First published in The Record on May 4, 2017
When Bella the Chihuahua wants to ride on a motorcycle, it’s pretty easy to tell. Like other members of her breed, Bella is not a master of subtlety.
If she feels a motorcycle ride is imminent, Bella hops onto the couch. Then she hops back to the floor. She does a stretch, yelps, runs a lap around John Burgos’ first-floor apartment, and finally plants her bottom by the front door with her tongue hanging from the side of her mouth.
When Burgos is leaving for a motorcycle ride and Bella, 2, is not in the mood, she makes that perfectly plain, too.
“If she doesn’t want to go, she hides under the table,” said Burgos, 47, of Garfield.
Luckily for Burgos, and for all the drivers who might possibly see her, Bella is usually in the mood. Starting this month, as the sun begins to make its regular spring appearances and temperatures rise reliably into the 70s, Burgos and Bella will become regular fixtures on the highways of North Jersey, cruising everything from local streets to Route 80 on Burgos’ enormous Yamaha motorcycle.
If you spot them riding around and feel like taking a picture, go ahead. Bella loves the attention, and Burgos doesn’t seem to mind.
“Some people think that I do this for the attention. But it’s not about me,” Burgos said. “I do this to show people something they’ve never seen before. You gotta see peoples’ faces when they see this. They light up!”
During an hour-long ride through Bergen County on Tuesday, scores of pedestrians stopped, turned and smiled as they watched Bella the Motorcycle Dog cruise by. Half a dozen admirers took pictures of Bella or offered her snacks, including water, doggie treats, and a lime-green lollipop (which she hesitantly licked).
“Do you mind if I take her photo? Do you mind if I post it on Facebook?” asked Frank Barzaga of Hackensack, who met Bella and Burgos outside a bank in Hasbrouck Heights. “That’s really cute.”
Burgos and his wife, Regina, met Bella on a street in Puerto Plata, a city in the Dominican Republic, when they were on vacation in 2015. The Chihuahua, a tiny homeless puppy, ran to them quivering with excitement. Regina loved the dog instantly, and decided to pay for the shots and travel certificate needed to bring Bella to New Jersey.
Burgos wasn’t so sure. He thought importing a dog from overseas sounded like a hassle. As soon as they returned home, however, Bella took to following him everywhere — around the apartment, outside in the yard, to bed. Soon Bella got excited every time Burgos pulled on his black leather gear for a motorcycle ride.
He got an idea. He strapped Bella into a belly pouch, which he had purchased to take the dog on long walks. He took her for a short ride around the neighborhood, just a few blocks. She seemed to like it, turning to look attentively at all the cars and people and colors.
Burgos’ heart melted.
“I adore this dog,” he said.
Together Bella and Burgos make a visually arresting pair. With a curly tribal tattoo sprawling down his left arm, his face obscured by mirrored sunglasses and a black bandanna, Burgos looks tough, especially on a black motorcycle with silver flames painted on the gas tank and an engine that roars like gunfire.
What most motorists traveling at 55 mph can’t see is the tattoo on Burgos’ left hand of Bella’s paw drawn in black ink. Below that are the words “Paw print on my heart.”
Bella, meanwhile, is one of the tiniest creatures ever to ride on two wheels. At 9½ pounds, she wears the smallest eye goggles made by Doggles, a company that sells eyewear for dogs. Burgos tucks her ears into a plastic helmet, which is white and covered in dog pawprint stickers.
To help Bella look tough, Burgos ties around her neck a black bandanna with the words “Harley-Davidson” surrounded by orange flames. He straps the pouch to his belly and straps Bella snugly inside, like a mama kangaroo carrying her young.
Then they roar off, Bella’s legs dangling in the air and her face pointed toward the open road.
“Some of my friends think it’s funny," Burgos said, "because I look kind of intimidatingand she’s so small and adorable.”
Riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous, of course, and Burgos worries about getting into an accident with his dog strapped to his chest. He’s been in one motorcycle crash already, years before he met Bella, injuring his left knee.
These days he rides more carefully, he said, always waiting a few seconds after a stoplight turns from red to green before pulling away, and never riding faster than 55 mph.
“If anything happens and we go down, I’ll try to fall first so I can protect her,” Burgos said. “I try not to think about it.”
The stereotypical hardened biker is someone who is angry and antisocial. Bella shows these qualities only when Burgos leaves her behind. Once Burgos went riding without her. When he came home, he found that Bella had ripped her plastic helmet to shreds.
Burgos went online and bought her another helmet, and he hasn’t left Bella home alone since.
“I never ride by myself,” he said. “We always ride together.”