Some women own and drive motorcycles to feel independent or in control.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- For thousands of motorcyclists nationwide, Wednesday's Ride to Work celebration was one of the few days of the year to ride a motorcycle on a workday. But for Canfield resident Merry Nemeth, Wednesday was no different from any other day.
Nemeth is one of many women, some of whom work in professional positions or offices, changing the face of the average motorcycle owner and rider.
"Bikers are no longer these big, bad, dirty bikers," said Nemeth, who owns her own motorcycle and rides it to work daily.
Nemeth serves as the director of the Steel Valley Twisted Sisters, the local chapter of the national female motorcycle riders group Women on Wheels.
For a $30 national fee, group members are welcome at all WOW events and at monthly meetings where they share stories and organize rides, including fund-raising events. At the end of the year, the group donates all proceeds from the events to a local women's shelter. Members' husbands also are permitted to join as support members.
Membership in the chapter has grown to 35 since its start in 2003, a number that reflects the growing trend of increased motorcycle riding and ownership by women nationwide.
One in 10 motorcycle owners is female, and the rates of ownership and use are increasing, according to research by the Motorcycle Industry Council, a nonprofit national trade association that promotes motorcycling.
About 23.5 million people operated a motorcycle in 2003, and more than 4.3 million of them were women. In 1998, 3.2 million of the 19.1 million operators were women.
Though female ownership is rarer than female motorcycle operation, 635,000 women owned a motorcycle in 2003.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles reports that 52,180 of the state's 631,805 licensed motorcycle riders are women.
MIC spokesman Mike Mount said social changes have contributed to the increasing numbers of female participants in the motorcycle world.
"These days, women are feeling more empowered to do all kinds of things, and motorcycling is one of those," Mount said.
Dawn Waggoner, the general manager of Youngstown Harley-Davidson/Buell on Boardman-Canfield Road, said she rides because she likes breaking common stereotypes and showing "a little bit of my wild side."
The female motorcyclists in Twisted Sisters expressed similar desires for a sense of independence and a sense of control.
Donna Chlebus, a 51-year-old former hairstylist from Berlin Center, said that sense of power fuels her passion for riding. Chlebus has such a passion, in fact, that she's been on a motorcycle in each of the 48 continental states.
Beloit resident Danette Atherton, a 41-year-old returning college student and mother of three, said she likes owning her own bike because she can use it whenever she wants, even to escape the stresses of parenting.
The sights and smells riders see from an open view, rather than through the windows of a car, aid in that kind of relaxation and attract many riders, both male and female, said 59-year-old Canfield resident Jean Dilsaver.
But Dilsaver's husband, Dave, who said he attends meetings only for the good food, has his own explanation for increased female ownership of motorcycles.
"Men started it, then the women had to get in on it," he joked.