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12.16.09

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The Lady Riders of Santa Cruz

Biker gals confab on a rainy Saturday in December.

By Jessica Lussenhop


THERE ARE no motorcycles in the parking lot of the Scotts Valley Motorcycle Center on Saturday for the reading and booksigning of author Barbara Joans' Bike Lust: Harleys, Women, and American Society. And little wonder—it is absolutely pouring.

"You couldn't have gotten a worse day!" says Jenny Lefferts, an effervescent blonde wearing Versace eyeglasses. Pamela Biery, marketing director of the SVMC, shrugs. "We were hoping people would be able to ride their bikes, but obviously that's not possible," she says.

Nevertheless, 15 people and a pug mingle inside, drinking coffee and flipping through copies of Bike Lust and Chicks on Bikes, a photography book by Christina Shook. "Some people think we're all dykes, some people think it's a bunch of outlaws," says Shook. "Showing up to a PTA meeting on a bike, it still could not be more shocking. Which is why I wrote the book."

Many of the women in attendance are featured in her photos, including the pug's owner, Sunshine. She flips to her page—a shot of her dressed from head to toe in gold sequins. Today, she's wearing a red sequined cowboy outfit; her dog, Iggy, is wearing a Christmas T-shirt, and his leash jingles with about a hundred little bells. She says she bungee-cords his crate to the back of her Harley Davidson Heritage. "Three different chapters of the Red and Whites have made him an honorary member," she says. "He's been biking since he was seven weeks old."

For the uninitiated, there's a lot to take in. Lefferts, the "chief mad hatter" for Mad Maps, taps through the latest iPhone app with a French-tipped finger, plotting scenic biking routes all over the country with landmarks pointed out along the way. Joans says her book examines a lot of surprising aspects of biker culture that confront women riders. "For example, what do you do when the person next to you is wearing a swastika and you're a Jew and you want to kill them?" she says.

"You kill 'em!" someone quips.

"No! I think freedom of expression trumps it," she says.

Timidly, I ask how someone like myself—a bad girl wannabe—might dip a little toe in this world. "The easiest thing to do with no commitment is to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety class," says Shook. "They get you out on a bike and they're very welcoming. This is the most welcoming community I've ever met. People just invite you in."


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