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In the driver’s seat: Profiles of women at Laconia Bike Week

  • Meg Parsons of Albany, N.Y., is looking to upgrade her bike now that she rides. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Michelle Hermis, a 54-year-old computer aid designer from Hooksett, is a HOG, and she’s darn proud of it, too. HOG stands for Harley Owners Group and Hermis is among a growing number of women who are riding solo, not on the back depending on someone else. Ray Duckler / Monitor staff

  • Cathy Letellier of Rochester applies lipstick in her side mirror. Letellier has been by riding herself for 35 years but started riding with her father when she was 5 years old. It’s been in her blood since then. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cathy Letellier of Rochester has been riding by herself for 35 years but started riding with her father when she was 5 years old. It’s been in her blood since then. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cathy Letellier of Rochester has been riding by herself for 35 years but started riding with her father when she was 5 years old. It’s been in her blood since then. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Monk wore a yellow vest and a radio on her hip as she directed traffic into the parking lot. Her daughter Kathy Swart credited her with instilling enough confidence in her to buy a bike. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kathy Swart served as a guide to people streaming through the Laconia Harley-Davidson dealership parking lot. The 44-year-old grandmother raised her kids, then got her license at age 22. “I always rode on the back of the bike,” Swart said. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noelle Kimble, 37, of Grand Rapids, Mich., visits one of the bike shops along Route 3 at the Weirs on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The mother of three came with her husband and rode the Mt. Washington Auto Road on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noelle Kimble, 37, of Grand Rapids, Mich., visits one of the bike shops along Route 3 at the Weirs on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The mother of three came with her husband and rode the Mt. Washington Auto Road on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noelle Kimble, 37, of Grand Rapids, Mich., visits one of the bike shops along Route 3 at the Weirs on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The mother of three came with her husband and rode the Mt. Washington Auto Road on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noelle Kimble, 37, of Grand Rapids, Mich., visits one of the bike shops along Route 3 at the Weirs on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The mother of three came with her husband and rode the Mt. Washington Auto Road on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kathy Marx of Delaware came with a group including her boyfriend. She rides a Harley-Davidson. Marx said an abusive marriage had hammered away at her self-esteem, and since then riding has been a therapeutic outlet. ”I got a bike and got rid of the husband,” she said. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kathy Marx of Delaware and came with a group including her boyfriend. She rides a Harley-Davidson. Marx said an abusive marriage had hammered away at her self-esteem, and since then riding has been a therapeutic outlet. ”I got a bike and got rid of the husband,” she said. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Fatima Jaworek is a nurse practitioner and she said biking helps her leave the stress of her job behind. “Peaceful,” Jaworek said. “You’re paying attention to your surroundings and not thinking about anything else.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Candi Pregler just got her license in March and came up with her husband and a group of friends from Georgia. Her riding class had only one other woman, but the two of them passed the test while men around her flunked or dropped out. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Candi Pregler just got her license in March and came up with her husband and a group of friends from Georgia. Her riding class had only one other woman, but the two of them passed the test while men around her flunked or dropped out. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Michelle Hermis is bona fide biker, a Harley-Davidson rider, who’s among a growing number of women at the 95th Laconia Motorcycle Week.

Her 2016 Harley shines in the sun with its polished chrome and its purple-fire-and-blackberry-smoke paint job.

“Thirty-five years ago, you didn’t see many women at all,” she said. “But I’ve always been a tomboy, independent, and I always get excited when I see another woman riding. I’ll go over and stop and say hello.”

Nationally, the number of registered women riders jumped from just 8 percent in 1998 to 14 percent in 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation. That means roughly 1 in 7 motorcycle riders at Bike Week is a woman.

These days, Hermis is a member of HOG, and she’s darn proud of it, too. HOG stands for Harley Owners Group, an organization that promotes a brand, a culture, a brotherhood – and now a sisterhood as well.

Hermis, a 54-year-old computer aid designer from Hooksett, has been a HOG for two years, and she’s the assistant director of Concord’s chapter. She was an officer for the Ladies of Harley – a subset of HOG – for two years before that.

Despite the influx of women riders in recent years, Hermis was on the ground floor of this recent trend, as she took her first solo ride in 1983, the same year the HOGs began coordinating their effort to create a cohesive unit.

Now she’s a road captain, which means she organizes group rides for women. And men.

Fear pushed her to ride her own bike, at age 18.

“I was dating a guy who rode too fast for my liking,” Hermis said. “I told him to teach me how to ride and I’d just meet him there.”

Now, she and her husband take mini vacations each weekend. They were in New Jersey last weekend for vintage car and bike races. She’s put 30,000 miles on her Harley in just two years.

Not every female rider along the Weirs Beach strip – the informal headquarters for this roaring camaraderie – is a member of a motorcycle group, nor have they been riding since the 1980s. They had all different skill levels, but the common denominator was a very important fact: Women were in control.

Like mother, like daughter

Kathy Swart served as a guide to people streaming through the Laconia Harley dealership parking lot. The 44-year-old grandmother got her motorcycle license at age 22 after raising her kids.

“I always rode on the back of the bike,” Swart said.

She recalled being held back by a heavy-drinking ex-boyfriend, who told her to stay off motorcycles “because I wasn’t woman or man enough to ride my own bike.”

“He told me I’d never be able to do it. He had me in the dumps thinking I couldn’t do anything,” she said.

That was 20 years ago. She called the guy, who’s long gone, a doo-doo. Now she’s got a candy-apple green Harley Street Glide. She was woman enough after all.

“It’s impressive that I’m out there on my own bike, knowing we can come and go like we want and we don’t have to wait for anyone anymore,” Swart said. “We’re capable enough to know what we need to do.”

