By Dylan R
Motorcycle popularity has surged in recent years, especially in a city like Calgary where the economy is booming—and riders are getting older and more mainstream.
Today’s bikers are a far cry from the road warriors and teenaged rebels of decades past. The average age of a Harley customer has moved up to 47, almost 11 years older than in 1987, according to the 109-year-old motorcycle company.
Here in Calgary, the majority of Harley buyers are between 45–55 years old, and according to Kane’s Harley-Davidson dealer in Inglewood, that’s not surprising considering their most popular bike, the Street Glide, starts at $23,000.
“More wealth and disposable income” are likely contributors, says Carwl, a motorcycle specialist at Kane’s.
Carwl, whose mononym is known by many in the local Harley community, says Calgary is one of the best cities in Canada in terms of sales, despite the brutal winters which often put a halt on riding for a few months. The season is only beginning and Kane’s has already sold 80% of their 2012 inventory.
“Sales of Harley-Davidsons are less effected by seasonal and economic factors,” says Carwl. “Harley’s offer superior quality and craftsmanship, and customers know it.”
Besides high-end ‘cruisers’—the classic, easy-riding bike iconic of Harley-Davidson—riders have been showing interest in motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, from ultra fast sport bikes known crudely as ‘crotch rockets’ to touring bikes and scooters.
Recently, European high-end bike makers such as BMW and Vespa have stepped up their efforts in the Canadian market, where sales have been impressive for both companies; a bulk of their sales, too, are to the 50+ crowd.
Dave Moseley, 62, has been riding motorcycles for almost 45 years, and started out on a 1966 Honda Black Bomber, which belonged to his uncle.
“My first summer riding, I crashed my uncle’s bike and spent the summer with road rash all over one side of my body,” recalls Moseley.
But the incident didn’t faze him, nor was the bike completely ruined. After getting the bike repaired later that summer, Moseley has been riding ever since, and hasn’t looked back.
“The wind in your face is the ultimate feeling of freedom,” says Moseley with a boyish grin.
Moseley says it’s common for people to get into some kind of trouble on their bike at some point.
“In a way I’m grateful to have crashed my first summer, it taught me the importance of wearing protective gear—and I’m not just taking about a helmet, but full leathers and proper gloves and boots.
“I see kids on motorbikes these days wearing sandals, shorts and t-shirts, and the bikes they have can go a hell of a lot faster than my father’s could. It’s crazy.”
Today, Moseley owns two motorbikes: a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, and a Honda Gold Wing. Both have logged tens of thousands of kilometres.
Working part time as a consultant, Moseley rides his bike into downtown Calgary on occasion, and he is still surprised by some of the reactions he gets.
“Wearing black leather pants, jacket, and gloves, I’ve had people take different elevators trying to avoid me. It’s like they think I’m in a biker gang or I’m dangerous,” Moseley says with a laugh.
Moseley’s wife, Anne, isn’t much of a fan of motorcycling, but has been on the back of her husband’s bikes a couple of times over the years.
“I don’t really get the same enjoyment as Dave, there’s no excitement or feeling of freedom . . . it’s actually kind of scary for me.”
The number of women riders might surprise some, especially in Calgary, where Kane’s says a great number of bikes are sold to women.
“One quarter, perhaps one third of the bikes we sell go to women,” says Carwl, which is up from the North American Harley-Davidson average of 9%. Of the bikes sold to women, Carwl says almost all of them are sold to the age 40–60 crowd.
Looking for adventure, Sue Boyen, 55, only rode a motorcycle for the first time three summers ago, and purchased her first bike in 2011: a BMW K1300S.
“This bike is a brand-new thing for me,” says Boyen, who lives part time in Mesa, Arizona.
“My Husband has been riding for about 15 years now, and when I retired I just decided I wanted to get my license.”
On occasion over the winter, Boyen says she would look at her bike parked in her garage and ask herself if she was crazy. Other days she couldn’t wait to get on the road.
“My husband and I plan to ride our bikes to Arizona in August. Whether we leave them down there [where they typically stay from January through April] or bring them back hasn’t been decided.”
The weather in Calgary and southern Alberta means most riders park their bikes until warmer months, but a few hardcore riders took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather last winter and took to the roads.
Jeff Hilton has been riding motorcycles for about 60 years, and feels just as comfortable on his bike on a chilly day as on a hot summer’s day.
“There wasn’t much snow this winter, and I took advantage of it,” says Hilton.
Sporting a 1999 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, Hilton, 73 says the thought has crossed his mind that the day will come when he isn’t able to ride any more.
“Sometimes I wonder to myself, ‘who am I kidding?’ People probably think I look pretty silly on a bike at my age.
“I imagine they’re thinking, ‘look at that old man on the motorcycle with his wrinkly face and white beard.’ Maybe they even laugh about it.”
Hilton’s once black hair is now white, and his face does have many hard-earned wrinkles, but underneath it all is still a man who revels in the adrenaline and freedom of the open air blowing on his face.