In late spring of 1994 three Harley’s were parked in front of our small rental on Forest Avenue. My 1971 Harley Ironhead Sportster, Jeff’s 1973 FX kick only Shovel Head, and Richard’s 1980 FXB Super Glide Sturgis Special.
We sat in lawn chairs on the wooden deck under a moonless sky, drinking soda and talking. Well mostly the boys talked and I listened. My nerves were itching because soon we would be heading out for a ride. Me and these two rugged Harley men, both of them handsome, smart and funny.
Jeff went inside to grab his helmet while Richard lectured me on the technical side of riding. He explained the phenomenon of counter steering.
“It goes against what you might think makes sense, but push the left handle bar out to turn left and pull the right handle bar in.” He looked down at me with his dark eyes to see if I was listening.
I nodded as if I understood. I wasn’t really taking his spiel in. Three tough, mean machines and two gorgeous men had my entire head spinning. Jeff returned and we took off for our nighttime ride.
We left the neighborhood with loud motors roaring. We rode out of Fort Sanders and traveled down the beginning stretch of poorly lit Kingston Pike. All the while, I was thinking about Richard’s lecture on counter steering.
Then came a sweeping left hand curve. First Richard leaned down and around, then Jeff down and around as smooth as can be. And then there was me.
I kept thinking I needed to push the right handle bar out or was it the left? Do I lean first or push the bar and what bar do I push? By this time both Jeff and Richard were far out of my sight.
And just like that, while thinking so hard, the curve moved left and I stayed straight, right up onto the sidewalk barely missing a tree, braking, braking smooth and slow. Breathe in, breathe out, brake hard but not too hard and within seconds I had ground to a stop on the sidewalk next to a hundred year old brick wall encasing a stately Kingston Pike mansion.
I looked around to see if anyone had noticed a screaming lady flying by on a thundering machine. I slammed the right side shift down into first, slowly twisted the throttle moving the bike forward and jumping the curb. A mile down the road I spied the boys parked in the lot of a closed car repair center waiting for me, engines off, under bright florescent lights. I slid my bike in beside them.
As cool as can be, Richard said, “What happened to you?”
I relayed my adventure of missing the turn and they both stared at me with unblinking eyes then burst into waves of raucous laughter. I laughed too until tears were rolling down my cheeks.
Then Jeff said, “Let’s ride!”
Later that night, after Richard had left, I asked Jeff about counter steering.
He flicked his hand in an outward wave. “Don’t think about that stuff. Just do what comes naturally.”
Last fall, I read a beautifully written memoir The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle by Diana Bletter. In the beginning chapters she briefly discussed counter steering. So the next time Jeff and I rode, I consciously observed how I ride technically.
As we were navigating the swoopy narrow curves of the Appalachian mountainside, I realized that for nearly two decades, I had indeed been counter steering naturally.