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by Elinor Nauen, AARP, 2008-07-31
"Thirty years ago I knew not one woman who rode motorcycles," reported Becky Brown, 53.
Today, Women in the Wind, an international women's motorcycle organization that Becky founded in 1979, has chapters in more than 70 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
She was one of two women—with Christine Sommer-Simons, 51, motorcycle journalist and author of the popular children's book, "Patrick Wants to Ride,"—inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame Wednesday morning at a breakfast in nearby Spearfish, S.D. A total of eight advocates, racers, writers, historical figures, and industry leaders—all 50+—made up the honorees.
Becky got her start riding show horses. She related, "It's a lot of the same feeling: one on one, independence, freedom. It's the difference between driving a sports car and riding in the bus."
Fellow Hall of Fame honoree and off-road racing champ, Malcolm Smith, 67, agreed. "Half the population is women. Why aren't half the riders?" he said, to great applause from the 400 breakfast attendees.
If Mary Wommer, 50, from Sisseton, S.D., had her way, they would be. "It keeps you young, independent, and [it] gives a sense of freedom you can't get anywhere else," she said. "And you can get away from your old man," she joked. She and her husband, Jack Laemmle, got married during the Sturgis Rally in 1999 and have been riding together ever since. "It bonds our marriage," she reflected.
"I love to see women ride with the confidence to do what they love to do. It's empowering to women to ride," said Pepper Massey, 50, director of the rally and—no surprise—an avid rider.
It's also reassuring to know that these days, most manufacturers are building bikes that are more suitable for women. Their numbers have steadily risen to almost 10 percent of motorcycle buyers. "My first bikes were so high off the ground that I had to lean over to get my foot down," Becky recalled.
Even rock stars seem to be paying a new kind of attention to women. Steven Tyler, 60, (lead singer of Aerosmith! Liv's dad!) is in Sturgis exhibiting his new line of custom bikes. "It's not a macho motorcycle, and it doesn't have to be lowered for women," he said.
As to how Tyler continues to rock well into his AARP years, he related, "If there's one thing we've learned, it's that you don't get to be this age by being a fool."
For me, not being a fool has pretty much meant staying off motorcycles. It seems it's taken a rock star to get me on one. But of course, it wasn't moving.
If you're curious about two-wheeled speed, metal, black leather, roaring vibrations, or cheap transportation, Becky suggests you simply ask someone you know for a ride and see if you like it. And if you do, be sure to take a safety course.
Tomorrow: Harley Hitched!
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