Business feature: Two-wheelin’ women

Local residents (counterclockwise from front left) Donna Labalt, Carla DuBuis, Sarah Zufelt, Wendy Bailey, Connie Bryant, Amy Wyatt, De’Aun Willoghby, Tina Sambrano and Joy Stoddard are proof motorcycles aren’t just for men. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

When they ride their motorcycles through town, the roar of the engines bore through city streets and neighborhoods. But these aren’t the Hells Angels. These bikers are certified public accountants, school teachers, Air Force officers and other educated professionals.

By the way, they’re also women.

The number of women getting into the sport of bike riding is on the rise, according to local managers of motorcycle shops.

According to statistics published on the Harley-Davidson Web site, the number of female riders has edged up slightly on a national basis, from 9 percent to 10 percent from 1999 to 2003.

But Sarah Zufelt, general manager of High Plains Harley-Davidson, said the change in this area has been more dramatic, increasing from 2 percent to 9 percent in the last two years.

Women riders are embracing the freedom that accompanies riding bikes, and at the same time rejecting stereotypes that may have kept them on the back seat for years, local female riders said.

“The stereotypical female rider is not the Hell’s Angels, rough and burly type,” Zufelt said. “This is a sport that educated, professional people participate in.”

A group of local female riders met together Saturday morning at High-Plains Harley-Davidson to talk about what it means to be a female rider here, and why there are more women riding bikes than ever before.

Some female riders say the warm climate and long, straight roads of eastern New Mexico may add to the number of female riders here.

“Down here, I thought I was going to be the odd one out, but more and more I’m finding I’m not,” said Wendy Bailey, an Air Force officer. “There’s a lot more women riders out here than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.”

Donna Labatt, who is retired from the Air Force, said the experience of being on a bike in the country is something most motorists don’t experience. When she took a trip to Atlanta on her Harley, what stuck out in her mind were the smells.

“I swear I could tell which state I was in by the fragrances and aromas,” she said.

Another area rider surprised her family when she bought a bike and started riding it. However, it wasn’t long before De’Aun Willoghby was riding with her entire family.

“All of them followed suit,” the CPA said. “We have our own gang.”

Many of the riders said their husbands or boyfriends are supportive of their biking interest.

“They respect that you do what they do,” said Amy Wyatt, a teacher and coach at Marshall Junior High School. She usually rides dirt bikes, but last week she purchased a Dyna Superglide Harley and hit the road.

Other ladies said the men look out for them on the road, making sure they stay safe in traffic.

However, Zufelt said female riders tend to be more safety-conscious than their male counterparts.

Ronnie Jones, co-owner of High Desert Honda, said much of the apparel that comes into his store these days is geared toward women, a response to the market demand created by the increase in female riders.

“A lot of women are realizing that all these motorcycle guys are having a lot of fun,” Jones said.

He said women have more discretionary income on hand than in the old days, and this may contribute to the increase in female riders.