Move over men: Ladies are becoming leaders of the pack
Her first exposure to motorcycles came years ago as a passenger sitting behind her boyfriend. Arms wrapped around his waist, she blithely...
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
Her first exposure to motorcycles came years ago as a passenger sitting behind her boyfriend. Arms wrapped around his waist, she blithely blasted down the street wearing a bikini and flip-flops. No more the passenger, Joyce McCallum, of Mount Vernon, is now an officer in the Ladies of Harley Motorcycle Club, and a state-certified motorcycle-safety teacher.
No more illusions of immortality either.
Now McCallum wears neck-to-ankle leather, which offers better protection than a bikini — and remains alluring. Even at the sensible age of 47, McCallum in leather looks a lot like Emma Peel, the original, classy biker chick.
Although her husband doesn't ride — front or back, he supports his wife's hobby. "He's fine with it because he knows I'm careful," said McCallum. With 10 years on a motorcycle, she still enjoys those gaping mouths behind car windows. "I've become quite good at reading lips," she laughed. "They point and say, 'That's a girl!' "
Dave Preston, with the Cycle Barn dealership in Lynnwood, calls women's motorcycling "a dynamic force and growing fast." A veteran rider, Preston organized the Cycle Barn Women's Club. "They're off to a terrific start because there's so much interest," he said.
To be sure, there are generational differences. Younger women tend to prefer sport bikes; they don't give riding a second thought because nobody told them they couldn't do it. Many older women get into motorcycling after years of riding behind hubby. Something clicks and they come home with a Harley of their own.
To ease into the sport, women often join a club for local tours, like the one organized by Preston.
On a recent weekend, McCallum and two other "road captains" led a ride from Lynnwood to La Conner. Open to everyone, the club's riders were mostly female as they roared into the Cycle Barn parking lot prior to the start.
McCallum gave a safety talk, going over the itinerary of the ride, which would take them along the Mukilteo Speedway and rural back roads to La Conner. She warned of common hazards — patches of gravel, pooled water, even cow dung. They'd ride side-by-side much of the way, she told them, but when the signal came — one finger in the air, they'd drop into single file.
Time to head out: Leather chaps swished, legs straddled seats and the roar of more than a dozen throaty engines filled the air.
Riding near her husband, Nancy Eidemiller, 56, of Bothell, looked confident, even though she's fairly new to the sport, getting hooked by chance. A few years ago, the couple drove through Sturgis, S.D., during the annual summer motorcycle rally that attracts thousands of enthusiasts. "Everyone had such big smiles," she recalled. "They were having the time of their lives, and there we were, sitting in a mini-van."
She took a motorcycle safety course (twice), got her endorsement and now proudly rides a Honda Shadow. Her grown children have mixed reactions. "One shakes her head, one thinks it's a midlife crisis, another is thumbs up all the way. I tell them that I'm not afraid of dying on a motorcycle. I'm more afraid of not really living. I feel so free on the bike."
In a role reversal, husband John got into riding through her. "At first I thought, 'Why are we doing this crazy and dangerous thing?' " he said. "But we're having fun. This is a different thing we can do together."
Out on the open road, the group rolled along Mukilteo Speedway, and at every stop, heads turned, first because of the din, then it dawned on bystanders: These are not big, bad boys. These are ... ladies.
Tiny rider, big hogOnlookers seemed especially curious about Marianne Pea, 42, a Hawaiian living in Ballard. At 4 feet 10 ½ inches tall, Pea straddled a Harley much, much bigger than she is.
"They had to lower the suspension so my feet could reach the ground," she smiled. Unlikely as the match appears, Pea is at one with her hog. "I wanted an outlet for personal growth and my social life. I got both."
Another spectacle for the crowd: A 1978 chopper carrying two women from Arlington — Shirley Stalder-Wronkowski, 37, and her 15-year-old daughter, Kaylea Reed. Very cool easy-rider types, their long hair whipped behind them.
Stalder-Wronkowski is a first-rate mechanic who's been around bikes most of her life. That's how she found her husband. At a party, she admired his "old-school" chopper. "He said if I could start it, I could ride it," no small task since kick-starts are tricky even for men. She got it started. Eventually he said to her, "If you marry me, you can have the bike." It's the bike she rides to this day.
Kicking off the cycling season next month is an ambitious exhibit at The Whatcom Museum of History and Art, "Motorcycles: the Good, the Bad and the Custom." More than 30 classic motorcycles will be on display including Steve McQueen's 1963 Desert Triumph and James Dean's first motorcycle, a 1948 CZ.
