Shifting into fun
Stereotypes about motorcycle riders run as deep as the tattoo ink they all supposedly love.
People envision "burly, hairy, tattooed guys," said Dena Besece, owner of C&A Harley-Davidson in Plain City, laughing.
"It's so far from the truth," she said.
Most of her customers, in fact, are doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
And an increasing number are women-both at her store, around the state and across the nation. From amateurs to professionals, they find riding an exhilarating experience, though not one for the faint of heart (riders need a hearty amount of muscle, skill and guts) or pocketbook (premium bikes cost as much as $44,000).
"It's amazing to watch these women ride," Besece said. "They just get hooked."
And hooked they are: The Ohio Department of Public Safety issued nearly 20,000 more motorcycle endorsements to women in 2009 than five years earlier. Harley-Davidson new bike purchases by females are up nearly 8 percent nationwide. And new bike purchases by females at C&A, Besece's shop, are up 15 percent.
Harley-Davidson has acknowledged the buying power of women. They now sell diamond-iced rim covers, pink leather apparel, and custom paint jobs of pearlescent white with hot pink flames. Last year, the company debuted a purple bike.
And C&A-under the insightful guidance of female leaders-is catering to the excited crowd. The shop offers a female-only rider's safety education course where women can learn to ride, and they stock bikes designed for smaller statures-lower seats, shorter shocks and easier-to-reach handles.
Besece's sister-in-law, Tammy, owns a title insurance agency Downtown. Though she had been part of the C&A-owning family for years, she never considered getting on a hog. Then, the dealership began offering the rider's education course.
"I decided it was time to learn something new," Tammy said. She found the bookwork easy. But for the woman who can't even drive a stick-shift car, the riding was hard. Still, she said, "after the course, I wanted a bike right away."
Now, she often trades her skirt and high heels for clothing more optimal for rural road trips on her Harley Nightster.
She's also found what most riders do: Get a bike, and you're automatically part of an extended family. There's a palpable brother- and sisterhood of bikers-conversations rife with code, a respectful low wave and nod to each other when they pass on the road.
Keriake Lucas, director of internal communications for Tween Brands, fell in love with her husband as he simultaneously taught her how to ride. Today, motorcycles are a cornerstone of their relationship-and her life.
"It is a time to be at peace with yourself. It's a break away from everything. You get to unplug from the world," she said. "Spiritually, riding has been great for me."
Even though it's becoming less surprising to see a broad on a bike, women say they still get the occasional look of shock when they take off their helmets-from fellow bikers and other drivers alike.
Sometimes it's disheartening.
"It's ridiculous," Tammy Besece said. "Some people really look down on people who ride."
Sometimes it's funny.
"I was at a gas station once, and there was a dad with a minivan, gassing up, four kids in the back seat," Lucas said, "and he just watched me and had this look on his face, like, 'How did I get here?' "
It's empowering to ride, many say-to challenge people's perceptions with the turn of a key.
But most importantly, it just feels good.
"It's hard to explain unless you ride," Tammy Besece said. "But I have never found anything else that relaxes you and is exciting at the same time."
Scooting to happy
Caitlin and Gary Didier first caught the scooter bug five years ago.
"It was one of those Kismet deals," recalled Caitlin.
They had a pact: She would only buy a scooter if it was orange and white, he if it was red and white. As they peeked through the window of the first Honda bike shop they went to, there serendipitously sat two scooters in those exact color combinations.
"From that point on," Caitlin said, "there was no getting us off them."
The couple celebrated their fifth anniversary on a long scooter road trip before moving to Columbus, where Caitlin became a professor at Denison University. They became immersed in the local scooter scene, eventually starting their own club, The Easy Peasey Scooter Posse.
The couple dreamed of opening their own scooter store. But in the summer of 2008, a week before the shop's opening, Gary died of an unexpected heart attack.
Caitlin was left sputtering in neutral-lost without her best friend, husband, partner.
So Gary's son, an auto mechanic, moved from Kansas to Columbus to help open the store. Local riders rallied as well, and despite the tragedy, Capital City Scooters opened that December.
"The whole club became very close to Caitlin when she lost Gary," says Mary Martineau, a Vespa rider and marketing director for North Market. "She's the mother of the scooter scene."
Riding has become therapeutic for Caitlin.
"It brought us a lot of joy together," she said. "And it still brings me joy."
Keriake Lucas is tall and slender, with doe eyes and hair as shiny as the chromed-out Harley she rides. It's not hard for her to pull off the masculine moto look-doo rag, bulky leather jacket. But as she encountered more women riding, the director of internal communications for Tween Brands decided to create a clothing line just for biker ladies.
Motorcycle Mavens sells fitted $20 T-shirts and camisoles printed with playful statements like "Proud of these pipes" and "I ditched the pig and got my own hog."
"People would ask me at rallies, 'What does your husband ride?' " Lucas said. "I wanted to see shirts that were empowering for women, even if they were just on the back of the bike."
The looks are sold on her website - MotorcycleMavens.com - and at the female-centric bike shop Hocking Hills Motorcycle Ranch.
"As a woman business owner in a male-dominated business, I was drawn to her and her company," says Michelle Storts, owner of HHMR. "Plus, us girls got to stick together."
Now, when someone asks Lucas whose bike she rode in on, she can unzip her jacket and let her shirt do the talking: "No thanks... I've got my own ride."
Dena Besece, 44
2005 Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle Fat Boy
Why do you ride?
"It can be relaxing. I can smell the fresh-cut grass. I love when it's sunny and nice out. I just turn everything off."
Favorite road trip:
Anything with her father, Carl, who taught her how to ride and with whom she rode cupcake (the term for riding behind the bike's driver) while in grade school. The best trips for her are those with no destination.
Keriake Lucas, 50
2010 Harley-Davidson Deluxe
Why do you ride?
"It is a time to be at peace with yourself. It's a break away from everything. You get to unplug from the world... Spiritually, riding has been great for me."
Favorite road trip:
Anything for a cause or a charity, like "Guns N Hoses," an annual motorcycle ride that raises money for firefighters.
Caitlin Didier, 38
2007 Genuine Stella
Why do you ride?
"It's so fun. For me, it's freeing. I forget the stress and the worries. It helps me leave the world behind."
Favorite road trip:
A 700-mile trek from Ainsworth, Nebraska, to Wichita, Kansas, that she journeyed with her husband Gary before he died. The couple visited every unique, historical or biscuit-and-gravy-slopping stop along the way.