Once, she felt alone on her bike. But that’s changed

“I didn’t know anyone but my mother. I rode myself 90 percent of the time because I had no one to ride with,” he said. “Now, there’s no problem getting a group together.”

Swart credited her mother, 64-year-old Renee Monk, with instilling enough confidence in her to buy a bike.

Monk is a pioneer. She got her license to ride 45 years ago, calling herself, “a gutsy, forward person.”

“If men can do it, I can do it,” Monk declared

Like so many other women riders, Monk mentioned freedom and independence, and she agreed that these concepts connect with the momentum-building #MeToo movement.

“Do what we want when we want to do it,” Monk said. “When you ride with a man you have to wait for him. We women like to be in control, and we haven’t been in control in a long time.”

Decades on the throttle

Another pioneer is Cathy Letellier of Rochester, a 62-year-old hospital worker who started riding 34 years ago.

Back then, Letellier put her kids on the bike, surrounding them with her arms to keep them stable as she gripped the handlebars. She’s another member of the Harley Owners Group, or HOG for short.

Letellier has seen a lot since she got her license. She’s seen membership to HOG grow. Sometimes, she said, girls dominate classes at the state’s riding academies. And she remembers when Bike Week featured a more rough-and-tumble climate, complete with women flashing, beer flowing and people camping on the side of the road.

“Very different back then,” she said.

‘I got a bike and gotrid of the husband’

Fifteen years ago, Kathy Marx of Delaware got sick of her then-husband’s complaints.

“He said he was tired of me riding on the back,” said Marx, a 51-year-old nurse. “So I got a bike and got rid of the husband.”

Her life has never been the same.

After an abusive marriage that Marx said hammered away at her self-esteem, riding has been a therapeutic outlet.

“It gives me freedom now, confidence,” Marx said. “Life being a single mother can be scary, but this was life-changing. It’s an empowering challenge to ride a motorcycle on your own.”

Marx took her riding experience to a whole new level when she rode through the streets of London with her son, who’s in the Air Force.

“Amazing,” she said.

More power

Meg Parsons, a 37-year-old office worker from Albany, N.Y., hopped on a black Harley-Davidson at the Laconia dealership looking for more power.

She got her license last year, excited to join the rest of her family. She started on a little Honda Rebel, but on Monday, her thoughts shifted like a finely tuned bike.

“I’m just trying them out,” Parsons said. “Maybe I’ll get one when I get home.”

This is her first taste of Bike Week, adding to her new zest for life after she’d played things safe through the years.

“I didn’t think I would love it like I do,” Parsons said. “I was a total nervous Nancy; I rarely got out of my comfort zone. But I like that it’s scary, a sense of freedom. It’s the best scary thing connected to freedom you can do.”

Love story

A funny thing happened to Noelle Kimble of Grand Rapids, Mich., six years ago at a bike rally in Daytona.

She fell in love.

“I was in love with the biker style,” said Kimble, who’s 37. “It was my first bike rally and I told my husband that bikers are really cool and you’re going to have to become one.”

So they did, a rare instance when the wife influenced the husband to hit the open road.

Kimble’s marketing job has taken her to bike rallies in Sturgis, S.D.; Daytona, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; and Bike Week here in Laconia. She said the rally here is tops, filled with “friendly, honest people.”

She also said riding has added an important element to her life, and she cited the #MeToo movement as a comparison.

“It’s hard to be confident because men are riding so much faster,” Kimble said. “But I really feel empowered. It gives me strength on the inside, like I can do anything and everything.”

Driver’s seat

When you ride on the back of a bike, you’re trusting someone else with your life.

Fatima Jaworeck of Dighton, Mass., wanted control of her fate. She was the lone woman in her riding class, but that didn’t stop her from seeking and finding independence.

“Now I feel safer than getting on someone else’s bike,” said Jaworek, a nurse practitioner. “I’m in control.”

She said her career is stressful, and riding is the perfect outlet.

“Peaceful,” Jaworek said. “You’re paying attention to your surroundings and not thinking about anything else.”

New blood

Candi Pregler is a newbie.

The 50-year-old teacher from Georgia rode on the back of her boyfriend’s bike recently on the way home from a rally.

Bingo, she was hooked, and she got her license just three months ago.

“By the time we left, I had the bug badly,” Pregler said. “I told him, ‘I want my own bike now.’ ”

She’s got a Honda Rebel 250, the perfect beginner bike for women, many of the ladies said. She expressed pride that she and the other woman in her class remained in their basic riding course, while several of the more than a dozen men either dropped out or flunked.

“A good feeling,” Pregler said

Horse power

Lisa Butler of Manchester has traded her horse for a Harley, and not just any Harley. Her bike is a Fat Bob Screaming Eagle, 1800-cubic-centimeter engine, rubber-mounted.

In short, it’s real fast.

“It’s my passion,” she said outside Heritage Harley-Davidson in Concord. “It makes me feel a sense of freedom.”

Butler, a delivery driver for AutoZone, said she wasn’t sure if she’d hang at Weirs Beach this week because her boyfriend was working. She’s only been riding motorcycles for five years, having ridden horses her whole life. She began on a little 250 cc machine, which she called a pony, before buying the rocket ship she has now, which she calls a stallion.

“I was born to ride,” she said. “It’s like riding a horse, you need to balance all that weight and power under you.

“You see more women than ever,” Butler continued. “I’m independent and I like to ride alone. I’m adventurous. I think about my son who’s in the National Guard. I think about what I’m going to do the next day. I just enjoy taking in the fresh air.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)