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Dyke on a Bike

Dyke on a Bike


Author Ali Liebegott renews her love affair with San Francisco through her first love -- motorcycles.

There are a few things I can always count on at the San Francisco pride parade: (1) seeing a smattering of S/M enthusiasts adorned in leather pig masks marching next to a couple dressed up as a rider and horse complete with a bit in the mouth, (2) PFLAG bringing tears to my eyes, and (3) Dykes on Bikes kicking off the parade by leading hundreds of lesbians on their motorcycles behind them.

I knew about Dykes on Bikes before I ever saw them, the same way young queers know San Francisco is the mecca to flee to from their small towns. A boss at an ice cream parlor told me, when I wanted to quit because I was sick of hearing his homophobic statements at work, "Why don't you move to San Francisco and get a bunch of tattoos and join the Dykes on Bikes."

Thank God, I followed his advice here.

I've actually moved to San Francisco twice in my life. The first time was in 1991. I was standing behind a crowd of people when everyone started screaming and cheering at a gang of leather-clad women on Harleys roaring down Market Street. Ah, so these were the infamous Dykes on Bikes. What kind of magical gay Disneyland was this San Francisco place?

But it only took about three years of living in San Francisco for me to get complacent with my access to queer community and start saying things like, "I don't care if I ever see a rainbow flag again." In fact, I worked the graveyard shift at an all-night Castro diner and can remember being completely put out during Folsom Street Fair at having to wipe the chair after each fag in assless chaps consumed his meal.

Then I moved to New York and Providence and a tiny town in Pennsylvania that would've been a fine place for a KKK chapter and then to San Diego. By the time I was in San Diego, 15 years had passed since I first moved to San Francisco. I was older, and while I'd found much smaller versions of a queer community in all the places I'd moved except the tiny town in Pennsylvania (where all the women looked like dykes, but none were), I craved a community. I remember saying to my then-girlfriend, "I could totally understand why someone would take a gay cruise." This idea before had been unfathomable, living in San Francisco and working in the Castro.

My father's good friend died on a motorcycle, so even though I'd been fascinated with scooters my whole life, my parents wouldn't even allow me a moped. I tried to get the feeling of air whizzing past my face at high speeds by hanging onto the bumpers of my friends' cars while wearing roller skates, and sometimes I'd sneakily ride friends' scooters when I was sure my parents wouldn't find out. I even dated MEN if they had a motorcycle because I wanted one so badly. I was almost 30 before I realized my two-wheeled motorized dream.

I spent a weekend on Block Island riding around on a rented moped. It had a governor so that it couldn't exceed 30 mph and tourists couldn't kill themselves, but I was hooked; within days I bought a mint-green Vespa that went up to 70 mph. It was summertime in Rhode Island, and I couldn't get off my Vespa. I rode through fall, and then the sad winter came and I had to cover it with a tarp and park it by the side of the house. I couldn't wait until spring, and even had dreams that it was warm enough to ride.

On one rather warmish day (45 degrees), I wrapped myself in a scarf and hat and tried to get my scooter out of a snow embankment by sitting down on it and opening the throttle. I got out of the ice all right, but slammed into the side of the house and a plethora of cat food dishes went flying into the air. The front fender and light were broken, but I still went out for a ride that day.

Sadly, the next year I had to sell my Vespa to get enough money to move to San Diego. It was like my own private Gift of the Magi, since San Diego was perfect scooter weather.

But within a few years of living in San Diego, I sold my second book and went directly to the Ducati dealership and bought a motorcycle I'd been salivating over for years: a flat-black Ducati Monster 620. I loved it because it looked like a stripped-down, Mad Max -style cafe racer. A few years later, when I decided to move to San Francisco, I didn't think twice about bringing my motorcycle. And one of the first things I did after arriving back in San Francisco was ride my motorcycle in the Dyke March and the pride parade with the Dykes on Bikes contingency. It felt like coming home.

All of the dykes lined up and revved their motorcycles to the throngs of adoring fans. I honked and waved, not an easy feat while riding a motorcycle two miles an hour surrounded by tough lesbians on their $40,000 Harleys. Still, it was amazing. It really felt like love. I couldn't get over the excitement of the crowd, and then at the end of the route, as we turned the last corner, someone threw a handful of confetti in the air over us. The confetti was the clincher for me. I don't know how to explain it, but there was something about that moment where I thought I'm never leaving San Francisco again. When I was trying to explain it to my girlfriend after the march (who was so happy to be on the back of my motorcycle and spent weeks trying to pick out the sluttiest outfit she could), I said, "It's like, in many places you'd get killed for being a big dyke on a motorcycle, but in San Francisco people are throwing confetti at you for being a big dyke on a motorcycle."

And that's how I knew I was never leaving San Francisco again.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Ali Liebegott