A good news story I posted today in our Motorcycle News One Forum I thought I'd share here for the ladies.
The whole HOG - Women, Harley-Davidson and new found freedom
Friday, November 10, 2006 - By Kelsey Munro - Sydney Morning Herald - smh.com.au
Sick of riding pillion, women are kick-starting their own motorbikes.
The sight of 1400 Harley-Davidson motorcycles mustering in a car park is something to behold. The air pulsates with the roar of engines and the smell of petrol fumes. In the middle is a glistening sweep of chrome and gleaming curves: wide cruisers that ride like armchairs on wheels; squat, low-riding Fat Boys; coloured Sportsters and rare customised bikes.
At the Harley Owners Group's annual national rally, held this year at Airlie Beach, Queensland, the bikes gather for a group ride called the Thunder Run. No one makes a quiet entrance on a Harley-Davidson. They might look scary, but HOG - technically, at least - is a family-friendly group, with women in the crowd and kids riding pillion.
You don't just ride a Harley, you buy into a lifestyle: a mythical mix of freedom with a frisson of outlaw glamour. The owners gathered here love being part of the spectacle. Wearing their club insignia under leathers, they mill around the bikes, spirits high. There are many who fit a fearsome bikie stereotype: shaved heads, bushy beards, portly statures and a gallery of tattoos, but a new style of biker is evolving: young, female, professional and often mums. And they're riding the pants off their brethren.
Ted Doyle, leader of the Townsville chapter of HOG, has a compelling, if politically incorrect, theory as to why more women are riding.
"It's the biggest vibrator they've ever had between their legs!" he says, to roars of laughter from his group.
With the rare exceptions of legendary biking women Avis and Effie Hotchkiss, Dot Robinson and Bessie Stringfield, Harley-Davidson was largely a man's world. That's not just because of its bad-guy biker reputation, it's also because the bikes are big and heavy. But that's changing: Harley's sales to Australian women have quadrupled in the past five years, partly thanks to girl-friendly modifications to certain models. Now, about 20 per cent of its Sportster sales are to women.
"The more people see females riding, the more confident they get that they can do it," says Kelly Seddon, a Brisbane accountant who rides a customised Harley.
Kylie Doherty, 34, rides in every national rally with her husband, Colin. Their son and daughter, aged 6 and 7, ride in a sidecar. Initially discouraged by male relatives, Doherty got her licence seven years ago. "I got bored being the pillion," she says. "I thought, 'I can do this.' " Doherty broke her ankle in a spill when she was eight weeks pregnant, but she persisted and had to fight hard for respect as a rider, even from her father-in-law, who is the leader of the Illawarra HOG chapter.
"It's a very male-dominated scene," she says. "Being the girl I was always pushed down the back. Then one day I said, 'I can ride just as well, if not better, than a lot of the guys in this chapter, so why should I always have to be down the back?' I fought and fought at committee meetings to get the girls up the front. It took me a lot of years."
There is a distinct hierarchy on the big road rides. "Guys think of the front as a status thing," says Tracey Lunam, a 43-year-old mother of three from Kareela. "But girls think of it as a safety thing. It's a safer ride up front."
HOG member Claudette White says: "Some guys are so helpful. People I don't know that well say, 'You've done so well.' "
HOG rallies attract the hard core of Harley enthusiasts, many of whom, like White's and Doherty's group, rode for several days to get to Airlie Beach. HOG is distinct from outlaw biker gangs such as the Hells Angels, but since the Angels also ride Harleys you may have trouble telling them apart out on the highway.
The difference is pertinent: HOG members come from all walks of life and are brought together by a love of riding. Outlaw clubs tend to conduct cash-only businesses: drugs, brothels, standover stuff. Former policeman and Harley enthusiast Paul Bailey tells me bikers earn their membership rank by committing indictable offences. Naturally, Harley-Davidson, the multibillion-dollar publicly listed company, is less keen to emphasise the Hells Angels connection.
"Women aren't allowed in the [outlaw clubs'] clubhouse unless they're invited and they're not allowed to ride," Doherty says. Her group had a run-in with one such club, who advised the HOG chapter to remove the look-alike insignia from their jackets. They complied, quickly. "You just don't wear it," Doherty says. "They'll pull you over, bash you up and take your bike."
With stories like that, it's no wonder some women are hesitant to ride. But younger women are more confident about riding, while cashed-up baby boomers have gotten rid of the kids and are buying Harleys to enjoy in retirement.
Carole Dewar, 56, took up riding two years ago. She lets the frequent mid-life crisis jibes slide. "All my friends said, 'Oh you're too old!' And the more they kept saying that, the more I decided to do it," she says. On her first rally in 2005, Dewar rode with her group from Wollongong to Uluru.
Safety concerns initially prevented Lunam from riding. "That's the thing with us girls," Lunam says. "We have to think about our kids."
Still, she recently renewed her long-lapsed licence. "I thought, OK, 20 years on the back of a bike, I've had enough."
White's husband insisted she stick up 2000km on short trips around their Sydney home before she was allowed to tour. "I got my licence in November last year and went straight from a little bike to a big bike," she says. "This is my first big ride. I love it!"
With the cheapest models starting at $8000 and the top-of-the line touring bikes going for $33,500 and much higher, a Harley is a big financial commitment. "It's expensive to ride a Harley," White says. "Two in a family? That's probably why there's not as many young people, you've got to get to that comfortable stage when your kids are grown up."
Still, the women offer a chorus of encouragement for anyone tempted to switch to two wheels.
"It gives you freedom," says Lunam, to a roar of approval. "You can be one of the boys."
Kelsey Munro attended the Thunder Run as a guest of Harley-Davidson.
* Women make up 20 per cent of the motorcycle licence holders in NSW, up from 15% in 2002. But the number of men gaining their bike licences is also increasing.
* A total of 2518 women gained their motorbike licence in 2002 compared to 3003 in 2005, and 2974 in the first nine months of 2006.
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