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More women are taking to the open road on motorcycles

| Monday, July 9, 2012, 10:18 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely
Janine Morgan on her Harley Davidson at her West View home Friday, July 5, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Philip G. Pavely
Janine Morgan on her Harley Davidson at her West View home Friday, July 5, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Janine Morgan, an avid motorcyclist, has heard plenty of accusations and concerns about her preferred mode of transportation.

Besides the Hell's Angels image, many people think motorcycles are dangerous and overtly masculine, thus inappropriate for a woman. Once, while on the road, a male car driver sarcastically shouted out, “That bike's awfully small for you, isn't it?” Another person asked: “What are you — some kind of hoodlum?”

Yet, none of these assumptions ring true. Morgan, 57, is a self-proclaimed girly-girl who likes to wear pink. She just loves the experience of freedom when riding her Harley-Davidson, with the wind whipping through her hair.

“It's the call of the open road,” says Morgan, of West View, who sells parts at Three Rivers Harley-Davidson in Shaler. She has been riding motorcycles since she was a teen.“You don't feel as restricted as you do in a car. ... You're not in a cage — you're in the open, and it's exciting.

“As you cruise along ... you can hear the birds, and you can smell the honeysuckle,” Morgan says. “You can't do that in a car.”

She has plenty of company. More and more women, rather than mounting a motorcycle behind a man and wrapping their arms around his waist, are grabbing the handles and driving motorcycles.

According to the latest survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council, the number of female motorcycle operators has increased slowly to about 7.2 million of the 27 million motorcyclists in 2009. About 1 in 10 motorcycle owners is a woman, according to council figures, although the number of riders is higher because not all riders own the bike, says Cam Arnold, a vice president for the Irvine, Calif.-based council. Comparatively, in 1998, 8 percent of motorcycle owners were women, and 17 percent of riders were women, according to the council.

Of the American Motorcyclist Association's approximately 225,000 members, less than 10 percent are women, but the number of new members has increased, says board member Maggie McNally.

The increase comes partially from a higher profile for women riders, along with more training opportunities and better equipment, she says.

When people think of women on two wheels, they may think of the tough, “biker chick” stereotype. Some female motorcyclists may fit these images, but you'd be surprised, say area bikers and Arnold.

All kinds of women — from 20-something rebels to conservative-looking soccer moms, professional-looking doctors and even senior citizens — ride motorcycles.

“I think it's a cross, with every different type of woman,” says Arnold, a mom and professional.

Simply, riding motorcycles gives people, male or female, a fun way to enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with friends and family when riding in groups, Arnold says. One of the appeals of motorcycles is their low cost during tough economic times, she says. The purchase price is lower than a car, and the gasoline bill is less.

The Honda PCX150 Scooter, for instance, has a 1.6-gallon tank and gets 95.1 miles per gallon, on average. And the sense of freedom from driving without an enclosing car structure rocks, she says.

“Its just a different feeling,” says Arnold, 51, who owns three motorcycles. “It's a great way to wake up in the morning.”

Kim McMahan — co-owner of Z & M Cycle Sales in Greensburg with her brother, Jim McMahan — agrees. “There's no words to explain it,” she says.

“I like the control,” says McMahan, who began riding motocross as a kid. “I'm a control freak. If I could fly my own plane, I would do that, too.”

Female customers often tell McMahan that they like to be in control — of their vehicles, and of their destinies. She has seen an increasing amount of women riders in the past decade, and they come from all types of backgrounds.

What they all have in common is a lust for freedom and independence, McMahan says.

“In today's age, so many women are starting to become self-reliant on themselves, without having to worry about what the guys doing,” she says.

“It's just girls being in control.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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