- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — When Roe Hyer was diagnosed with breast cancer so advanced that doctors gave her only a month to live, the single mom decided to finally start living.

The spunky hairdresser, then 39, was tired of “being a passenger” in life. She moved to Florida, took up body building and bought her own motorcycle — a metallic blue Suzuki Intruder 800.

Miss Hyer is one of thousands of women across the country finding camaraderie in women’s motorcycle clubs. From the Chrome Divas in Columbia, S.C., and the Women on Wheels in Lincoln, Neb., to the Throttle Queens in Landover, Md., and the Motor Maids in Erie, Mich., women are increasingly taking to the open roads.

“I didn’t have control of the cancer. There’s nothing you can do, so riding is something you have control of,” said Miss Hyer, now 54.

The number of women who own their own bikes is on the rise — jumping 36 percent to 635,000 between 1998 to 2003, according to the most recent numbers from the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade group based in Irvine, Calif.

Manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson and Ultra Motorcycles are capitalizing on the trend, designing bikes with lighter frames, custom-fit gears and lower seats.

“It’s pretty much been a men’s market, but a lot of ladies really like riding motorcycles, and I think they feel left out, so that’s why we created something just for women,” Ultra Motorcycles sales director Dan Houston said of his company’s Groundpounder and California Kid models.

The winding roads offer women an escape from crying babies, stressful jobs and high-maintenance relationships. When Army nurse Edna Valesquez returned from Iraq in 2003, riding helped to melt away memories of wounded troops.

“It’s a little escape. You can get on those back roads, and you just go,” said Miss Valesquez, who started the Chrome Divas in August 2005.

Many female riders plan to roll up to Daytona Beach’s annual Bike Week this week to gab with the thousands of fellow bikers from across the country.

“We’re definitely seeing a trend in more female riders” showing up at Bike Week, said Kevin Kilian, official for Daytona’s Chamber of Commerce.

For many of the women’s motorcycle clubs, charity is a central purpose. More than 200 female clubs are listed on the Internet, with groups catering to older riders, Christian riders and black riders. A majority include charity work in their charter.

The Chrome Angels of central Florida dedicate fundraising efforts to breast cancer causes, said Jessi Sills, who founded the group after her mother died of breast cancer.

The Sarasota-based Diva Angels, started by Marsha Wolak, has spawned seven chapters with about 150 members, and it has raised money for dozens of charities, including the National Children’s Drug Awareness program, the American Legion, Toys for Tots and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

“We’re here to ride and have fun, but we also want to help people less fortunate than ourselves. We wouldn’t do one without the other,” Miss Wolak said.

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