Arizona sees growth in biking community as more women hit the road
By Margaret Staniforth
August 5, 2015
Americans pursue the open road in search of freedom and adventure. Although women have always been participants in the search for endless highways and clear blue skies, there has recently been an increase in a particular kind of female traveler.
In Arizona, the number of women with motorcycle licenses has increased by 11 percent since 2012, according to Ryan Harding, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Each motorcyclist has her own story about why she decided to ride. However, many of them agree that the weight of the bikes, revving engines and sense of control elicit feelings of empowerment, freedom and independence.
Lanette Harley has been riding for just over a year, and she said it makes her feel powerful and exhilarated. So, when facing her third divorce, she turned to her bike for more than just wind therapy.
“I love my Harley, absolutely love my Harley, so I’m going to be Lanette Harley,” she said.
According to Harley, people regularly inquire if her name change is legal. She said that her answer is always “absolutely.” And to prove it, she said, “I show them my driver’s license and I go, ‘You can just call me Ms. Harley.’”
Harley said that she sought advice from family and friends before changing her name, but ultimately she had to follow her passion.
“I decided to marry my bike because my bike will always love me. It’ll never leave me. It’ll always rumble between my legs. What else does a girl want?” Harley said.
Leanna Reineke rode on the back of the bike of her late husband, Paul Reineke, throughout 17 years of marriage.
Paul died about three years ago. Leanna couldn’t bring herself to get rid of his bike, and so, she decided to learn to ride it.
“When my husband passed away, pretty young actually, unfortunately, I was left with his bike,” Leanna said. “My kids didn’t want me to get rid of it because it’s Dad’s bike. That’s when my parents started urging me, especially my dad, to take a class or to learn [to ride].”
Eventually, Leanna had to make a decision that was difficult for her and her children. She had outgrown the 2001 Harley Sportster that Paul left behind, and she couldn’t afford to have two bikes.
“I did ride my husband’s bike for about a year, and then, gosh, probably not a couple years ago, I ended up trading it in for a bigger bike,” Leanna said.
Before trading the sportster, Leanna and her children took pieces of it, like the gas cap, to memorialize him. She now rides a 2014 Harley Davidson Softail Slim, and she said that biking helps her grieve Paul’s loss and stay connected to his memory.
Motorcycles helped both Harley and Leanna restart their lives. However, loss is not the only motivation for women to get on the road.
Heather Herr, 37, of Tempe, is drawn not simply to the road, but also to the machine she rides. When she was around the age of 11, Herr’s interest in bikes was piqued when she walked past a Harley Davidson shop and glimpsed the vehicles inside.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is this pristine marriage, or this ultimate combination, of machine and art in one,’” Herr said. “I loved motorcycles. And from loving motorcycles, I wanted to ride.”
Herr has been riding for 14 months, and as her skill level rises and her comfort on her bike grows, she said she is starting to see new aspects of her personality emerge.
“As I learn, and as I find success and understand my machine better, understand how to control it more, feel more connected as one with the machine as I’m moving down the road,” Herr said. “I’ve had moments on the bike where I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m kinda badass.’”
The increase in women on the road has affected businesses as well as riders.
Deborah “Flip” Filipovich has been employed by Harley Davidson for 20 years and has been riding for 18 years. She currently works in the Harley Davidson store in Arrowhead.
Filipovich said she has seen a gradual increase in the clothing her store carries for female riders, and she has seen more events held specifically for female riders.
This growing enthusiasm for bikes among women was on display this spring, when Filipovich and hundreds of other female riders showed up in Cave Creek for an International Women’s Day event hosted by Harley Davidson.
“We had a bunch of women come out for that,” Filipovich said. “All the dealerships sent their women from their different dealerships and we all met up at Cave Creek. That was awesome.”
The influx of female interest in riding does not surprise Lanette Harley. Besides scratching the American itch for freedom and adventure, Harley highlighted logistical reasons for today’s women joining the biking community.
“I think it’s a lot to do with women being very independent,” Harley said. “They have the means to go get a bike. There’s classes, and there’s other women to support them.”
Margaret Staniforth is a graduate student at the Cronkite School focusing on public relations. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in social welfare and gender and women’s studies and a paralegal certificate from Rio Salado College. Margaret has had internships with Empowher Magazine and the McRae Agency. Follow her on Twitter at @thatgirlmarg. Photo courtesy of Ben Stadler-Ammon.