Women's Studies / American Culture / Motorcycles / Anthropology
Harleys, Women, and American Society
Excerpt from Chapter 6, Women Jamming the Wind
Illustration from Bike Lust, Sharon Turner. Courtesy of Sharon Turner.
Sharon Turner epitomizes the Woman Rider. Self-sufficient, competent, and independent, when not riding she works as an operating-room nurse in a VA hospital. She knows bikers (literally) inside and out. She is so committed to riding that she does not own a car. Rain, wind, sun, or fog, she rides to work on her '93 Softail Custom. Blond, slender, and soft looking, she does not fit the stereotype of a serious biker. Sharon, however, is a serious rider. She travels both long and short distances on her bike and has passed on her love of riding to her oldest child, her daughter Heather. This year, they are riding to Alaska.
"I thought I hated motorcycles when I first saw them. I thought they were dangerous, ugly, and not any part of my lifestyle. I did not know anyone who rode except for my daughter's boyfriend (when they were both sixteen), and that was not a relationship I encouraged.
"Then this young man came to show Heather his new Kawasaki, but she was not home. He was so pleased with the bike he offered to give me a ride. To my enormous surprise, I accepted the ride and loved it. It was exhilarating. It gave me a wonderful feeling to have all that air in my face. It was so exciting it brought back the memories of how much fun I used to have when I rode my little moped.
After a few more rides, I decided to get my own bike. I did not want to passenger. Since I couldn't ride, when I finally did buy my 650 Honda I needed Heather's boyfriend to pick up the bike and ride it home. After that, we would drive to a safe area and he would sit behind me while I learned to ride. I never did take a class. I just practiced by myself until I got it. Many, many miles of practice later, I made it to a highway. Since I never knew anyone my age who rode, I always rode alone. I remember I had just turned forty when I rode from Redding to the coast and back. It was a weekend ride. I found it amazing.
"Believe it or not, I used to think of myself as a very dependent person. I always lived with someone. I was never really on my own. There were the kids and several husbands. I was always with others. Someone was always around to tell me what to do. I saw myself as a wife and devoted mother, dutifully taking care of my family.
"When I moved to San Francisco, after my kids were grown and my first marriage was over, I put my bike away. Then I married Jim, my second husband, and he did not ride. He refused to have anything to do with the bike. Besides, the hills in San Francisco seemed a little intimidating.
"When Jim and I split up, I finally got back on my motorcycle. I joined the SRRA [Sierra Road Riders Association] and started riding with them. I wanted a bigger bike and began to look around. Right away I liked the sound and the looks of the Harley. I liked it that all kinds of people rode them. The BMW, which I also considered, didn't have the sound or the feel of a Harley. They also didn't look comfortable for touring. I knew that I wanted to tour. When I felt that I was ready for a bigger bike, I knew it would be a Harley."
Sharon rides but she does not wrench. She can do small things like change a battery or a tire, but that's pretty much it. When she bought her Harley, she joined the Golden Gate Chapter of HOG.
"I loved the meetings in the basement of DP [Dudley Perkins]. I loved sitting among all those bikes. It made those meetings special."
"Do you consider yourself a biker?"
"I would never call myself that. I do consider myself an enthusiast. Bikers are, you know, the ones who carry chains and have tattoos all over their bodies, like in The Wild One. But I am part of Harley culture. Harley culture is made up of all those people who know how wonderful it is to be in the saddle of a really good bike. I even considered joining a few other groups."
"I went to a meeting of SFMC and I was the only woman there. I know that there are women members, but the night I was there, there was only me. It felt very male and very exclusionary. I felt that it was a male fraternity, with a no-women-allowed atmosphere."
"What about your daughter riding? I know your son doesn't ride, but Heather does. Do you feel uncomfortable about it?"
"As a mother, I get nervous sometimes. But other times it's great. I do get very concerned for her safety. Actually, I get more concerned for hers than for my own. But I feel confident of her riding abilities. I know that it is an awesome responsibility. But here I am, I ride. How could I want to deny that to her?"
"Do you feel feminine when you ride? You ride a big bike. Is that ever an issue?"
"I see myself as feminine. To me that means I enjoy the feminine side of myself. I enjoyed all the nurturing parts. I liked being a wife and I liked being a mother and raising kids. I do not see riding as being inconsistent with being feminine.
"Out there on the road, I see lots of men and they are always very helpful and concerned and kind. This is their way of taking care of their feminine side. They wouldn't see it that way, but I do. I feel that I can express my feminine side by all the nurturing I still do. And I can express my masculine side when I am out there on the road riding my motorcycle. I'm taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, and the bike by the handlebars. I need to take care of both sides of my personality.
"I do really wish that there were more women riders. You do see more women riding all the time, but I'd like to see women my age riding. Since I just turned fifty, I notice that most of the riders are younger. If older women could just shake loose some of their old attitudes about riding, they would have a grand time.
"Women get hung up a lot. Most women don't have the moxie to just get on a bike. Women need to learn to take control of their lives. Older women are very dependent and give up a lot for men. They let men make their choices for them. So many women are just too timid and too intimidated to do what they want to do. They wait for permission to do what they want. And you know that most men will never give their wives permission to ride a motorcycle.
"For these women, life is just going to pass them by. One day they will look back and be sorry for all the opportunities they missed. They will be sorry that they did not take their chances. There is a wonderful quote on my refrigerator door and I truly live by it. It says: 'A person will be called to account on judgment day for every permissible thing that he or she might have enjoyed but did not.' I love that saying. I truly do. Life is meant to be lived and for me that includes riding my bike."
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