We believe in the importance of hearing stories about women who ride motorcycles, and we found this article – initially published by our sister magazine, Thunder Press, which covers American V-Twins – interesting because it brings a slightly unique perspective. Eight riders were profiled, and they discussed the challenges of being a woman rider in general and within the H-D community, and why they choose to ride Harley-Davidsons. The piece goes into the thrills of freedom we all get on two wheels, but it also touches on the judgments from male riders that women often face. Through it all, we love the female motorcyclist perspective it’s coming from.

Bridget Kellogg Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Bridget Kellogg says she was tired of waiting for some guy to ask if she wanted to go for a ride. “I looked around and saw all the lady riders and signed up for a training course. All I can say is that riding is everything people say it is. It’s therapy, recreation, socialization, confidence building, and absolutely the best decision I’ve ever made. I have made lifelong friends and met some amazing people I never would have met otherwise. You are never too old to learn to ride.”

The road is the color of onyx, with accents of bright yellow and white along its sides and spine. As it curves along the steep shores of Lake Michigan, the uppermost branches of the neighboring trees form a quiet, shaded canopy riders call the “Tunnel of Trees.”

Then the thunder comes.

Lady Fred (her real name), 60, a Michigan native who has ridden Harley-Davidsons for decades, rumbles over the asphalt on her 2005 Heritage Softail Classic. She leans to make the first of 135 curves on this 22-mile road, a streak of defiant, two-toned blue flashing through this lakeshore painting.

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During her many years on her bike, named Lobo, Fred has accumulated several accomplishments in her self-assigned role as an advocate for female motorcycle riders, such as organizing the largest peace sign made of motorcycles, founding Michigan’s first women’s motorcycle ride and serving as the U.S. ambassador for International Female Ride Day. Fred hopes to encourage other women to start riding their own motorcycles.

As of today, nearly one in five motorcyclists are women, and experts predict that ratio will continue to narrow. The most iconic brand in the motorcycle world is Harley-Davidson, which is also the leading motorcycle manufacturer in the U.S.

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Marian Colborn Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Left: Marian Colborn says she’s proud of launching a Women on Wheels (WOW) group. “Thirty of them in white vests, chaps, and patches on the back of the vests, all designed by us. My other fantastic time was a seven week trip across a lot of America: 10,300 miles, 41 rolls of film, 23 tunnels, 25 different states, six state capitals, four national monuments, unbelievably narrow, hairpin-turn roads — one heck of a trip!
Brooke Levy Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Above: Brooke Levy rides a 2011 Dyna Wide Glide dubbed Stevie Nips, as in the revered singer Stevie Nicks. “Part of my license plate is NPPL, so every bike I’ve ever had with that plate has a funny name to go with it.”

So, it stands to reason that as more women riders take to the road, many of them are riding Harley-Davidsons. In fact, about 12% of new H-D purchasers are women, according to Paul James, H-D’s public relations manager.

This raises the big question: What’s life like for the women who ride Harleys, bikes that many consider to be a symbol of freedom and masculinity?

Until a few decades ago, the answer to that question was lonely, according to another Michigan native named Marian Colborn, 81. Growing up, Colborn never thought she’d do much traveling. She was raised during the tail end of the Great Depression and can still remember the unique smell of government-issued cheese. Decades ago, she says, people were leery of bikers because of groups like the Hells Angels. Women were also still expected to be obedient housewives, so there weren’t many of them out on the road.

Despite all that, Colborn saddled up and began traveling in 1955, much to her mother’s dismay, visiting a total of 48 states during her 64 years of riding. After marrying, she even taught her now-late husband how to ride. She says she didn’t start seeing a significant number of female riders until the mid-1960s. Colborn currently owns a 2007 Heritage Softail Classic, but is now unable to ride because of her macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes deterioration of the retina.

Colborn has watched the tide slowly turn for women in the Harley-Davidson and motorcycle world, an experience that solidified her belief that riding is “not just for men anymore,” she said.

Although more women are transitioning from passenger or observer to rider, they still face the misogyny often found in many male-dominated activities.

For example, take Brooke Levy, 27, a hydraulics mechanic in the Connecticut Air National Guard. She bought a 2011 Dyna Wide Glide two years ago when she started riding. Soon after acquiring the bike, Levy noticed an issue with its turnsignal. She took it to her local Harley-Davidson dealership to be fixed and was treated like “a ditsy woman who doesn’t know anything,” Levy said. It took someone else’s intervention before her bike received the work it needed.

