Baby boomers go hog wild
The rumble of a big twin-V motorcycle engine is for many baby boomers both a siren call of their youth and the sound of an empty nest.
"I'd ridden all my life," Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox said. "After the kids grew up and left, it was time for a new bike."
Harley-Davidson, an iconic American brand, has catered to its aging boomer market by maintaining a biker bad-boy image while incorporating creature comforts and promoting a lifestyle. Many of the leather and tie-dye-wearing rebels of the 1950s and 1960s now are bifocaled, AARP card-carrying professionals and retirees.
Area motorcycle supply shops offer reading glasses bearing the Harley-Davidson logo, along with leather vests, chrome wheel weights and biker boots.
"Bikes have changed and bikers, too," said Neil Clem, owner of Hawg Wild Cycle Supply in Fort Oglethorpe.
Mr. Cox, 59, and his wife, Pat, ride together on a 2002 Harley-Davidson Classic, a law enforcement special edition. And it is Mrs. Cox's rules -- not too cold, not too hot, not too wet, not on the interstate -- that determine their riding style, he said.
That style includes changing from business attire to leather when they take to the road.
"I didn't buy a motorcycle just to socialize," Mr. Cox said. "I bought a motorcycle because I enjoy riding, and it's a getaway."
Baby boomers Steve and Sheri Stapleton, both nurse anesthetists, each had experience with motorcycles well before reaching middle age.
"Daddy always had a motorcycle, and I got to ride on the back when we lived in the Philippines," she said.
The Stapletons said they were drawn into what Harley-Davidson literature calls "the brotherhood and sisterhood of chrome and leather" by the bike riders attending the Nightfall concert series in downtown Chattanooga.
Mr. Stapleton, 58, said he realized he had to have a new bike after hearing the distinctive syncopated idle of scores of motorcycles cruising local streets.
"I like to ride alone, but when in a group it is enjoyable in a different way," he said. "On the bike all your cares go away. That feeling is like you're the king of the road."
Mrs. Stapleton, 49, said she gave up skydiving after more than 300 jumps when her children reached their teens.
"The older I get, the wiser I get," she said, adding she was content for several years to ride double with her husband. She said she realized her dream at a concert at Thunder Creek Harley-Davidson on Lee Highway.
"I saw a gorgeous cherry red Sportster and said, 'I want it,' " Mrs. Stapleton said. "The next day I was riding in the parking lot."
She said she and her husband are "just normal, decent professionals who like to have fun."
Mr. Clem at Hawg Wild said it is good to have doctors, lawyers and police officers buying and riding Harleys.
"We used to run from 'em. Now we ride with them," he said. "I can't remember the last time I was pulled over."
Tony Hales, 46, said his first motorcycle was "a Honda 50 that I got for Christmas in 1969" and that he drove to Chattanooga to buy his first Harley in 1995 while he was in the service.
Since leaving the U.S. Navy in 2000, he has worked at the Harley-Davidson dealership here.
"The market has changed over the past few years. It's not just male 40-somethings," Mr. Hales said. "But you don't sell motorcycles. You're selling a dream."
E-mail Mike O'Neal at email@example.com