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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Women bikers eager to show true colors

By Bill Ward
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Barb Himelfarb dons trendy biking attire. Lively colors and stylish headgear for women bikers such as Himelfarb have emerged only in the past decade or so.

TOM WALLACE | Minneapolis Star Tribune via MCT

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

After decades of the same old leather and lace, women bikers can now make a fashion statement.

TOM WALLACE | Minneapolis Star Tribune via MCT

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Women bikers want to have it both ways. They want to look like bikers but more than that, they want to look like women. Even or perhaps especially if it means pink chaps and orange bandanas.

"Everything has evolved away from black," said Christy Koethe, an avid motorcyclist from Cottage Grove, Minn. "The girls want a lot more colors. It's all over the color spectrum: whites, blues, pinks, greens, purples. We can even buy pink leather if we like."

That has helped make motorcycle shops a lot more vibrant visually, with splashy head-to-toe apparel and even the bikes themselves in brighter hues. Women make about 12 percent of U.S. motorcycle purchases, according to J.D. Power & Associates, but only in the past decade have they had attire geared for them. Before that, Koethe said, "we ended up wearing men's clothes because that's all we could find."

Now gatherings such as last weekend's International Motorcycle Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center even feature fashion shows.

"For years, women were dressed basically in a husband's or boyfriend's boxy gear, which didn't fit their shape. By 2000, women had tired of wearing the men's stuff," said Brenda Trumbo, product specialist for the California-based Icon apparel line, which will be part of the fashion show here. "For women, we go for matching outfits, with the helmet to match the jacket to match the chaps to match the boots. We have hot pink chaps with a helmet and jacket to match.

"Red has made a comeback, but pink continues to dominate, and I don't think it will go away."

There's another kind of "match game" in play, said Jim Kaempfer, owner of Afton (Minn.) Leather shop (formerly Leather and Lace). "Women like to match the outfit to the colors on the bike, so you see a lot of reds and oranges," he said.

Indeed, Koethe's headgear is "metallic ruby like my bike. But I see a lot of girls wear bandanas with rhinestones, especially with long hair. You do the do-rags because your hair would be a complete mess.

"And we all love our boots. You see a lot of tall heels, the taller the better. The toe jewelry, the buckles, we see a lot of that, the more buckles the better. You see chaps with fringe and beads on 'em."

Are they worried about looking a little too, well, girly?

"No, not with all the ribbons and fringe and other froufrou stuff available," Koethe said, adding that most of the women in her riding circle go the froufrou route. "I would say probably at least 50 percent, because you have a lot of women who are heavier-set and they tend not to wear the deep V's and the backless tops."

Kaempfer added that many riders are gravitating toward an alternative to the tried-and-true leather jacket. A nylon-based material called Cordura, he said, is "tougher than nails and a lot lighter than leather."

Many women still often opt for leather, of course. Koethe, who said she "climbed on my daddy's Harley as a small child," admitted that "it's interesting what leather will do to a female, and to people's perceptions."

Still, unlike their male counterparts, these women want to look not only good but distinctive.

"We believe all bikers want to look good," said Kaempfer. "They want to be classy-looking, but they don't want to look alike."