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Bettie Southern, septuagenarian Harley enthusiast

‘It’s freeing. You’ve got the wind in your face, and you just go.’



Bettie Southern is a 75-year-old Georgia peach who has been riding Harley Davidsons for over 20 years. She is the treasurer of Marietta’s Harley Owners Group.

I grew up in Cobb County Georgia. I’m a Georgia peach from beginning to end. I’m not going anywhere. I’m an only child, so you can imagine I was a little bit spoiled. But back in those days, nobody had anything, so you didn’t miss it. I was born in Clarkdale, between Austell and Powder Springs, where the old thread mill used to be. My mom and dad both worked at the thread mill there. Everybody always kidded that the children were “lint heads.” Daddy loved hunting. He had hunting dogs and guns and all the paraphernalia, and every time he had off in the wintertime, he went hunting. And mother and I went shopping or cooked and baked.

I never expected to ride [a motorcycle], but I loved my bicycle. My mom was never able to ride a bicycle. She was kind of leery of ’em. She had no balance of any sort. [My parents] ran a little store here on Powder Springs Street, and one of the customers came in and he carried mother for a ride on his motorcycle many, many years ago. It scared her, so she didn’t have nothing to do with motorcycles. She worried about me and [my husband] Harold on our motorcycles, and [my sons] Terry and Gary when they got old enough. She worried about all of us, but she didn’t forbid us to go, because it wouldn’t have done any good.

[My husband’s] father had been a motorcyclist for I don’t know how many years. He and his mom used to get on the motorcycle and go up to Nashville for the weekend, to the Grand Ole Opry. Harold grew up loving motorcycles.

I started riding backseat with my husband. He was blind in the right eye, so I was his navigator I guess you would say. I watched for the traffic on the right side, and he’d watch for it on the left.

This is my first bike. We didn’t buy it brand new; we bought it from this guy out east of Atlanta. He bought it brand new and he rode it to Sturgis [the annual motorcycle rally] and back, and then he rode it to Asheville and back home to Winder. And when he came back, there was some property adjoining his farm that was up for sale, and so he wanted to sell his bike to buy that property. So we didn’t pay full price. But what made it so cool was, that March we was in Daytona for bike week, and Harold sat on a bike exactly like this one. And who would have thought from March to June we would have owned a bike just like that one! And he didn’t want me to learn how to drive because I was his co-pilot.

We were married for 38 years when he passed away. We had just bought this bike in June of ’88, and he died in June of ’90. After he died, I told my son, “Well Terry, I can’t get somebody to take me for a ride on this bike. Everybody’s busy.” But by me riding behind Harold all those years, I had learned and listened. I knew when to downshift and upshift. And that helps whenever you start learning. My son rode in the sidecar and gave me pointers. He said, “Mom, just don’t hit the mailboxes.”

[My first solo ride] was absolutely fabulous. My son Terry and his wife and family had gone out of town for the weekend. My dad lived across the street at that time. So I went over and told dad, “OK, Daddy, I’ve got my cell phone here, and if anything happens I’ll call you. But I’m fixin’ to get my bike out here and I’m going for a ride all by myself. It was March the 3rd, but I don’t remember what year. I had passed my test to get my license, and I thought, “Well, it’s now or never.” It was fabulous. I went west where there wouldn’t be a whole lot of traffic. And to this day, whenever I ride by myself, I go that way. It’s freeing. You’ve got the wind in your face, and you just go.

My mom, she wouldn’t ride with me in the sidecar. She was 91 when she died. Even before then, she had hip problems and had rotator cuff surgery. I couldn’t get her in the sidecar, and even if I could have got her in there, I couldn’t have got her out. She always kidded me, she’d say, “Oh, you’d just pull that pin up and let me go flyin’ off!” I said, “No mom, it’s not that simple.” She was a sweetheart.

I’ve been to Milwaukee and Florida several times. I went with some of the [Harley Owners Group] chapter members over to Natchez Trace [Parkway], from the beginning of it in Mississippi all the way to the end of it in Nashville, Tenn. It was beautiful. It’s a 50 mph speed limit on Natchez Trace, so you don’t have to worry about no big trucks, either, because they’re not allowed! It’s so nice. The weather was good some, and the weather was also heavy with rain. You just deal with it. The main thing is keeping your windshield wipers going.


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