"So when you drop your bike, what's the first thing you should look for?"
Betsi Greene, director of the Harley Owners Group in North Hampton, N.H., stands authoritatively behind a gleaming black-and-silver Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200C quizzing the women fanned out around her. Her blue eyes sparkle with a bit of mischief. She started riding before many of the women here were born.
"You shut it off," a voice murmurs from the group. Most of these women have slid into the second seat of their husbands' or boyfriends' bikes, and a few even ride solo.
Tonight, though, they stand far enough from the Sportster that they look trepidatious. Understandably: This 562-pound bike is going down, and one at a time, they will try to pop it upright again, in front of a crowd, using the two parts of the body from which a woman usually deflects unnecessary attention -- her thighs and her rear end.
Greene shakes her head. The first thing women want when their bike drops is simpler. You want, Greene says, "a guy to pick it up."
The women giggle.
"Seriously. There's absolutely no reason to do it yourself if you can get somebody else to do it for you."
Michelle Isidorio nods. "I always look for a man," she jokes later, "whether a bike drops or not."
But there's a palpable sense of relief and surprise in the group. The women-only garage party here at Seacoast Harley-Davidson isn't a feminist rally. There's no Rosie-the-Riveter-style girl power here, no need to prove a woman an equal to a man, astride a bike or beside a fallen one. This is a roomful of women who, like 4 million others across the country, just want to ride.
launched garage parties last year to give women a chance to ask questions they might not want -- or get the chance -- to ask when the showroom swarms with men. Which bike is the right size, for example, or what to do if it falls over. Or where the key goes.
Like a Tupperware partyTonight's garage party isn't quite that basic. Technically, it isn't even in a garage. The women shuffle through the two-story, sparklingly clean, Seacoast showroom, where the objective seems equal parts social and sales. It feels, sometimes, like a reincarnation of the Tupperware party.
Tonight, there won't be any dirt or dust or grease. There won't even be any fuel: The Sportster the women will learn to lift has been drained of gasoline.
Strangest of all, during the garage party, no time will be devoted to what might be the bike's best selling point: the famous engine growl. No one will even turn over a Harley until Greene revs up her '98 Heritage and rides home.In some ways, a woman on a Harley is old news. In 1915, 20-year-old Effie Hotchkiss hatched a plan to drive from New York to California on her three-speed Harley. Her mother forbade her to go alone -– and so Hotchkiss bought a sidecar, and the two took off across the country. Twice. During World War II, Bessie Stringfield rode from Army base to Army base in the United States as the only woman in the Army's motorcycle dispatch unit. A feisty African-American woman who owned 27 Harleys in her life, Stringfield was known to drop a penny on a U.S. map and gun for the town it landed on.
Harley has been marketing to women since the turn of the 20th century, but these days, there are fewer barriers to break through.