“I was explaining it to the service guy, and he wouldn’t take my word for it until my boyfriend came over and repeated the same exact thing I had said, then the guy believed it,” Levy said. While many women no longer face blatant discrimination for riding motorcycles, they do have to endure the misperception of being uninformed and ignorant of the machines they are riding.

Luckily, there are men in the Harley-Davidson community who are allies for women riders. These men often advocate for and encourage the women in their lives to start riding. One of these men is Paul Anderson, 63, from Seneca, South Carolina. Anderson has encouraged his wife, daughter, and sister to take up riding. Between them, they now own five Harley-Davidsons. While he does worry about his daughter when she rides by herself, he still thinks it’s more fun to have his family members riding along in formation on their own bikes rather than on his back seat.

“I imagine there are quite a few women out there thinking, ‘Oh, I couldn’t learn to ride a motorcycle,’” Anderson said. “Sure, you can, especially when you see some of those demonstrations where a young woman is maneuvering a Harley as good as any man ever thought about riding the bike.”

Self-doubt is only one of many factors that could keep women from riding, female motorcyclists say. Of them, the two most prominent are the inherent dangers of being on a motorcycle and the stigma they often face from friends and family.

Susan Fenwick Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Susan Fenwick’s 2012 Softail Deluxe is nicknamed Layla. “Since I learned to ride, I have seen places in my beautiful home state of Washington that I’ve never seen before. It is extremely therapeutic and stress-relieving to unplug the computers, laptops, and phones to just be present in all the glory and beauty of nature.”

Susan Fenwick, 52, from Kingston, Washington, struggled with both of these issues. For most of her life, Fenwick was strongly against motorcycles, primarily because of her limited exposure to them and the perceived culture around them.

“I feared them because I had only been exposed to the stereotypical Harley rider with the big beard, long hair, chains, and skull and crossbones tattoos who drank a lot of alcohol and beat people up,” she related. “Then, when I got to my early 20s, I only really heard about them on the news when someone was killed in an accident. In my early 30s, I lost an acquaintance who was killed on a motorcycle. In my mind they were dangerous and only bad people rode them.”

Eventually, in October 2017— after her husband, stepchildren, and son began riding — Fenwick and her daughter gave in and jumped on the motorcycle bandwagon. About a year after making that decision, Fenwick bought a 2012 Softail Deluxe. Unfortunately, Fenwick says, she experienced judgment from her friends and family, who assumed she was going through a midlife crisis. Fenwick’s sister even begged her not to buy that first bike, claiming that she couldn’t stand the thought of her sister and best friend dying on the road.

“[My sister] is an emergency and urgent care doctor, so she sees firsthand what can happen to someone in a motorcycle crash,” Fenwick said. “Even for the first year she would get mad at me if I brought it up in front of her.”

Eventually, everyone accepted Fenwick’s decision, and now she only has one regret: that she didn’t start riding sooner.

Fenwick is also engaged with the Harley-Davidson community, which includes a multitude of organizations. One example is the Harley Owners Group (HOG), a sponsored international club for brand enthusiasts that has regional chapters connected to Harley-Davidson dealerships around the world.

Bridget Kellogg, 66, from New Milford, Connecticut, is one of two road captains for her local HOG chapter affiliated with the dealership in Danbury. Some HOG chapters, like Kellogg’s, also have a Ladies of Harley (LOH) subchapter. Kellogg will soon become the leader of her chapter’s LOH, who call themselves The Chrome Divas. Kellogg’s chapter organizes regular weekend rides and strives to provide riders with valuable friends and mentors within the Harley-Davidson community.

“I have never met such sincere, kind, and helpful women as those who ride,” Kellogg stated. “It’s everything I have heard it is, and I’ve never looked back.”

Women who ride motorcycles cherish this sisterhood and care deeply for those who never got the chance to ride, as Lisa Lewis, 48, a Cleveland native who rides a pink-and-silver Road Glide, knows all too well. She was asked to gather a group of female riders for the funeral service of 9-year-old Saniyah Nicholson, a fan of women riders who was killed during a drive-by shooting on the east side of Cleveland in 2018.

“[Saniyah’s] mom reached out to us and asked me to get a group of girls with pink motorcycles to lead her daughter’s hearse off to the cemetery,” Lewis said. “It was a sad moment, but it was cool to know that we could make Saniyah’s homegoing what her mom wanted and what she loved.”

While Kellogg does value this camaraderie and has a strong affection for her HOG and LOH chapter, she says there is one thing that Harley-Davidson could improve upon: the production of bikes that are initially suited to the company’s female fan base.

