After surviving 25 years of marriage and bringing up two kids, Lynn Johnson, 55, and her husband Gary, 56, of Oakdale, on New York's Long Island, wondered what they still had in common. She had a corporate career in banking; he owned a roofing business. "We were going in different directions," she says. Then, five years ago, Lynn encouraged her husband to plunk down $18,000 on a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. Without hesitation, Lynn jumped on the back. After a while, she opted for her own machine.
Now they journey up to 1,500 miles a year by bike, and their social life revolves around the local HOG (Harley Owners' Group) club. "It's renewed our romance," Gary says.
Remember the midlife-crisis motorcycle: a graying guy brags that he traded in his wife for a Harley-Davidson? That's a bit overblown--or, at least, an exception to the rule. According to a new survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council, 74% of riders older than 50 are married. And the percentage of riders over 50 has risen to 25%, a trend that's likely to continue as boomers age. "Before the boomers," says Tom Watson, marketing director at Harley-Davidson, "older people stopped riding, but boomers have redefined it."
As in so many other areas, boomers' affluence and good health have enabled them to indulge their tastes for activities once seen as the turf of the young. Overwhelmingly, men still buy the motorcycles, but increasingly, boomer wives are hopping on the back or buying their own. And they're having a say in the purchase.
For all the carefree abandon of these older riders, they tend to forsake the noise and vibration of sports bikes. Data from JD Powers show that the median age for sports-bike owners is 30, but for cruisers and touring bikes, which offer more comfort and luxury, it is 45 and 50, respectively. Older riders opt for add-ons besides a comfy seat and a windshield, like a CD player with wraparound stereo and an intercom to keep the couple connected on the bike.
These accessories matter more on long-distance trips, which older riders, with lots of leisure time, take more than younger ones. Watson reports that Harley owners between 45 and 54 average 6,290 road miles a year and those 55 to 64 rack up 6,240, while the 35-to-44 group logs 5,380 and 25-to-34-year-olds average 4,840.
Although it's true that more wives have been coaxed--or have leaped--onto the back, getting "the" bike remains mostly a male dream, one that's typically realized after the last kid's college tuition bill. "My dream all my life was to own a Harley-Davidson," says Mike Becar, 57, who directs a police-training organization in Meridian, Idaho. When his five kids were grown, he bought one. His wife of 30 years, Rene, 59, found it scary at first, but now she's his partner in speed and power. "When he named his bike 'Sylvia,'" she says, laughing, "I felt I'd better go with him."
A BMW was the dream of Don Walters, 50. The retired power-plant operator in Rowlesburg, W.Va., "moped at a picture of it on his screensaver," says his wife Sandy, also 50, a speech therapist. Don spends three days a week caring for Sandy's mom, who has Alzheimer's. As a thank-you, Sandy took out a loan to buy his dream ride. "I just hold on tight," she says, "and hug his waist and feel the wind."