We Are Women, Hear Us Roar!
By Kim Fitzgerald
The sound of traffic is split with the oncoming rumble of motorcycles. The sounds of the engines loom closer, and a few heads start to turn as the bikes roll down the street. Curiosity regarding the bikes makes a number of citizens stop and take notice of the cluster of bikes at the intersection. From the beginning of motorcycle history people have been fascinated by these machines that, until the past few years, have mostly been ridden by men. But, there is something different about this group of “bikers”!
They are all women!
This particular collection of bikers is from the recently formed group, “Asphalt Sisters Blue Ridge Chapter,” a WNC based, female group of riders. “There is a need for an organization that concentrates on just women riders. It is okay at times to ride with the guys, but it’s nice there is a group just for us. Some women feel intimidated by the guys due to the old mindset that women belong on the back,” stated one of the organizers of the group. This organization was formed to give women a chance to gain skills, to learn more about their bikes, and to have other female riding buddies. It gives them a chance to ride to a variety of locations and have adventures on their own. It is a “you can do it group”!
In the beginning, the sport of motorcycling was adventurous and considered rebellious. When WWII broke out, they were used for the war effort, and the public became more aware of bikes when the soldiers came home. Bikes that were produced for the war were sold afterward for more reasonable prices and many veterans bought them. For years it was very rare to see a woman ride her own motorcycle. Hollywood kicked in with some memorable movies with James Dean, Marlon Brando, and, of course, Elvis. Motorcycles were the co-stars, included as part of their lives. The boom was on, and a few adventurous women became more visible riding their own bikes.
Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the independent nature of the “women’s movement” kicked everything up a notch, and the number of female riders grew along with it. My dad came home with a mini-bike for my eighth birthday, and I was hooked. What a sense of independence and freedom that little two wheeled miracle gave me! For an eight-year-old kid, it was an awesome sensation. Mom was a little skeptical at first, but quickly realized how much fun it was. My dad bought a street bike shortly afterward, a heavy old thing that was an ugly, dirty macaroni and cheese color. He was very proud of his new bike and gave my mom a ride in celebration. Off they went up the road, and when he turned his new steed around on an uphill slope, he popped a “wheelie” and unceremoniously dumped my mother off in a heap of gravel.
That little incident spurred my mother to crawl out of the dirt and get her own street bike. I remember some of the comments my mother endured during that time, when people just couldn’t imagine a woman having her own bike! Oh my! It wasn’t long before the neighborhood was abuzz about “the rebels” down the street! Growing up, we had many family rides on those two street bikes. I rode on the back with dad after he became a little more used to shifting the macaroni bike. It was a great time — we had so many adventures. And my mom rode her own bike!
I certainly didn’t stop riding with the mini-bike. Over the years I had several different bikes, increasing in size as I grew up. One period of time I didn’t have a bike for 12 years, but I couldn’t stand it, and finally bought another motorcycle. I will always have one now, as it gets in the blood!
The number of women riding motorcycles on their own has continued to grow and major manufacturers have taken note. Statistics from several sources state a percentage as high as a 34% growth rate in female motorcycle riders since 2005. Many companies now offer a much wider expanse of accessories, including riding gear, casual wear, as well as motorcycles and parts for women. Harley Davidson has been very proactive in the encouragement of women in the sport, mainly due to the influence of their own female family members. They developed a complete line of clothing and other items for woman to purchase in their stores. Better yet, they have developed the Fit Shop. The Fit Shop is for anyone “vertically challenged,” tall or short. For women it is a great addition. They can identify what you need to make a bike fit, or to help you choose a bike that is comfortable, right from the floor.
Marketing strategy for the increased number of women riders has been interesting to watch. It used to be that you NEVER saw a woman on her own bike in the advertisements. If you did, you wondered if it was an accident! Now, that scenario has changed. Flyers sent out by manufacturers, ads in magazines and other sources now have photos of women, front and center, riding their own bikes. They have them smiling from behind the handlebars, and not always from behind their male counterparts. On the sales floor there are now females in the sales department, not just behind the counter in the clothing department. There are women selling motorcycles right alongside the guys, and that alone is a major change. In the “old days” you would hardly ever see a woman in the shops, let alone selling a bike!