“There are ladies who are still questioning ‘Can I ride a Harley? Will it fit me?’” Kellogg said. “You can make all the modifications you want, but then you’ve got another $5,000 into the bike just to start. I don’t even know where [H-D] would begin with that, except that catering to the female market is something that I think they’re missing.”

Lisa Lewis Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Lisa Lewis has experience riding bikes ranging from a Suzuki Hayabusa to Harley-Davidsons. “Riding has been my passion for 24 years. Once the wind hits your face, you are trouble free!”
Pam Ross Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Pam Ross says one of her favorite riding memories was leading the Ladies of Harley for a weekend trip from Mobile, Alabama, to Jacksonville, Florida. “Our Chapter made history as the first LOH to go on a weekend trip without any men. Us ladies created a bond that is still as strong today as ever. Bikers are an awesome fellowship of riders.”

Some female riders might argue that Harley-Davidson has attempted to do this but received backlash from women riders. Pam Ross, 67, who rides a 2020 CVO Tri-Glide trike, witnessed a similar initiative backfire when she went to a Harley-Davidson training program in Orlando, Florida, a little over 10 years ago.

“The corporate guys on stage were introducing a new Sportster designed for women,” Ross said. “Women started standing up and yelling out, ‘I ride an Ultra Classic, I ride a Road Glide, I ride a Fat Boy, and I ride a Softail!’ So, it didn’t go over very well.”

The key difference here may be that women don’t necessarily want a bike specifically made for them; they want Harley-Davidson to make their currently existing products accessible for women so that they can ride them off the lot like their male counterparts.

“A number of our motorcycles are specifically aimed at what’s called a shorter-inseam rider,” James said. “We’ve made lowered versions of some of our most popular bikes in order to better fit the needs of women and other shorter riders.”

One model that caters to those with shorter inseams is the Pan America, which has an accessory suspension system that automatically lowers the bike as it comes to a stop. For those who want a larger bike but still need a low seat height and compact rider triangle, James suggests the Sportster Iron 883, cruisers such as the Softail Slim, and even touring bikes like the Street Glide.

Accessibility has also been an issue for BevJean Charles, an active member of the deaf riding community and a board member of the Deaf Bikers of America Foundation. Most deaf bikers ride with their local HOG chapters, though that usually means there’s only one deaf person in each chapter and no certified interpreters for monthly meetings. Although the members of Charles’ HOG chapter have done their best to keep her up to date on events and rides, she says she wished that Harley-Davidson made it easier for chapter leaders to get reimbursed for hiring certified interpreters.

“It’s very frustrating,” Charles stated in a Facebook message. “It makes it hard for deaf bikers to understand what’s going on or what they plan to do for a ride.”

Charles is following in the footsteps of her father, “Deaf Bikerdad,” who won trophies at several rallies with a Sportster he bought in the 1950s, by winning Best Sportster with her 1200 Custom in a couple of bike shows.

“They had no idea that a deaf woman motorcyclist owned it until I came to pick it up. I was high on cloud nine holding the trophy.”

BevJean Charles Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
BevJean Charles has overcome her hearing impairment to be an avid motorcyclist, currently riding a 2005 Springer Classic.
Susie Thomas Women Who Ride Harley-Davidsons
Susie Thomas currently rides a 2015 SuperLow. “I absolutely love riding. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. There’s nothing better to take your mind off life’s stresses, and I find it’s the best thing to keep my mental health on track.”

There are many aspects of Harley-Davidson that keep women riding: the freedom, the camaraderie, the scenery, or, for Susie Thomas, 46, the mental health benefits and stress relief.

Thomas lives in Queensland, Australia, and has been riding Harleys for almost four years. She is also a member of two all-female riding groups. The first is named East Coast Female Riders (ECFR), and the second is one of ECFR’s subchapters, which focuses on the areas of Gladstone and Rockhampton. Although she now lives on the opposite side of the continent, Thomas’ favorite place to ride is Western Australia, which is where she grew up.

“Within an hour you could leave from the coast where you ride along the white sands, blue oceans, and then ‘go bush,’ inland,” Thomas said. “It’s absolutely beautiful, gorgeous country towns and roads, lots of places to go and so many variations to get there.”

While Harley-Davidson and the community it has fostered work on being more inclusive, women are continuing to inspire the next generation to start riding. Levy sees her impact at gas stations, where little girls point to her bike with clear delight on their ice-cream-covered faces.

Inspiring other women to ride is the reason Fred gave her mother for continuing to ride, even after she herself recovered from an accident in 2001.

“I have too many women depending on me,” Fred said. “If I didn’t ride again, what kind of message am I sending to them? I have to help many women learn how to ride. I am not going to let them down. I still have a lot of work to do to change the image of riding for women.”

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