Roaring through the Ozark Mountains on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Leila and John Scott feel the years unwind with each bend in the blacktop. “The freedom, the wind, makes you feel young again,” says John, 60, a machinist in Galena, Kan. (pop. 3,287).
As a kid, John raced dirt bikes—knobby tires, no lights, no tags—then bought a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle when he was 18. John hadn’t owned a motorcycle, though, since 1978 when the distinctive rumble beckoned to him one night in 1999.
“We were in Illinois at a campground and a bunch of Harleys rode by and I thought, ‘Boy, I’d like to get back to biking.’” The grandfather of eight imagined his hands twisting the throttle as he enjoyed the thrill of the open road. He and Leila, 59, were empty nesters with four grown children. Before they knew it, they’d bought a Suzuki 1400 Intruder motorcycle and the only ties binding them were the do-rags to keep their hair from tangling as they headed down the highway.
“I rode with him and was hooked right away,” says Leila, who works as a technician in a cardiologist’s office. “You can have a bad day and get on your bike and it all goes away.”
The Scotts average about 10,000 miles a year on their motorcycles. And while their at-home family has fled the nest, they’ve acquired another family of sorts after buying Harleys in 2001. “They’re just like brothers and sisters,” Leila says about members of her Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) from Cycle Connection, a motorcycle dealership in nearby Joplin, Mo. (pop. 45,504).
Nearly every weekend, the Scotts don black leather jackets, chaps and boots and ride with fellow members. The average age of the group’s 160 members is 52 and most have grown children.
“We don’t worry about the kids,” Leila says. “They worry about us.”
Members ride to sightseeing spots, events and lots of eateries. “We eat to ride and ride to eat,” Leila says with a laugh. It’s nothing to ride 100 miles for a slice of homemade coconut-cream pie at Cookie’s Cafe in Golden City, Mo. (pop. 884). The group takes three or four overnight trips a year and holds several fund-raising events, the major one being the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon broadcast locally from Cycle Connection.
Each summer, the Scotts head west on their bikes for a week’s vacation. “You can tour Yellowstone on a bike or in a cage (translation: car) and it’s two entirely different experiences,” John says. Adds Leila, “You see every bump in the road on a motorcycle. The whole view is yours.”
The Scotts and other baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) have fueled the growth of the motorcycle industry for 15 years. No longer burdened with bills for braces and college tuition, many boomers have the disposable income for motorcycles, insurance and gear.
The average age of a motorcycle owner in the United States is 41, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine, Calif.
Although there is a lingering image of bikers as rebels, such as Marlon Brando in The Wild One, today’s bikers are far from a symbol of anti-establishment. They are the establishment.
“Americans have finally found that it’s a great activity, both for weekend recreation and weekday transportation,” says Ty van Hooydonk, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council.
About 450 models of motorcycles are available, with an average price of $8,000. Customizing and accessorizing—chrome-plated parts, heated handlebar grips and GPS navigation systems—drive the price as high as riders want to go.
Sharing the spirit and ride
Mike Adams, 49, of Greenville, S.C. (pop. 56,002), has enjoyed riding on two wheels since he drove his first dirt bike at age 5. He was thrilled to introduce his wife of five years, Janet, 48, to the sport.
“When we were riding double, I’d look in my mirror and it was nothing but teeth,” says Mike, a construction supervisor. “She smiled the whole time.”
He still admires Janet’s smile, but today it’s from several yards away as she rides her own cherished pearl-white 2007 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider. Janet’s enthusiasm for riding now rivals her husband’s. She rides to work at their family-owned moving and storage business in Greenville and dresses daily in biker-themed shirts and jewelry.
“Riding makes me feel about 20 years old,” Janet says. Before going solo, Janet took a two-day riding class to boost her skills and confidence. “A husband can’t teach a wife to ride,” she says flatly. “No patience.”
Although her two adult children think it’s cool that their mother rides a motorcycle, Janet didn’t have the nerve to tell her own mother for three months about her liberating new sport.
“Now Mom says, ‘Before you ride, just call me and I’ll pray for you.’”
Every night, the Adamses try to ride as a couple or with other members of the Greenville H.O.G. chapter. On Sundays, they hit the road for sightseeing, such as a 130-mile trip to Abbeville, S.C. (pop. 5,840).
“It’s total relaxation,” Mike says.
“It’s our second childhood,” adds Janet.
Next to nature
A big attraction to riding for Rose and Tom Manzi of Smyrna, Del. (pop. 5,679), is being outdoors. By 5 a.m. during the workweek, Rose has pulled an orange safety vest over her leather jacket and packed her suit, silk blouse, pantyhose and heels in her saddlebag for the 50-mile commute to her banking job in Wilmington. As she cruises on a motorcycle, adorned with purple butterflies, and inhales the salty ocean air, she feels invigorated.
“Seeing the countryside close-up and meeting people are truly the reasons we ride,” says Rose, 50.
The Manzis travel mostly with members of their Harley group from Mike’s Famous motorcycle dealership in Smyrna. Their trips always involve shopping, but hauling home the goods isn’t a problem. “We ship our dirty clothes home by UPS,” says Tom, 48, a plumber. The same goes for hefty souvenirs, such as the 50-pound chainsaw-carved bear that Rose bought in Wildwood, N.J. (pop. 5,436).
Typical of most motorcycle groups, the Smyrna pack participates in many charitable benefits and runs. For six years, Rose has collected canned goods weekly from bikers for the Kent County food bank. They helped raise $1,000 for the Boys and Girls Club and sent air conditioners and Christmas trees to U.S. troops serving in Iraq.
The Manzis don’t plan to put the brakes on their biking—ever. Even knee-replacement surgery last year didn’t keep Rose out of the saddle for long.
“Our kids are grown and now it’s time for us to have some fun,” she says. “That’s how all of us feel.”