Natalie Harrington lives in Boston, has played the violin since age 4, loves to dance and wear heels… and, oh yeah, she rides a motorcycle. (A Suzuki GS 450, in fact. There she is with it, below.)
Here’s why I find her especially inspiring: When she was considering riding (and owning) a motorcycle, she ultimately thought, Why not me? Natalie has doubts and insecurities like we all do, but she pushes through them to accomplish some pretty cool things. Read on for what it’s like to own the road, Natalie-style.
Before motorcycles, it was cars
Natalie, now 27, grew up in Pennsylvania with her artist dad and writer mom. A lot of her dad’s paintings are of cars, and he passed on his interest to her, taking her to car shows and showing her how to distinguish between makes and models. “My dad loves hot rods and classic American models, and I’ve gotten more into imports. I’m a big BMW fan and also a sucker for ’80s Japanese sports cars.”
Love at first bike
While she was home from school (Wellesley College, outside of Boston) at a family party, her uncle brought out his new motorcycle and her interest was piqued. “Riding always seemed like something that other people do; not that I thought I couldn’t do it, but I just hadn’t associated it with myself. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I took the safety course, got my bike and really started doing it.”
(Below, Natalie wearing a Kate Spade Autobahn scarf before driving from San Francisco to Pebble Beach, CA, for a car show in August 2014 with her boyfriend, Alex.)
Natalie’s rules of the road
Ride with friends. Simply riding on uneven ground can cause a motorcycle to tip. Once her bike reaches a certain angle, it’s too heavy to keep upright. “There is some kind of trick to picking it up, but I’ve never been able to do it. Especially with a full tank of gas. It’s a lot heavier.” Riding with other people, Natalie never has to worry about being stranded with a bike she can’t pick up. “My mom pointed out that you’re a lot more exposed or vulnerable as a woman on a motorcycle,“ Natalie adds. "You don’t have any doors you can lock if some creep starts following you. So I always have that in mind too. Sad that you have to think about that, but you want to keep your wits about you.”
Suit up. “I’m very safety-first,” she says. “All of my skin is covered when I ride.” Her go-to look? Jeans or other thick pants, a leather jacket (in the summer she’s got a perforated one made of mesh fabric that’s tough but breathable, and thickens at the elbows and shoulders), a long shirt or leotard (so her back isn’t exposed), gloves, and of course, a helmet. “I’m told it’s really fun to ride without a helmet, and you can do that in Connecticut and New Hampshire, but it just sounds like the worst idea ever to me,” she says. “Not going to do that.”
Take a safety course. "You’re with a group [of other students] and knowledgeable instructors and you learn all the things to look out for, plus you get some practice in,” she says. “Any of my friends who have interest even in riding a scooter, I always say, you should go take that class.”
The fact that’s she’s taken on—and conquered—learning to ride isn’t lost on Natalie. She says she gets a lot of encouragement from other women when she’s on the road. They give her thumbs up, honks, and one woman even rolled down the window as Natalie was riding through Harvard Square to tell her, “That is so awesome, you go!"
"For me, the real accomplishment was just considering learning to ride a bike,” Natalie says. “It meant breaking through that barrier and getting past the idea that this is not something for me. Riding is an exhilarating experience, with the proximity to the engine (not to mention the ground!) and the exposure to the elements, but I think a big part of the rush for me is just thinking to myself that I am actually, legitimately a motorcyclist.”
Need another reason she’s the coolest? Natalie pretty much created (and fought for) her position at her job.
Her senior year at Wellesley, Natalie got a part-time job at Johnson String Instrument, now based in Newton Upper Falls, outside of Boston. When a full-time position opened, she jumped for it. “I worked with teachers and traveled to their schools to bring instruments for their students. At the time, there was just two of us, and we did everything from loading the instruments into the van and basically bringing the storefront to each school, and then processing the paperwork after. It got pretty hectic in September!”
Today she’s office-based, managing three full-time, on-the-road liaisons. It’s still hectic during back-to-school season, but she enjoys it. “It’s a great position to be in because teachers are basically JSI’s VIP clients, so I almost never have to say no to anything. The guys on my team and I pretty much get to be superheroes all the time!”
Her favorite movie: Pride and Prejudice. “The Masterpiece Classic version with Colin Firth. It’s one of the few things I can watch over and over again.”
The last book she read: Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen. “I loved it. It made me want to read all of her other books. I found it incredibly relatable and very perceptive of women’s experiences.”
Her favorite car: "The BMW 507, mostly because I think it's stunningly beautiful. Only 252 were ever made, between 1956 and 1960, and they’re very rare, which I think contributes to its true ‘dream car’ allure.“ She says she was "lucky enough” to see one while in Pebble Beach, CA.
Her advice for women who want to ride a motorcycle: “There’s a lot [of messages] out there that this is something that guys do, not that we do,” she says. “Ignore that. Just go for it.”
Photographs, from top: by Sarah Black, by Alex Wagner, and by Susan Wilson for Johnson String Instrument. (Natalie is pictured with a violin from Johnson String Instrument’s sales department.)