More and more women are headin' down the highway, lookin' for adventure… on motorcycles. In August, hundreds of new and veteran female bikers flocked to Keystone, Colorado, for the 5th International Women and Motorcycling Conference. The gathering is a chance for female motorcyclists to check out the newest bikes, hear from industry experts and spend some time with fellow female riders.
Karen Davidson has always loved motorcycling. "I started at age 9," she says. "I think starting that young, you really stick to it in a very natural way."
Riding a motorcycle should be natural for Davidson. She is the great-granddaughter of one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, which has manufactured motorcycles in the United States since 1903.
"Being a Davidson family member, I often joke with people that it was kind of pre-set in my genetic makeup that I would probably take to the sport fairly well," she says. "And I have. My father actually taught us to ride. I have 2 younger brothers. And we were all taught around 7, 8, 9. We're close in age. And about the time [most kids] would maybe be advancing to [their] second bicycle, we were taking to the throttle and learning how to ride the gas powered motorcycle, which was quite thrilling."
And she has been enjoying the ride ever since.
"The smells and the sensory experience are incredible," she says. "It gives you a sense of freedom and independence that you really don't have or experience if you are in a car, because [on a bike,] you are the pilot. You are controlling that bike and it's doing instantly what you tell it to do. You are on the throttle, and you are maneuvering and charting your course and going down the highway and you are closer to nature in a way."
Over the years, Davidson says, women bikers have become more visible in what was once a male dominated domain. She says as early as the 1920s, women pioneers crossed country on Harley Davidson motorcycles, and women have always been part of the sport. "But today, more than ever, they are making up a huge portion of the riders. About 23 million riders are on the road today, about 5.7 million are women."
More than 1000 of those women took part in the 5th International Women and Motorcycling Conference held in Keystone, Colorado, [August 18-22].
"They are from all walks of life, from all types of riding. That will be street, off road, touring and dual sporting," says Tigra Tsujikawa, spokeswoman of the American Motorcyclist Association, the conference organizer.
"For all conferences, we do try to put together a variety of seminars to learn about motorcycling, improve your skills, protection, mentoring, and how to inspire others," she adds "We also had demo rides from the major manufacturers and our sponsors."
This international gathering, she says, offers a chance for women motorcyclists to network, share their experiences and inspire one another.
"We've had several keynote speakers ranging from Ashley Fiolek, who is an amazing 18-year old who just recently won the Gold Medal at the X Games," she says. "We had Deborah Gray; she is a Canadian who was a member of the parliament. [She] has 15 years of public service, and is an avid motorcyclist, a very strong woman. [We've had] Lois Pryce, who traveled from Alaska to the tip of South America and rode 32,000 kilometers and wrote a book about it."
In her speech, British motorcyclist Lois Pryce also talked about her 2007 bike trip from London to Cape Town, especially crossing the Sahara on her motorcycle and riding through Congo and Angola.
"Those trips had a huge impact on me and my whole approach to life," she says. "It really played a big part in my overcoming my fears, taking on big challenges. It gives you confidence in all areas of your life. It just gives you that confidence to take on, you know, whatever you want."
Pryce, who is currently on a cross country trip of the United States, says motorcycling is a dream that came true for her in her late 20s. "I was working with the BBC, in their music department," she says. "It wasn't a bad job. It was a desk-based, office cubicle kind of job, and I used to stare out the window and wish I was on the road. One day I decided to give up all that and hit the road."
She encourages more women to discover the thrill and fun of motorcycling. "Like anything in life, you have to be aware of the dangers, but you must not let the dangers put you off, mustn't let your fears put you off," she says. "Don't let anything put you off."
Unlike driving a car, Pryce says riding her bike lets her focus totally on the road, with no distractions like cell phones or radios or air conditioning. All you need, she says, is to dress appropriately for the weather… and enjoy the ride.