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Freeing ride

More women get their kicks by riding motorcycles

More women get their kicks by riding motorcycles

July 10, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

When Amber Grimes decided to go from the back seat to the driver's seat of a motorcycle, it wasn't about trust.

Grimes, 21, of Hagerstown, said she felt comfortable riding with her boyfriend, experienced motorcyclist Aaron Benshoff.

But she had been itching to get her own bike, and about a month ago, after more than a year of wanting one, she purchased a Kawasaki Ninja 250EX.

Grimes likes "the independent feeling. I'm really into the rush it gives you, and it's a nice stress reliever."

Her grandfather passed away shortly before she bought the bike. The rides helped ease the stress from the loss.

Having her own bike also gave her control.

She no longer has to wait for Benshoff to give her a ride. She can just get up and go.

Grimes is one of a growing number of women who are driving - although some still prefer to call it riding - motorcycles.

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From 1998 to 2003, the estimated number of women who drive a motorcycle has increased 34 percent or by more than 1 million women to 4.3 million women, according to the latest data available from the Motorcycle Industry Council.

According to Harley-Davidson, the number of female Harley owners was more than 30,000 last year, compared with 600 in 1985.

"I find it very interesting to know that there's more and more girls doing it and I really like that idea. I don't want to sound sexist, but I think it is stereotyped as a male activity. It's nice to show that women can do it also," Grimes said.

Men, who tend to be stronger, have been cut out more for motorcycling because the bikes are heavy to push around and hold up at a stop, but women's access to bikes has improved, Grimes said.

Manufacturers are making smaller bikes that look like sport bikes or the bigger bikes, giving women greater opportunity to ride a bike their size, she said.

Grimes, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 115 pounds, rides a 304-pound bike. She said her bike is on the heavier side of small bikes but is still lighter than her boyfriend's bike, which weighs about 360 pounds.

In the mid-'90s, bike manufacturers expanded cruiser lines, introducing a greater variety of engine size and lowered the bike, said Genevieve Schmitt, contributing editor to Ehlert Publishing Group's motorcycle publications. She also was editor of "Woman Rider Magazine," which she says ceased publication in 2004 because it was "ahead of its time." Schmitt wants to relaunch the magazine.

It wasn't necessarily the lighter weight, but the lower sense of gravity that made the bikes easier to manage for smaller riders, i.e. women, Schmitt said.

Parts and accessories such as seats that bring the rider lower to the ground, foot pegs that bring the feet closer to the body and handlebar risers that bring the handlebars closer to the body also appeal to smaller riders, she said.

Bike design isn't the only reason women are the fastest growing segment of motorcycle owners, Schmitt said.

There's more acceptance of women in the workplace, of rising up the corporate ladder, so there's no reason women can't also assert themselves in life by buying the big toys like motorcycles, she said.

In addition to the freedom and stress relief that both male and female riders say motorcycling provides, Schmitt said she's found there's another reason women like motorcycles.

"It instills a sense of confidence," Schmitt said. "Women are riding for what it does for the psyche and self-esteem."

Feeling the freedom


Freedom and a greater connection to one's surroundings often are behind the preference for two wheels over four.

"I feel very much connected with my world when I'm on that motorcycle," said Carole Keyser, 59, of Hagerstown. "You not only see. It's not just visual. You feel. You smell. You live the ride. I think I noticed this on my very first ride with my husband."

"We're going down the interstate and it's like these flowers are real. You can smell them and the road has a smell and a feel that you don't experience in a car, not even in a convertible. You don't notice the world around you like you do on a motorcycle," she said.

Motorcycling has been a lifelong bond between her and her husband, John, who began riding together in the '60s.

Motorcycling is a stress reliever for Misty Shirley, 21, of Hagerstown.

"Some people drink or smoke when stressed out. I just go on a bike ride and I feel better after that," she said. "Cause there's nobody around you. You can go wherever you want to go. You absorb everything around you. You look at things differently. It's a thrill."

"I think it's like my therapy. It's just like going to a spa, but it's completely different. Quiet and relaxed," Shirley said.

Shirley and Rorke Eichholz, 32, of Halfway, say riding motorcycles feels freeing.

"Maybe because it's not like you're locked up in a car. (You're) feeling the wind in your face," Eichholz said.

Eichholz also enjoys the speed, hitting the corners, the fun and the control.

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