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Harley’s Angels : A New Breed of Women on Motorcycles Joins the Love Ride--and They’re Not ‘Biker Mamas’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

She sure didn’t look like any easy rider.

In fact, with her crutches, tattoos and battle scar makeup job, she more resembled a rough-and-tumble refugee from some “Road Warrior” picture. Her nickname had something to do with dirt and her cut-offs were so short they were painful to look at. Some crazy Dennis Hopper character might have claimed her for his on-screen girlfriend.

Lindajo Goldstein clucked her tongue disapprovingly.

“See, when I started riding motorcycles 15 years ago, that was the image I had to emulate,” she said. “But thank God these types of women riders are a dying breed. Relics. Embarrassments to the sport. It’s the kind of crap we’re getting away from--this image of the go-go dancer, the big, bad club mama. We’ve come a long way from that.”

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Goldstein is a 40-year-old state social services investigator from Los Angeles. In her blue jeans, braided hair, black cowboy boots and brown-and-black leather riding jacket, she symbolizes the newest manifestation of the woman motorcyclist: professional but free-spirited--serious, not sleazy.

She stood on one of the Glendale back streets cordoned off to host a carnival of sorts--the starting point for the leather-and-bandanna gathering of about 25,000 motorcycle enthusiasts participating in Sunday’s 12th annual Love Ride for muscular dystrophy.

Thousands of bikes were parked nearby, kickstands outstretched, their chrome glinting in the morning sun, ready for the 50-mile charity trek to Castaic Lake. But hours before the riders’ rumbling, roaring, Excedrin-headache-inducing 9:30 a.m. send-off, it was pure people-watching time.

And along with the cultivated look of controlled chaos--the wild men with their cueball heads, misshapen sunglasses, bat tattoos and lightning-bolt-styled eyebrows--there was a sight more jarring to Goldstein, and more pleasing.

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Women riders. Lots of them.

This was no bleary-eyed, post-sunup, pre-coffee illusion. Industry statistics show that women are taking to the sport of motorcycling as never before.

Thirty years ago, women comprised only 1% of motorcycle owners in the United States. Today, that figure has soared to 8%, representing more than 500,000 bike owners, according to a study by the American Motorcycling Assn.

The average age of today’s woman motorcyclist: 48. One in four have attended college. More than 30% are professional workers like Goldstein. Nearly 20% make more than $50,000 a year.

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“Most women riders I know have good jobs,” said a leather-clad woman named Susan, who was riding in Sunday’s event. “You have to make a lot of money to own one of these bikes. They’re expensive, man!”

The study revealed something else about the image and perceptions of male and female motorcyclists. Although 55% of the men’s families approve of motorcycles, 62% of the families of women riders say biking is a good thing.

“Yeah,” said Barbara Carlson, a realtor and Love Rider from Texas, shouting over the din of revving hogs. “When I ride my bike, I get thumbs-up and high-fives from women all the time. Not only that, but my mom digs it too!”

Lindajo Goldstein knows that it wasn’t always that way.

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She has been around motorcycles since the early 1970s and began riding her own in 1981. She quickly became addicted to the natural high of motoring down the freeway, the breeze in her hair, the smell and rumble of the big engine beneath her.

For her, it was more liberating to be in control of the bike than riding in back on that uncomfortable seat some passengers call a “fender with a piece of upholstery on it.” She wanted to be in control.

“There’s a sense of mastery to maneuvering a motorcycle,” she said. “It’s not an easy task. I mean, it’s not brain surgery, but there’s a sense of accomplishment to powerhouse a 700-pound cycle along some winding back road.”

Sure, Goldstein has a few discreet tattoos: a small bird on the back of her neck, a floral piece on her ankle, and that sweet little thing on her wrist. But that’s as far as the Biker Mama comparison goes.

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“I’m not a slut,” she said. “And neither are most women riders. But that’s the way some in society continue to perceive us. In a way, it’s negative for the biker population as a whole. But events like the Love Ride are changing that. We raise $1 million each year for a cause. We’re doing something good.”

Nancy Black is proud of riding Harleys. The 42-year-old business owner and San Fernando Valley resident started a few years ago. She likes the thought of conquering what is seen as a man’s sport. “I love it when people look at me or yell out of their cars, ‘Hey! It’s a woman!’ ” That’s a high, a feeling of power, because this is a big, heavy bike and it took a lot to learn to ride it.”

There’s even a magazine for women motorcyclists.

Linda Jo Giovannoni, editor and co-founder of Harley Women, says there’s one major complaint she gets from subscribers to her 20,000-circulation magazine, published in the Chicago suburbs. “Most women complain that they often have to hide the magazine so they can read it before their husbands and boyfriends do. The sport is catching on like a roadside wildfire.”

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But for women cyclists, the ugly comments and stereotypes persist. And not just from the male chauvinist dinosaur who rides the huge Harley that makes you reach for your ears when it blows past. Other motorists--including women--have cut her off in traffic, Goldstein says. And store clerks treat her more courteously if she’s dressed in her business suit than her black leather riding jacket.

Nancy Black says she still struggles to ride the fine line between “being butch and being a woman.”

“Listen, I’m nobody’s stereotype,” she said. “I went through the black leather thing. But now I remember that I can dress like me when I’m on my bike.”

On Sunday, before the charity ride, Black and Goldstein were among the thousands of participants who wandered the streets outside a Glendale motorcycle shop, buying everything from T-shirts and helmets to Harley-Davidson boxer shorts.

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And like many women riders who started on the back of their boyfriends’ bikes, they agree on one thing: Once you graduate to the front, you can never go back.


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