Boomer Bikers: On the Road Again
Author : Robert Smith    -   Subject : Life

    A 55-year-old general contractor from Camino (that means "road" in Spanish), California, Stoddard is a new member of a growing gang on the highways: the Boomer Bikers. With job security attained and kids out of the house, middle-aged American men -- and women -- are buying motorcycles like never before.

    "It's freedom," says Stoddard, using a word often invoked by a generation of newly-minted middle-aged bikers. "You're out in the open. You smell everything you drive by. If I drive by a trout stream, I smell the fish. It's just being free."

    E.C. White, 60, uses even stronger language to describe his early-morning rides through the Blue Ridge Mountains near his hometown of Nicholasville, Ky.

    "It's like having sex with your eyes," he says. "No matter where you look, things register. As the sun comes up, it's cool and crisp."

    The Blue Ridge run has become something of a tradition for White and a group of his friends. They do it twice a year and, on their way, "do a lot of p.r." for the motorcycle cause by waving at children. White would love to reverse the popular image of motorcyclists as wild-eyed criminals.

    "Hollywood never did us any favors," he says. Boomer Bikers: On the Road Again

    FUNNY LOOKS AND THUMBS-UP Jeannie Edwards, a water truck driver from Lake Isabella, Calif., gets a lot of funny looks from other drivers on her morning ride to work through the Kern River Canyon above Bakersfield.

    "I get a lot of double-takes," she laughs. "But I also get a lot of thumbs-up."

    She can count all of her accidents on one finger. That incident, nearly 12 years ago, gave her a nasty scrape on the arm. Edwards tries to be philosophical about the obvious heightened danger that comes with riding a motorcycle on the open highway.

    "There's an old saying," she says, "about there only being two types of riders. Those who have been down and those who are going down."

    REBEL LIFESTYLE A rider for 25 years, Edwards first got involved in the pastime after dating a man who was mad for dirt bikes. He convinced her to take a ride. They eventually broke up, but Edwards never lost her taste for two-wheeled transportation.

    "I'm a rebel in that respect," she says.

    Though her Yamaha Virago is mostly used for the morning commute, she has been known to take it on longer journeys. Her longest trip was in 1990, when she went to the northern tip of Newfoundland, a bedroll neatly strapped to the back. Boomer Bikers: On the Road Again

    REVVING UP IN MID-LIFE It isn't at all unusual for middle-aged Americans to find themselves buying a motorcycle. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine, Calif., the average motorcycle rider is 38.5 years old and has a median income of $44,000. Those close to the industry say that a mid-life crisis often prompts middle-class men to sink their spare money into a bike.

    "I wouldn't call what I went through a crisis," says Stoddard of his decision, "but I definitely wanted to do something I enjoyed. I've worked hard all my life. The kids are all moved away and married."

    After some convincing by a bike-owning neighbor, Stoddard eventually spent more than $20,000 on his Harley and went through a three-day, state-sponsored safety class before ever climbing aboard. Notwithstanding all his caution, his wife, he says, "thinks I'm nuts."

    MALE BONDING Stoddard doesn't ride his bike to work because he needs to carry his tools to construction sites and the bike isn't big enough to bear the load. He does, however, drive it to his weekly Rotary Club meetings, where, he says, all his fellow members "are envious."

    They have good reason. Stoddard does most of his riding in good weather and on the weekends, with a much-younger neighbor friend who first convinced him to buy the Harley. Together with two other guys, they have taken day trips to Reno, Nev. and San Francisco among other places -- not for any specific errand, just to go.

    Like televised sports and treehouses, motorcycle-riding provides an impetus for male friendship. Stoddard says his weekend forays have brought him closer to men his own age, as well as making him feel free. "I don't feel old," he says. "I don't feel like I'm over 50."

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