Women are taking to the road in record numbers and they’re not behind the wheel of a little red sports car. Whether they’re twenty five or sixty five, it’s the lure of the open road experienced from atop their own motorcycle, and those who do it love it.
While not all motorcycle enthusiasts ride Harley Davidsons, many women in the Okanagan do. Harley Ashdown, General Manager of Gasoline Alley Harley Davidson in Kelowna, says women are the fastest growing segment of the Harley Davidson market.
Janinne Cleary, who has been riding for about 17 years, is one whose passion keeps her on the open road across North America and as far off as Australia.
“I started riding in 2000. I bought a 500 cc Kawasaki and took some lessons, and I’d never been on a bike before. One year later I was the owner of a 1200 cc custom sportster Harley and I’ve never looked back. I knew I was going to love it but I had no idea it was to become my greatest passion,” she says.
Janinne’s first trip was to Nevada with a couple of friends and during that ride she became hooked on Harleys. Since then, she’s been involved in rides around Canada and the United States, as well as a ten-day excursion through Australia, where she rented a bike and took to the road alone!
“I’ve ridden on my own and I’ve ridden with up to 17 other bikes. To me, it’s about the wide open spaces. My senses really open up when I’m on the road. The scenery is a feast for the eyes and the smells and wind in your face are fantastic. You truly are as free as a bird and you’re in the moment at all times. I don’t wait for somebody to invite me for a ride; I make my plans and go!”
And indeed, she does. While she usually rides with a mixed group of ten to sixteen people, she says she often decides on the spur of the moment to zip over to Nakusp or down to Osoyoos on her own.
“I don’t believe in waiting around for opportunities. I love riding with my friends but I’m very comfortable on my own, too”.
In 2008, her ten day, solo trip in Australia took her to some of that country’s most beautiful spots.
“I rented a Harley Ultra Classic and flew to Sydney, where I picked it up. I travelled to some amazing places like Apollo Bay, Twelve Apostles, The Grampians and the Blue Mountains,” she recalls.
And riders are a friendly bunch who meet up with strangers that quickly morph into new friends.
“You’re not really alone that much. I met people within a few hours of starting my trip and kept meeting more the entire time. It’s all part of the experience. I made some lifelong friends on that ride.”
Another twelve day trip with friends took them through seven U.S. states and she said a group trip to Alaska brings back some pretty spectacular memories as well.
“The group I often ride with are great to be with. I’m not much of a pre-planner…I believe that a ride should be an adventure. I took another trip where I shipped my bike to Nova Scotia and spent three weeks travelling around Cape Breton, the whole of Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. I met two people from Moncton on a ferry to PEI and they suggested I visit Gaspe, so off I went!”
Janinne is on her fourth Harley, a Street Glide, which is the largest she’s ever owned.
“I find the Harley easier for women to handle. With the weight distribution, I just feel safer. The design suits a woman’s structure.”
While there is always potential danger lurking around the corner, Janinne says her own experience proved to her that taking riding lessons was the best way to go.
“I was involved in a pretty scary accident on the Port Mann Bridge, when the road was oily after heavy rain. I rolled into incoming traffic, and my (riding) course really saved me. Right away I was looking for the safest place to go and I understood emergency braking. I was all alone that day. I was rescued by two off-duty paramedics and two off-duty firemen. It’s a great way to meet people,” she chuckled. “I ended up with three cracked ribs and a bruised ego.”
Gasoline Alley’s Ashdown agrees that preparation is key for any new rider.
“We host Garage Parties for women only, where they can talk to our people and learn specifically about financing options, sales, riding gear, safety gear, the service department, parts…everything they’ll need to know to get started,” he said. “Harley Davidson trains us extensively on getting the right bike for the client the first time. Sometimes it’s better to start on a smaller bike, and sometimes it starts when a woman is a passenger on her partner’s bike and realize they want their own motorcycle.”
Gasoline Alley offers Harley rentals for people with a full motorcycle license, and they have demo bikes riders can try. With spring fast approaching, bike sales are expected to skyrocket. Both new and used bikes are available, and the selection is immense with over 100 bikes on site.
Ashdown says their local dealership is very involved in community charities and events. They host Poker Runs, a Mother’s Day ride complete with a free lunch, and in 2018, they’ll be hosting a Hog Rally in Kelowna. They also sponsor HOG, the Harley Owners Group. Its’ affiliate is LOH, Ladies of Harley and Sue Plover is their Membership Officer.
Sue rides a Kawasaki Vulcan but she’s been adopted by her fellow LOH members. She says LOH is a great group for social activities and planned rides.
“We have women who ride their own bikes and those that are backriders. Men can attend our events but the rides are planned by the women. We ride together all summer and in the winter we try to organize a monthly event to socialize and have some fun. We do an annual garage sale with used equipment and riding clothes, to name a few things,” she explained.
Sue started out riding on the back of her partner’s bike and a mere four months later, she had her first bike and a license. She loves the social aspect of riding and is usually with a group anywhere from six to 75 people. She and some other members of the group are involved in Ride for Dad, a fundraiser for prostate cancer.
“It’s really exciting and fun to ride in a parade with up to 400 bikes! Traffic is stopped, people are waving and it shows that bikers are a great group of people who want to help.”
Sue says riding her bike is a pure adrenaline rush.
“Riding is freedom, empowerment, knowing that you’re in charge, exciting and exhilarating. I don’t ride with music on my bike because I don’t want to. It’s the sheer joy of being out in the fresh air and sunshine,” she says. “I’ve been riding for three years and I’ve seen far more of the Okanagan during that time than in the previous 17 years I lived here. We take a lot of back roads and see things you’d never experience otherwise.”
For more information on LOH, contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll be glad to help.
As Janinne Cleary says, riding is a life-long event for her and many of the women who ride.
“I’ll be in my 80s’ on a Harley Davidson trike before I stop riding,” she states emphatically.