There she was—a vision in pink, rolling up to the gas pump on a Softail Deluxe. I watched from the shade of the convenience store overhang as she dismounted, took off her gloves and helmet, quickly checked her visage in the bike’s right mirror and began the process of filling the tank. Finishing my energy drink, I headed over to my bike to ride the final 30 miles from Rapid City to Sturgis.
As I walked by the woman, I just had to ask. “How far have you ridden?” She replied, “Oh, I’m from Oshkosh, but we stayed in Sioux Falls last night.” I was incredulous. Sioux Falls is about 350 miles from Rapid City, meaning that she’d probably been on the road for about seven hours that day. Yet her pink leather chaps and vest were spotless, her makeup impeccable and every strand of hair was in place. She looked as fresh as a daisy. I looked at my own reflection and noticed a streak of road grime across my nose that continued down the left side of my face. And I probably shouldn’t even mention the squashed, no-longer-identifiable bugs and other debris smeared on my jacket and jeans.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen female riders who look like they just stepped off the catwalk. I’d always assumed that they weren’t hardcore riders, guessing that they’d just ridden the two miles from their hotel room to whatever rally or event we were attending. Yet whenever I speak with them, I find that most really do ride, putting many miles down. My preconceived notions have proven to be wrong, but how do they do it? How do they keep themselves so immaculate?
I could say that I consider the grime I carry with me a badge of honor; something I’ve earned from long road trips, but that wouldn’t really be true. I wish I knew their secret, those women who have mastered the art of looking (and smelling) good after riding hundreds of miles. Am I the only biker who carries an aroma of fuel after using the pump?
Earlier this spring, I pulled into a gas station, filled ‘er up and in the process, got a few drops on the tank and some on my hands. I automatically wiped my fingers on my jeans before I put my gloves back on, and rode the short distance to a biker bar. As I pulled into the lot and tugged off my gloves, another rider parked next to me, sniffed the air, looked over at me and asked, “What’s that smell?” I had my standard comeback ready: “It’s Eau de Gasoline.” He just shook his head, dismounted and walked off. No sense of humor, that guy. And I guessed I wasn’t getting any complimentary drinks that day.
Just when I thought I’d experienced every grime-producing experience possible, my personal grunge-o-meter shot all the way up to 10. On a recent ride to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I attended a burnout contest at the local Harley dealer. It was probably the safest competition I’d ever seen, with the bike’s front wheel chocked and tied, and a folded plywood board positioned a few feet behind the back wheel to prevent the smoke and rubber from shooting out into the crowd. Well, I couldn’t get any good photos standing in back of the board, so I got up close and personal for my shots.
That contestant ran through the gears until the tire popped, leaving zero visibility for a good two minutes. When the smoke cleared, I looked down and saw bits of rubber across my shirt, down the front of my jeans and on my camera. Next time I checked a mirror, I saw that my face boasted a blue-black tinge. Even my eyeglass lenses had bits of rubber stuck on them. But my hands—Oh! I couldn’t get the black stuff off no matter how hard I scrubbed. And every time I looked down, there seemed to be more rubber bits all over me. Turns out that my camera bag, lying on the ground while I was shooting the burnout, had absorbed a ton of tire waste that transferred to my fingers and shirt every time I picked up the bag. It took days for all the black bits to finally disappear.
The final indignity occurred on my last day in the Outer Banks. A thunderstorm had passed through the region early in the morning, leaving the ground pretty wet. I didn’t much care because I was still in my hotel room, and by the time I was packed and ready to go, the rain had stopped. I brought my gear out and as I began to load everything onto my bike, my heart dropped into my stomach. There was my helmet, hanging upside down on the handlebar. I’d temporarily hung it there the night before while I was locking up my bike, and in my haste I’d forgotten to bring it inside. Sure enough, there was an inch-deep puddle in the bucket, and the foam and liner were thoroughly soaked.
I took the helmet back to the room and tried drying the inside with the hotel-supplied hair dryer. That set my departure time back by about 45 minutes. It finally seemed OK, but when I put the helmet on before pulling out of the parking lot, a stream of water cascaded down my face and onto my jacket. That foam sure is absorbent. I had no choice—it was past the time I should’ve been on the road, so I just tried to ignore the damp sensation emanating from the top of my head.
At the first gas stop, I pulled up to the pump and took off my helmet. My hair and forehead was soaked, and the clean-cut man on the other side of the pump looked at me strangely and commented, “You sure sweat a lot. It’s not even hot out.” I protested weakly that no, it wasn’t sweat—my helmet was wet inside but the guy had already recoiled in disgust and climbed back into his truck.
I just haven’t figured out how to stay neat and clean while I’m on the road. I never wear white or pastels, but that doesn’t help much; it just makes the mess less obvious. I guess I’m doomed to be just another dirty biker.