News Item: Female motorcyclists steertheir way to the head of the pack with their own clubs
(Category: Biker News)
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Sunday 11 June 2006 - 15:58:45

For Big Momma Prez of the Bay Area She Devils Motorcycle Club, it's all about the bike, a massive Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, comfortably decked out with a padded seat, windshield and a stereo system so Momma -- also known as Maria Jenkins -- can roll with her tunes.

But it's also about the name. "Every woman has a little bit of the she-devil in her," she says with a devilish smile. "We either bring it out or play it down," she says of her club, which has seven members and whose slogan is "the hottest ride in town."

Jenkins and legions more female riders have come a long way from the stereotypical biker babe sitting behind her man or the frequently vengeful lady biker portrayed in a variety of cult films from the 1970s. Between 1998 and 2003, the most recent year records are available, the number of female motorcyclists has increased 36 percent, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That translates to more than 635,000 female riders, and many women's riding groups, dealers and industry insiders say the numbers appear to be growing every year.

So many women are riding that it's even rumored that Harley-Davidson, whose bikes are commonly known as "hogs," will soon introduce a specially designed women's model. The company also has sponsored four International Women's Motorcycling Conferences and the first annual Women's Motorcycle Expo was held in Auburn last weekend, attracting a crowd of more than 2,000 to the Placer County event.

"Growing up, it was rare to see a woman riding a bike -- as rare as seeing a unicorn," said Theresa "T-Rexxx" Foglio, 33, president of San Francisco's West Coast Devil Dolls Motorcycle Club. Not so now. These days, the club's Web site gets about 4,000 hits a week.

April Turner, 25, of Oakland is one of the many who put the stereotype of the rough and tough biker chick firmly to rest. Turner, who began riding dirt bikes at 14, recently decked out her '06 Road King with shiny new chrome parts, larger rims, 16-inch ape hanger handlebars and the true traffic stopper -- hand-painted Disney characters that have taken up residence all over the bike, painted a luminous cobalt blue.

"My goddaughter, Akemi, who's 5, told me I should put princesses all over it," Turner said.

Taking that as her inspiration, Turner ran with it. Peter Pan flies away on one side of the gas tank, while a few of the 101 Dalmatians tumble playfully on the other. On the front fender, Beauty twirls her skirts as she takes the Beast's outstretched hand and Snow White smiles flirtatiously from the back of a wheel cover. Turner, who rides with a club in Oakland called Nuttin' Nyce, sees this all as a way to make her own personal statement as a female rider -- and one who has no problem keeping up with the guys.

Being an accomplished rider doesn't mean you have to lose sight of your inner girlie-girl, says Princess Kelli, a.k.a. Lil' Princess, 47, president of the Medieval Maidens, a Central Valley club with nine members. "We feel like we have our iron horses, but we like our lingerie, makeup and curling irons," said Princess, who wore a purple skirt and tights to match her purple helmet at a recent party celebrating the club's second birthday. "We're not trying to be guys. We just want to ride."

Foglio agrees. "It's not just about being sexy, though we can relate to that. It's also about being empowered," she said. Her club posed for its own calendar, which features each woman with her bike. For every calendar sold, one is sent overseas to troops in Iraq. Fundraising for a variety of causes, including breast cancer and domestic violence prevention, is a central activity of many of the women's riding clubs. The She Devils just published the "She Devilicious Cookbook," which will benefit deaf survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Longtime rider Jan Emanuel of Oakland created a www.realdivasride.com for women riders dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer. On July 23, Emanuel, a survivor of the disease, and six other riders will motor across the country to raise money for breast cancer research wearing pink and black ribbons.

Female riders also make up 35 percent of the 7,000 subscribers to Urban Moto, a bimonthly cycling magazine that blasted into San Francisco's well-established motorcycle scene only 10 months ago. Editor Leslie Kaye -- with her pink leather handbag, fashionable all-black ensemble and blond ringlets -- is more Carrie Bradshaw than Biker Betty.

She's helped the publication gain its voice as the hot-racing and hard-riding new kid on the track -- the one with the tats, attitude, and an impressive and wide-ranging knowledge of motorcycles, whether sport bikes, supermotos, dirt bikes or cruisers. In February, Kaye oversaw the first annual women's issue, which paid respects to several of the city's female motorcycling pioneers.

A newcomer to riding and the only female on the staff, Kaye said she's fallen in love with motorcycles because of the strong and supportive community of Bay Area riders.

"People are always finding parts for each other or helping each other fix their bikes, and they're religious about their Sunday morning rides," said Kaye, 52, who also works as an assistant to film director Philip Kaufman.

