lighter, because it doesn’t have any bags. (Bikes with bags are a.k.a. ‘Baggers’). “It’s good for short trips. Also, it depends on how hot it is outside, because there’s already a lot of heat coming off Mama Lou’s engine.”
Joan is big on safety. “As much as I enjoy riding, there’s a lot to be scared of. There’s a lot going on, including the rules of the road, shifting, turn signals, and negotiating threats. For example, the other day I was out riding, and there was a two by four piece of wood laying on the road. You have to be aware of hazards like that, because a car could hit it and it could kick up and hit you.”
“Riding the bike is all about control. When you slow down, you lose balance. It’s also harder to maneuver. Parking lots and sudden stops present challenges. When I first bought the Harley, I would practice figure eights in an empty lot just to get the feel of the bike.”
What’s her biggest tip for new riders? “Know how to drive a stick. Gain confidence, and experience. Start on a dirt bike in your yard. Riding dirt bikes was early training for me. It enabled me to know how a bike would respond to different terrains, like grass, mud, and gravel. The Department of Transportation offers courses. I’ve taken them twice, because simply, I don’t want to die. I’ve also taken professional rider courses, which were well worth the few hundred dollars.” Riders can also take part in ‘bike rodeos’, which are often run by police officers, to improve their skills.
DID YOU KNOW? The first motorcycle was built in 1885 in Germany. Read more here.
Joan is also a big fan of helmets, but she wasn’t always. “Pennsylvania is a no helmet state,” she explained. “I used to wear a non-DOT helmet, also known as a ‘brain bucket’. Not anymore. Tragically, a good friend of mine was in a bad bike accident. She suffered a severe brain injury because she hadn’t buckled her helmet.” Joan’s eyes turned somber. “I promised her husband that I’d always wear mine. And I do, although, truth be told, I hate wearing one. But it’s the only head I’ll ever get. I bought it for comfort. It’s considered a half helmet.”
Though Joan is an experienced rider, has received many hours of instruction, and does everything she can to ensure a safe ride, she’s still suffered a few accidents. Several years ago, a deer ran out in front of her on a stretch of country road and hit her bike. The fact that Joan was able to keep the bike up when a nearly one hundred pound animal rammed into it is huge – it speaks to both her skill and presence of mind.
“Besides scaring the hell out of me, the deer dented my fender and scratched the bike (Mama Lou) up pretty good. It was like I was watching it in slow motion, the whole thing. The deer was laying on the fairing!” And, she added with a rueful grin, “I had deer shit all over me.” Yikes! After that, Joan was able to straighten out the fender and ride home. (What’s a fairing? I had to look it up, so I’m assuming you may not know either: Per Wikipedia: “A motorcycle fairing is a shell placed over the frame of some motorcycles, especially racing motorcycles and sport bikes, with the primary purpose to reduce air drag.”
Unfortunately, she had another accident only a few weeks prior to the writing of this post. A car hit her in a parking lot, and even though it was at a low speed, it knocked her to the ground violently. She’s still severely bruised in her abdomen area, and angry, rightfully so, that the driver was so careless.
After both accidents, Joan had the courage to get back on her bike and ride, something she loves. And something she doesn’t want to lose. I applaud her for that. “I can’t let my fear beat me,” she said. “If I sell both my bikes what will I do? It would be like losing my identity. It’s not just a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.”
Joan loves to ride all year round, weather permitting. Once again, deferring to safety first, she has heated handle bar grips. “Literally, this can mean the difference between life and death. If your fingers get numb, you can’t respond as quickly as you need to.”
Joan is anxious to explore more of the country on her bike. “There’s so much beauty in America that you can see from a bike that you’ll never see from a car. It’s just not the same. Being on a bike allows you to go places you’d never be able to in a vehicle.” What’s her most memorable ride to date? “I’d have to say West Virginia. The switchbacks, and the views, are amazing.” She’s planning a tour of the United States, and says she’ll go by herself if she has to. In particular, she wants to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a National Parkway noted for its scenic beauty that stretches through North Carolina and Virginia.
“In addition to riding being relaxing, and the amazing beauty I see while on the bike, I appreciate the camaraderie with other bikers,” she said. “Once, when I was out on the little bike, I’d run out of gas. Some other bikers stopped and helped me. They understand. They’ve been there before.”
Many bikers take part in group rides, organized for charitable causes. Joan is no different. “I enjoy the ride, I enjoy socializing. Often, I’ll catch up with people I haven’t seen for a long time.”
She’s ridden in various organized rides, including the Brotherhood Memorial Ride, is coming up on Sunday, August 20th, and for which she hopes to be healed enough to take part. (See Spotlight on the event below) Located in Zelienople, PA, proceeds benefit the Brotherhood Memorial Fund, and was started in memory of fallen firefighters. Other rides she’s been a part of include Chaps for Charity, sponsored by Pizza Roma, located in Cranberry Township, PA, and Riding for the Cure, held each July, which promotes breast cancer awareness. Also in August, she plans to take part in a ride honoring the Veterans Traveling Wall Tribute, which will visit Butler, PA on August 24th – 27th. She’s also taken part in the Big Mountain Run and Mountain Fest, both in West Virginia. These bike rallies also do bike runs during the 2-3 day events.
Everyone has seen bikers extend a hand to one another as they pass on the road. What’s it mean, I asked? “It means, ‘I get it’, I feel the same way you do,” Joan explained. “Not everyone waves, but I always do. I especially like to wave to kids. They’re always enthralled by my bike.”
As a lover of motorcycles and riding, one thing Joan doesn’t care for is that often, people stereotype a female biker. “I’m not a lesbian, and I don’t have any tattoos,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t have anything against those things, it’s just not me. Sometimes it can be frustrating, that bikes are my thing. People either get it or they don’t. Basically, I just don’t fit the mold.” Again, her eyes shone, with the content of someone who’s exactly where she’s supposed to be, and doing exactly what she’s meant to do. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
DID YOU KNOW? The “Gremlin Bell” is thought by some to be a supernatural protector against evil spirits that haunt the roads looking for bikers to harm. Others believe it’s simply a tradition of kindness between riders and friends. Read all about the legend here.
SPOTLIGHT ON BROTHERHOOD MEMORIAL RIDE, Sunday, August 20th
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Paul Reynolds, volunteer fireman and co-chair of the Brotherhood Memorial Ride. Ian Walker is also co-chair. Paul, who’s been a volunteer fireman for 25+ years with the Harmony Fire District, says the event is close to his heart. “The event is in its eighth year, and along with my co-chair, Ian Walker, we’re looking forward to another great event this weekend. I’m proud to say that many people have told me it’s one of the best organized rides they’ve been involved in. So many people generously help plan the event. We’re happy to have riders of all ages, and the safety of our riders is the most important thing to us.”
Paul says his favorite thing about the event is the reason for the ride – to honor all public safety and emergency workers, including firemen, policemen and emergency responders. Proceeds benefit the Brotherhood Memorial Fund, as well as the Zelienople Skate Park.
The ride begins and ends at the Zelienople Community Park. Registration is from 9am – 11am. $20 per bike, $10 per passenger. Food and refreshments will be served at the park following the ride.