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Choosy Riders

At the First All Women's Motorcycle Parking Lot Sale, Bikers' Style Is as Customized as a Harley's

February 13, 1997|SUSAN CARPENTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The gawking was good along Santa Monica Boulevard, particularly outside Little Frida's coffeehouse in West Hollywood, where a group of Harley- and Honda-riding women gathered on Sunday to talk shop and swap parts. Participants had to meet three criteria: own "two wheels, an engine and [be] female," said Vivian Escalante, 42, the coordinator of the first All Women's Motorcycle Parking Lot Sale.

Within the purr of revving engines and waves of exhaust, leather-clad women in black jackets, fringed chaps, Harley-Davidson T-shirts and lace-up vests crowded onto the coffee shop's terra-cotta patio. Some had turned out just to support the event. Others came to bond--to talk, to buy and to sell.

Laura Stephens, one of two independent vendors at the sale, sat in a lawn chair at the tail end of a plaid blanket covered with the parts she'd removed from her bike while customizing it: a chrome pipe, leather seat, reflectors, foot pegs.

"When you buy a Harley-Davidson, it doesn't come the way you want it," Stephens explained. "You've gotta change everything. If you buy the bike just because you think a Harley-Davidson's cool, you have to be into it and changing out the stuff and adding to it and personalizing it. Otherwise, why did you buy it?"

"It's all about style," added Janet Hunter, 30, also a proud Harley owner. She rode a Honda for three years but gave it up. "It wasn't a Harley. L.A. is definitely all about style. It's not how long it's gonna last. It's how good you look ridin' it."

Throughout the sunny afternoon, chrome-laden Sportster and Fatboy owners moved their bikes closer together to accommodate more visitors. Though Los Angeles is mostly a Harley town, the typically tough, studded and rugged American loyalists not only made room for but dropped the snobbery and chatted with the outnumbered and understated riders of Japanese and European bikes.

"The community here is pretty Harley-dominated, but I'm not into [that] culture," said Susan Bradley, one of two women at the event with mint-condition, vintage, black-and-chrome BMWs. Describing herself as "a horse of a different color," the 34-year-old graphic designer said she chose her bike because it is rare and unusual. "Your bike is part of your identity. It's like wearing clothes. You relate to your bike the same way you dress."

Bradley typically wears a pair of "really yummy" red suede pants on the road, but said finding clothes that are both fashionable and functional for riding can be difficult. "It takes a lot of ingenuity to find something that you like to wear that's warm but isn't so many layers that you can't move. You're shopping everywhere from Wasteland to the Sports Chalet and tryin' to do the silk-undie thing."

Sarah Schilke, 26, recently moved to Los Angeles from Oregon, where she worked as a motorcycle instructor. "I really believe in being an excellent rider," she said, "knowing the skills."

Despite the warm weather here, she wears complete leathers and a full-face helmet when riding her jet-black Honda sport bike. "I just suffer. It may be hot, but it's not as bad as getting sunburned or dehydrated, or road rash, of course. I never ride with skin exposed."

Although no vendor offered them for sale, black leather jackets were de rigueur at the bikers' swap meet. An airbrush artist was on hand to customize the jackets already on riders' backs. Karen Schmidt, a set designer, paint-gunned a gray skull on the jacket of Robert Malachawski, the token male in the crowd.

A goateed 28-year-old, he came to the sale with wife Laurann, who had purchased a bike three months earlier. "I don't think riding is a male or female thing," said Malachawski, who also rides. "To me, it's a sensual thing. They're fun and they're sexy, just because you have become part of something that isn't you."

If the parking lot sale proved anything, it was that it takes all kinds. "[Riding] isn't all about hard-core women who have mustaches and smoke cigars and ride bikes. I'm a professional. She's a professional," said Hunter, pointing out Stephens, who is a forensic investigator. "We have a regular jobs. We dress as women when we go to work. We just like ridin' bikes."

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