Female bikers ride the open road in style
Sun, Mar 26, 2006 - By SANDRA WALSH - The Beaufort Gazette - beaufortgazette.com
Pink chaps, a pink lid and a black rhinestone studded bandana is 27-year-old Jasmine Small's style when she cruises on her Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Custom in Beaufort.
And it's no surprise that when it comes time to answer the question of why Small loves her Hog, freedom, camaraderie and adventure take a back seat to sitting pretty.
"I like the whole thing -- looking cute on the bike," Small said. "Oh god, I have a whole new wardrobe just for biking; I shop like crazy."
Since she learned to ride six months ago, Small has accumulated three flashy helmets, three butt-kicking pairs of boots, two riding jackets, gloves, "tons" of sunglasses, two pairs of sassy chaps, and a multitude of bandanas.
And she also has to think about her riding companion's accessories -- her 5-year-old Chihuahua, Baby, who rides in a backpack strapped across Small's chest.
There are also a few amenities for her brand new custom bike: New pipes, new handlebars, custom pinstriping, butterfly trim, and new hand grips.
"I just got a windshield today ... And a shirt," Small said with a guilty giggle.
Women riding motorcycles, and shopping, is nothing new, but the sheer number of women riders is something to get revved up about.
The Motorcycle Industry Council, a nonprofit national trade association that promotes motorcycling in the U.S., reported in a 2003 owner survey that nearly 10 percent of U.S. motorcycle owners are women. That means that out of the nation's more than 6.6 million bike owners, about 635,000 were women, up from the organization's 1998 tally of 467,400 women that owned bikes. And, of the more than 23.4 million motorcycle operators, about 4.3 million were women, the survey said.
Motorcycle manufacturers are taking notice of the growing community of women riders and have started to target them in their marketing.
Harley-Davidson's Web site has a section devoted to "Women and Motorcycling" that features articles about how to learn to ride a two-wheeled machine as well as dozens of personal stories posted by women about the open road.
There are dozens of books published by women about cycling as well as apparel lines and motorcycle clubs dedicated to women riders.
Ty van Hooydonk, a spokesperson for Discover Today's Motorcycling, an online media and consumer outreach program, travels around the country checking out the latest trends in motorcycling. He said there is a lot more focus on women these days.
"There's obviously a growing market and it's pretty smart for manufacturers to address that," he said. "There are more than 300 models of motorcycles on the market out there today; it's really a buyers market out there and that includes the women's market."
Beaufort motorcycle rider Cindy Roddenberry, a columnist for testosterone-fueled Bikes & Babes Cycle Magazine based out of Statesboro, Ga., said Beaufort's women riders community is growing each year.
Roddenberry, who owns a 1963 Harley-Davidson Panhead and 2003 Harley-Davidson Night Train, said things have come a long way for women since she first started riding 24 years ago.
"Things didn't start changing until the late '80s - that's when women really started riding and the guys were starting to say, 'well, this isn't such a bad thing after all,'" Roddenberry said. "A lot of women ride and want to ride; you see more and more women riders in Beaufort every day; it tickles me to see such a diverse group of women."
A group of seven Beaufort women, including Small and Roddenberry, met for a ride Wednesday at Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal.
The women ranged in age from 24 to 55 and represented a range of professions from retired Marine, entrepreneur, and physical therapist to a landscaper and university student.
All the women had their stories and deep philosophical reasoning for riding, but they shared one motive for swinging a leg across their leather driver's seat.
"You don't have to ride behind a guy," said Frankie Nelson, 49.
"The scenery changes," added Cathy Sharpe, 47, her comment instilling uproarious laughter from the group of women.
Donna Arnold, 55, is the director of Lowcountry B.R.A.T.S., the Beaufort County chapter of the national Women on Wheels Motorcycle Association founded in 1982 to unite women motorcyclists.
Arnold said the local group boasts more than 47 members from the area with women ranging from ages 18 to 63.Arnold recruited Small five months ago to join the group when she saw Small riding around in her pink chaps with her dog.
Small bought her bike a few months ago after an abnormal pregnancy left her without child and without one of her fallopian tubes.
"I saw the bike and I knew that's what I needed to get over everything," Small said. "When I saw my bike it was like my wedding dress -- I just knew it had to be mine."
And the bike, the clothes, and the women she rides with have offered her a great escape.
"It's so beautiful, I don't know how to explain the feeling," Small said. "The air, you can go really fast, you can go slow -- I like the feeling of being independent."
Fast facts about women riders
In 2003, there were about 6.6 million motorcycle owners in the U.S., and nearly 10 percent, 635,000, were women
42 was the median age of a female motorcyclist in 2003, up from 38 in 1998
Nearly 60 percent of female motorcyclists are married
28 percent of female motorcyclists have a college or post-graduate degree
35 percent of female motorcyclists are in a technical/ professional trade
Source: 2003 Motorcycle Industry Council Owner Survey
Rally for women
This year's International Women & Motorcycling Conference will take place from June 30 through July 3 in Athens, Ga. The event will feature seminars, skills training, group rides, food and vendors. Cost is $189 for tickets purchased by March 31.
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