The most dramatic increase in female ridership has happened in the past decade, says Dayna "Grumbles" Davidson, the founder and national president of the Sisters of Scota Women's Motorcycle Club, which she created in 1981. Some clubs came and went through the '80s and '90s in the Bay Area (including the Tribe, Leather and Blues, Hells Belles, the Amazons and the California Eagles), she said, but they are on a definite upward trend these days, riders say, pointing to the larger numbers of female riders on the road in Northern and Central California. Membership is often selective, with prospective members going through a trial period of riding with a club to see if it's a good match. On group rides, each woman's position is carefully dictated depending on hierarchy within the club and experience.

In 1985, only 600 Harley-Davidsons were sold to women across the country, according to company spokeswoman Rebecca Bortner. By 2005, this number had jumped to 30,000 -- a 50-fold increase in 20 years. At San Francisco's Dudley Perkins Harley-Davidson, 10 percent of sales are to female buyers, as opposed to 5 or 6 percent at dealerships around the country, says sales manager T.K. Koenig.

Vicky Murphy, president of the Ladies of Harley, an auxiliary group of the Oakland chapter of the Harley Owner's Group (HOG), says the recent redesign of the 2006 Sportster, sitting it closer to the ground, has made a lot of women more comfortable with riding and turned them into motorcycle enthusiasts.

Emanuel of Real Divas Ride, who rides a Harley Softail Classic, said women are also discovering that size doesn't matter as much as some might think. "It's a myth that you need to be big to ride a Harley," she said. "All you need is to learn how to balance the bike."

So what's fueling the interest? Some, like Barbara Joans, author of "Bike Lust: Harleys, Women, & American Society," and a professor of anthropology at Oakland's Merritt College, say part of the trend can be attributed to fuel itself.

"Bikes are a lot cheaper to ride," said Joans, who is 71 and didn't start riding until she was in her 50s. She remains a passionate rider and pens a monthly column with Thunder Press, a magazine for Harley enthusiasts.

But it also goes beyond such practical concerns. For many female riders,s motorcycles equal freedom.

"Big Momma" Jenkins started the She Devils two years ago when she got tired of riding in the back of her husband's all-male motorcycle club, the Skeleton Crew. "I'd rather ride in the front of my own club than in the back of his," says Jenkins, 50, whose been riding her Harley for 10 years. "And I'd much rather ride with women."

A generation ago, it was a rare woman who braved the often hostile highways for the love of the ride.

"When I started out 25 years ago, I was beat up for being gay and a woman riding a bike," said Davidson of the Sisters of Scota, a historically lesbian club that has since opened up its membership to all female riders. "I was attacked for wearing my colors."

These days members of all-male motorcycle clubs come up to her to shake her hand or give her a quick hug, as they did recently at her club's 25th birthday celebration. As she stood outside the VFW post in North Highlands, Sacramento County, it was clear that she was the one in charge. Everything she wore, from the pink camouflage headband to the black tights licked with hot pink flames fit in with the club's fuchsia and silver colors. And a small fuchsia patch on the side of her leather vest makes her attitude clear, in case you missed it. It reads: "Deal with it."

Davidson attributes the club's long life to the members' defiance and bravery in the face of violence and to radically changed attitudes toward female riders, gay and straight.

As Jenkins and the She Devils cruise down the 580 (though they would much prefer to ride through Niles Canyon or down Highway 88 out of Jackson), their thundering Harleys and head-to-toe black leather regularly draw stares and thumbs-up as they roll by passing motorists on their way to support two Bay Area sister clubs, the Medieval Maidens and the Sisters of Scota (Scota was an ancient Celtic warrior goddess who taught male warriors battle techniques).

Though attitudes toward female riders have changed, the pack of women on their bikes still draws double takes. We'll walk into a restaurant and it turns into fork-drop cafe, says Karen "Wolf" Lupo of the She Devils.

There's certainly strength in numbers and in the support that the women give each other.

"We're a sisterhood," says Foglio, of the Devil Dolls. "The women in the club are strong and independent. Are we rebellious women? Yes. Are we bang-bang shoot-up outlaws? No."

After riding 300 miles together on their recent weekend run to Lathrop and Sacramento, the She Devils were road-dazed but still wanted to top off the trip with a drink -- some beer, some soft drinks -- at Curly's Bar in Hayward, a club tradition chosen because of its proximity to club president Jenkins' house. Clustered around a picnic table outside the bar, they caught up with each other: what their kids were up to, plans for next weekend's run, and of course, the ways they plan to fix up their bikes.

"The saddest part is peeling off and going our separate ways," says Lil Karen Harp of the She Devils. "One of us will split off and head to Livermore, to Fremont, to Hayward. But then we all check in with (club member) Regina when we get home. We're really like a family."

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/11/LVG33J8RQ81.DTL


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