When Trish Parsons climbs aboard Gandhi the Second – the name she gave to her second Harley-Davidson motorcycle – she steps into not just a ride, but a state of being.
“Especially when you get into really beautiful countryside – and there’s a lot of it around here – I think you really do get a spiritual feeling of peace,” says the 48-year-old Rio Rancho resident. “Gandhi . . . was a very spiritual individual – more concerned for others than he was for himself. That’s why I decided to name my bike `Gandhi.’ “
In the Duke City and beyond, more and more women are rolling two wheels across New Mexico’s sun-drenched pavement to find the scents, sights and sounds of a relaxing freedom they say is unique to motorcycle riding.
Statistics are hard to come by says Jeff Hennie, vice president of government relations for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, a national organization.
But it’s generally accepted that about 10 percent of motorcyclists are women, and the trend is picking up speed. Motorcycles are being designed now with women in mind, he said, which includes lower seats, lower tension on the brake and clutch levers and narrower grips..
“In the past five or six years, we’re starting to see clothing and helmets designed for the female form,” he said.
Parson’s first serious encounter with motorcycles began when she was 18 and eyeballing a Triumph in her home country of England.
She needed a ride to pick it up, but no one in her family would take her.
“None of them wanted me to ride,” she says. “I was very upset.”
By December 2004, she had her own Harley-Davidson Sportster – Gandhi the First – and began putting 8,000 miles on its odometer.
Though it was her first time commanding a bike, it wasn’t her first time on one. Since 1982, she had taken rides on the seat behind her husband.
“After so many years of sitting as a passenger, you get fed up looking at the back of a helmet,” she said. “You just want to get out there and do it yourself.”
After riding passenger with her husband for a couple of years, Cindy Johnson decided it was time for a change, too.
“Now, I don’t have to wait for him,” says Johnson, a 46-year-old Albuquerque resident whose first Harley was a surprise gift from her husband. “If he doesn’t want to ride, I can just get on my own bike and go. That’s pretty liberating.”
She never expected to be riding a motorcycle, but she’s already hooked on the experience.
“You can smell things,” she says. “Colors look brighter. If you’re going pretty fast, it’s kind of like you’re flying.”
She’s noticed that being a woman in control of a six-speed, two-wheel, 600-pound machine strikes some as unusual.
“I think most people don’t expect to see a woman riding,” she says. “They expect a woman to be on the back, behind her husband.”
She’s not sure exactly why she chose to start riding, but it had to do with getting older and a fear of missing out on life experiences – regardless of the dangers posed by a wreck.
“I’m starting to see 50 around the corner and I don’t want to regret anything,” she says. “It was a little scary in the beginning, but now it’s like if I don’t ride every couple of days I kind of get that edge.”
Sharissa Young says she knows a lot of women – though fewer now than 15 years ago – who like to ride but fear doing it on their own.
“Women are just a little more timid and they just aren’t as confident in their skills and abilities,” says the 43-year-old Albuquerque resident.
But in the past few years, she has found it easier to connect with other single, female Harley riders interested in long trips like herself.
“Today, there are a few more women riders,” Young says. “I think part of it is that motorcycle companies have realized that women are making more disposable income, so they’re targeting women more in the marketing world.”
Her interest in motorcycles began as a 14-year-old living in Columbus, Mo. She would take out her father’s 50-cc scooter “when he wasn’t looking,” she says.
In 1988, she divorced her husband of six years and – partly out of spite at the time – bought her first motorcycle, a Triumph that never ran right.
“My husband . . . had a bike, but he didn’t want me to have my own,” she says. “That was a point of contention. I never could figure that out.”
Her latest bike – a 2007 Harley-Davidson Street Glide FLHX – works great, she says, but there a few problems with its male-favoring proportions and her wardrobe options.
“I’m still waiting for them to make a one-piece, all-leather suit in women’s sizes,” she says. “By the time I get one wide enough to go over my hips, the shoulders are up to the top of my head and the legs are off the end of my feet.”
Regardless of the problematic details, she intends to keep on riding as long as she can.
“I just want to ride and ride and ride, and I just want to keep going and see what’s over the next hill,” she says. “You can smell everything you drive by. There’s just this indescribable feeling. I couldn’t imagine not riding.”
Harley-Davidson reports that more women are buying the company’s motorcycles.
Here’s a look at the gender of hog buyers by year:
2005: 89 percent male; 11 percent female.
2004: 90 percent male; 10 percent female.
2003: 90 percent male; 10 percent female
2002: 91 percent male; 9 percent female
2001: 91 percent male; 9 percent female.
And here’s a look at the approximate number of women who bought a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle by year:
MAN VS. WOMAN
Diane Ciampolillo, motorcycle sales consultant at Thunderbird Harley-Davidson/Buell for six months, says women approach buying a bike in ways different than men.
Here are a few of her observations:
“Women don’t make mistakes guys do. They do more research than their male counterparts, and buy a bike that’s more of a keeper. They plan their purchases more.”
“Women are more about the comfort side of it. Men will go for `Bigger is better’ sometimes, or `I want all fast and sexy with chopper styling.’ “
“They (women) like storage space. Its always a good selling point.”
John Greene, an owner and operator of Thunderbird Harley-Davidson/Buell, says his dealership, like those across the nation, is serving more and more women.
When a motorcycle riding class was first offered at the dealership in 2000, only one class every couple of months was designated as women-only, says the coordinator of the classes. Now, it’s a women-only class once or twice a month.
Greene says the still-forming Harley Owners Group at the dealership will have a position reserved for a woman representing female owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
He says future offerings for the dealership’s female customers might include:
Additional products geared toward women.