NEW ALBANY — Biker culture hasn’t always been at the forefront of sexual equality. In the past, many male motorcyclists would have laughed at the idea of their “old ladies” taking over the wheels as an active rider. Quite a few might chuckle even today.
Leggy blondes are still more likely to be found straddling a cruiser on a wall calendar rather than hammering their own hogs down Southern Indiana streets.
But women like Sharon Fink are helping to change that culture. As owner of Fink’s, New Albany’s motorcycle parts, accessories and leather store, the Elizabeth native has dedicated a section of her shop to female riding apparel. Since becoming involved seven years ago in the business her uncle Henry Fink founded, she has seen a marked increase in the number of women bikers.
“There have always been women riding motorcycles, but it’s just becoming a lot more mainstream than it ever was before,” Sharon said. “You are manning the machine so you control how fast you go, how aggressive you want to be. It’s just a different kind of feeling. A more powerful kind of feeling I think. And more and more women are interested in seeing what that’s like.”
Others in the industry have also noted the surge in popularity. According to 2009 Motorcycle Industry Council statistics, the number of women operating motorcycles from 2003 to 2009 increased by 67 percent, while the number of females owning bikes during the same time went up by 37 percent. The data now shows that one out of every four motorcyclists is a woman.
With such a new demographic entering into the biker scene, the industry that has traditionally produced male oriented products has started to take notice too. More female friendly motorcycles have started to appear on the scene. So have some gender specific clothing options and equipment.
“I think the motorcycling industry is finally starting to realize that if they build bikes that more women can ride comfortable and come up with marketing strategies to help them do that, then that’s better revenue for everyone and it fills a niche,” Sharon said.
Responding to the trend, Sharon’s shop includes motorcycle gear specific to women. Fashion of the season tends to dictate the popular colors, with purple and aqua being the current trends. Pink never seems to go out of style. Personalization of both bikes and their clothing remains important.
“I want people to know that I am a girl riding a motorcycle. I definitely want to have some sort of look about me or the bike that people recognize right away that I’m a female,” Sharon said. “So women, just like me, want to make their bikes their own whether that means they want them to sound a certain way or look a certain way.”
A motorcyclist herself, Sharon bought her first bike, an entry level Buell, shortly after she started working at Fink’s. Partly the reason for the purchase was to gain some credibility with the regular clientele, but she’s always loved the feel of riding.
“My earliest memories of motorcycling are my dad sitting me up on the tank and I’d hold on to the handlebars and he would take me around the block,” Sharon said. “When I finally got old enough for my feet to touch the passenger pegs, I could ride on the back. I mean, I was a big girl then.”
Later college and a move to work in another male dominated profession, financial services, would take Sharon away from Southern Indiana. Only seven years ago when her uncle considered retirement did she decide to make the journey home and take over the family business.
For the most part it is has been a smooth transition. A few men still request help from her other male employees, but all in all people have come to rely on Sharon’s growing expertise.
Of course, owning a store that’s open seven days a week doesn’t allow Sharon as much free time to ride as she would like. Motorcycling still gives her that initial thrill of controlling a “big machine” despite her small stature, in the same arena as most men. Equality and power provide a buzz that many female riders can understand.
Too much power, Sharon found out, might not always be a good thing. Only recently did the 48-year-old sell her Honda CBR 650, more commonly known as a type of “crotch rocket.” Fun, she said, was a given with the “wicked” fast machine. Self-restraint and riding over her skill level tended to be a little more problematic.
“Speed and power are intoxicating and they will get you in jail or dead if you’re not careful. It took me a season of riding that bike to know that I needed to not ride that bike anymore or something bad would happen,” she said.
As women continue to evolve as bikers, Sharon said the industry will grow to meet their needs. Nothing but the open road remains ahead for this growing demographic.
“One day I thought what other industry or business could get in where there’s a whole new group of customers,” she said. “Can you think of one? What an opportunity.”