There are some female mechanics too. There was one young woman I met who was a great mechanic. She was 25, and had been working in one of the major shops for several years. I asked her what made her want to take up the trade. She stated that she had been fascinated by motorcycles since she was a child. “My dad said I could take apart an old junk bike engine he had, and I was hooked. I kept asking questions. My dad and his friends were patient because they thought I was just a curious kid. As I got older, I decided I wanted to fix bikes for a career. I went to school and formally learned the trade. My husband was very supportive and encouraged me to apply to one of the major shops. I did, and they hired me! I was surprised at the time, but now I think they see that women who come in with their own bikes feel less intimidated when they see me back here, or when I come out and answer their questions.”
Glenna is another rider who has met some interesting challenges. She says, “Last year I was introduced to motorcycle racing and track days. I decided that being a spectator wasn’t enough; everyone was having too much fun!” She says that her greatest inspiration was a male friend who has ridden for years. He races motorcycles and was very kind and supportive. She continues that, “learning to ride a motorcycle has always been on my wish list. So, I purchased a motorcycle this year that I could ride on both the track and road.” She also belongs to the Asphalt Sisters, and when asked what made her join she stated, “I am still very much a beginner, but there is fun, safety and knowledge when sharing time with other riders. The female riding group is a great vehicle for getting more women out riding in a social and supportive environment. ”
As I was speaking with several members of the group, I found it interesting to hear some of the reasons why the women had decided to get their own bikes. RV said that she rode dirt bikes with her brothers and naturally progressed to street bikes. “My father was my biggest inspiration, but my mom was ok with it because she knew how much we loved riding. I joined the Asphalt Sisters because I felt it would be fun to join other women who like to ride.” RV has been riding 45 years and has had several of her own bikes.
Robin is another rider from the Asphalt Sisters. When asked how she became involved in the sport she explained, “I guess I was always interested in the allure of a motorcycle, but never had the right person in my life to help me learn. Then I met Sharon, a colleague at work. She’s been a dual-sport rider her whole adult life, and before I knew it, I bought a motorcycle, and she had me training in the parking lot behind my house. Long story short… I am inspired by my mother-in-law who rides a bike just like mine, only bigger! Inspiration now comes also from the supportive ladies in this group, most of whom are more experienced than me. My husband doesn’t ride, and I am hoping to inspire him! He’s becoming more interested!”
How about buying a motorcycle to celebrate your birthday! That’s exactly what Britt did for hers. “My motorcycle was a gift to myself for my then-upcoming 40th birthday. I had never ridden before, and the first few times out were a little scary. Although the classes offered by AB-Tech were helpful, I felt I was on my own after the class had ended. It didn’t take long to become comfortable on my bike and begin enjoying our beautiful WNC scenery. Riding is fun but peaceful at the same time; it’s the first thing I think of when I need some time to relax away from my phone, e-mail and all the other distractions. However, in the beginning, a group to support me and learn from would have been invaluable. I enjoy being a part of that support to new riders now so they discover what a wonderful hobby riding is. I love the non-competitive, friendly camaraderie of a female riding group!”
“My dad was my inspiration. I remember being a tiny little girl and him riding me on his Harley (I’m talking mid 60’s),” said Kelly. “He always told me I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be. I’ve been riding on the highways and streets a little over 12 years. I started riding mini-bikes and motorcycles when I was about eight, 40+ years ago. Riding with women is a different feeling than riding with men. I rode with male friends and my brothers for years. It’s not a competition with women, and you’re not treated differently than the other riders because you’re female. Not that the guys were disrespectful or rude, but I like knowing it’s my bike and I’m responsible. Women are usually more understanding when talking about how you like to ride, your style. They don’t think you don’t like to ride fast and hard because you’re a girl.”
Women and their motorcycles are becoming increasingly visible. There is a whole culture involved with bikes and their riders. Camaraderie is very important for the majority of riders, and these ladies have found they have “sisters” in the sport with whom they can share their joy, frustrations and achievements. Western North Carolina is an awesome place to ride motorcycles — it just doesn’t get any better than this! So if you see a group of women on motorcycles joyfully riding down the road, you are seeing a group that truly believes “You CAN do it”!
Kim Fitzgerald has been riding motorcycles most of her life. She works in the medical profession and motorcycles are her passion. “I want to inspire other women to enjoy this freedom, especially in the beautiful mountains of WNC.”
You can check out the group Asphalt Sisters Blue Ridge Chapter at their meet-up site. http://www.meetup.com/Asphalt-Sisters-Blue-Ridge-Chapter/