Exhibits on women and motorcycling focus on former Bellingham resident Gladys Dawson Buroker. A remarkable woman who later flew airplanes, Buroker and her best friend left waitressing jobs in the 1930s for a cross-country motorcycle adventure that took them into Mexico.
During the exhibit's run, the museum will sponsor several motorcycle rides between Seattle and Bellingham, including the first ladies ride July 23. The show is free and runs noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday May 8-Dec. 4. 121 Prospect St., Bellingham; 360-676-6981 or also see The Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling's Web site at www.pnwmom.org/
A good introduction is found in "Motorcycle 101: A Common Sense Primer for Today's Rider," written by local author and veteran rider Dave Preston. The book covers the fundamentals, from buying a helmet to the developmental stages of a motorcyclist. $20 at Elliott Bay Books, Amazon.com and Cycle Barn 425-774-3538.
Licensing and safety
Riding requires rigorous training and a motorcycle endorsement. The best way to get both is to successfully complete a 16-hour course offered through the Washington State Motorcycle Safety program. Call 800-962-9010 or www.dol.wa.gov/ds/mtrcycle.htm# for prices and more information.
May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a good time to learn the basics or refresh riding skills. Not surprisingly, Harley-Davidson sponsors a rider-education program in more than 30 states through authorized dealerships, including Washington. In the Seattle area, courses are offered by Harley-Davidson of Seattle, 5711 188th St. S.W., Lynnwood, 425-774-3538 or www.h-dofseattle.com.
Most motorcycle shops offer information about local groups for women riders.
Manufacturers also have clubs. An online clearinghouse can be found at www.soundrider.com
Just launched is the Cycle Barn Women's Club, www.cyclebarn.com/
There also are national clubs for women, among them:
Ladies of Harley: www.gnw-hog.com/LOH/LOHhome.htm
Motor Maids: www.motormaids.org/
Women's Motorcycle Foundation: www.womensmotorcyclistfoundation.org/
American Motorcyclist Association: www.ama-cycle.org/
Women In The Wind: www.womeninthewind.org
Kaylea will follow suit when she's of age. "I love riding. I adore it," the teenager grinned. "I love the wind in my face and the bugs in my teeth!"
As the line of bikers curved away from townships to country roads, the signs of spring were everywhere. Fresh, green smells rushed by, sometimes mixed with a sharp whiff of sea salt, or the heavy, unmistakable scent of cows. Getting real is one of the reasons over-stressed, multi-tasking women ride.
Focus is critical"I used to have a sticker on my bike that said 'moto-zen,' " said McCallum. "When you're riding a motorcycle, you have to be utterly focused. You're using both hands and both feet. You must be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. It produces a fine state of clarity."
In her safety classes, McCallum emphasizes a maxim of motorcycling: Where you look, there you will go, so be careful what gets your attention. "I tell people to look where you want to go. Don't look at the obstacles. If you look at the back of the truck that you're afraid of hitting, you're not looking for an escape route."
The group pulled into a McDonald's for a pit stop, and the bikes filled the parking lot. Happy-Mealed families couldn't help but stare at the personality of the show: CeCe Keel rides a purple Harley — very sharp — and Road Captain Linda Owens has a beauty dubbed Scarlet O'Harley.
The third road captain is Susan Roberts, 57, of Everett. She learned to ride as a kid dashing around Montana. In her early days, she was pulled over by a cop. "I asked him, 'You don't think I have a motorcycle license, do you?' He admitted he didn't."
Everyone laughed at that, and Dave Preston added: "She committed an RWF — riding while female."
A stigma still exists. Joan DeWyer, 43, of Marysville, is a Harley-Davidson technician at Cycle Barn. A few years ago, laid off from Boeing and a single mom, she went for Harley training, one of the few women in the class. "There's still the idea that a woman's place is on the back of a bike," she said. She remembers the man who brought in his Harley for maintenance — and ignored her.
Satisfying feeling"Then I got on his bike, rode it around the parking lot and into the garage. It was the ultimate. Not only could I ride it, I could fix it! That whole macho Harley thing — I don't get it."
Of course, not all men are like that. Along for the La Conner ride, Bruce Lougheed, of Whidbey Island, grew up in a house full of sisters. "I like women on bikes," he said. "I encourage it."
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