Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Record numbers of motorcycle mamas are learning to ride in midlife

Of 11 million motorcycles in the U.S. in 2009, about 1.5 million were owned by women.

Detroit Free Press


DETROIT — Janice Perzigian began 2011 on a quest to find out what makes people happy.

"I can't tell you how many people said it was the freedom of riding a motorcycle, the wind in their face, even just looking at their motorcycle that made them happy," recounts Perzigian, the 48-year-old director of marketing and public relations for Cornerstone Schools in Detroit.

By April, she had signed up for a motorcycle riding class at Motor City Harley-Davidson in Farmington Hills, Mich. Before the class even started, Perzigian shelled out $18,000 for a 2011 Fat Boy Lo and another $5,000 to customize it to her petite frame.

"It's fabulous," gushes Perzigian, of Royal Oak, Mich. "It fits my personality — sophisticated, yet with some attitude and some style. It's got a bit of shine, a bit of chrome. People come running up to see it."

Women in Michigan are riding motorcycles in record numbers. In the past 10 years, the number of licensed Michigan bikers who are women has nearly doubled, from about 37,000 to 64,000 — a trend that also plays out nationally.

Thanks to women like Perzigian, the stereotype of the "biker chick" — that good-time floozy content riding the back of the bike — is fading into the distance.

"While many women first learned to enjoy motorcycling sitting behind a man, today's female biker doesn't want to ask for rides anymore," says Jennifer Loberman, 40, who left a career in banking and rode her motorcycle into a new job as marketing director for Motor City Harley-Davidson. "She wants to choose when she's going, where she's going and who she's going with."

Genevieve Schmitt, founder of the online magazine, says the emergence of the serious female biker is a reflection of the growing financial and business clout of women as they climb corporate ladders and become small-business entrepreneurs.

Schmitt says surveys show that today's female biker is a community role model, earns $50,000 or more and is college-educated. Female biker clubs — such as the Free Spirit Chapter out of Motor City Power Sports in Bloomfield Hills and Women in the Wind chapters — "are the new bridge clubs" of the century, says Schmitt.

When Stephanie Jones gets on her 2006 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe motorcycle, it often takes her to work at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., where she's associate director of pre-college programs.

Jones, 49, was a Harley-Davidson cover model for a special brochure the iconic motorcycle company published for female riders. She first rode on a motorcycle that belonged to her then-husband. But she took her first motorcycling lessons from her pastor, who instructed Jones and four other women in the parking lot of Ebenezer Ministries in Burton, Mich., about 10 years ago.

Since then, Bishop Urundi Knox started a motorcycle ministry. And Jones and about 14 other members ride on Sundays to visit the sick and homebound. Since she became a rider, two sisters and a brother in other states also have taken to motorcycling, as has her son.

"I'm kind of petite and my bike is kind of big, and it looks like I can't handle it," says Jones. "When people see me on the bike, they are surprised, because I'm a professional at work and the secretary at church."

Jones gets as many comments on her biker clothes as on her bike. She wears ostrich cowboy boots and a helmet that matches. Her latest look is white jeans with a white Harley-Davidson vest to match. When's doing her motorcycle ministry, she's got a vest with a patch that reads: "Ebenezer Ministries. On Fire for the Lord."

While an increasing number of women are discovering the allure of motorcycles, manufacturers have in turn discovered the growing female market.

Krista Bach, 31, rides 55 miles one way on a motorcycle from Adrian, Mich., to her job as clothing manager for Motor City Harley-Davidson. She sees the increase in women riders in sales at the store.

"You see a lot more ladies riding in independently or with a group of women," says Bach. "Women are more willing to spend a little more on their clothes and be a little more fashionable than the guys. The boys are satisfied with a black Harley T-shirt. The women are willing to buy a little bling."

There's no bling evident, however, on a sweltering Sunday behind a warehouse in Farmington Hills, Mich., where six would-be motorcyclists are taking nitty-gritty beginner motorcycle lessons.

They're learning how to throttle without stalling and how to negotiate a series of loops and curves without tipping over. Their instructor is Michelle Goodhand, 58, a dental hygienist from West Bloomfield, Mich. She started riding in 2001, with a boyfriend at the handlebars.

"It was pretty boring back there," says Goodhand. She took a class, but flunked her first road test. Undeterred, she tried again, passed the test, bought a bike, rode 15,000 miles the first year and dumped the boyfriend.

"He was the kind of guy who got threatened by me having my own bike," says Goodhand. Now, she spends most weekends teaching. Three of her four children now ride motorcycles, too.

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About one out of nine motorcycle owners nationwide is a woman.

Of 11 million motorcycles in the U.S. in 2009, about 1.5 million were owned by women.

The estimated number of motorcycle riders who are women — which includes women who own motorcycles and those who just ride them — jumped from 4.3 million in 2003 to 5.6 million in 2008. That's a 30 percent increase.

The median age of female motorcyclists in 2009 was 37 — down from 41 in 2008.

40 percent of female motorcyclists are married.

36 percent of female motorcyclists have a college or postgraduate degree.

25 percent of female motorcyclists are business or health care professionals.

58 percent of women take a motorcycle riding course compared to 44% of men.

Source: Motorcycle Safety Foundation