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HARLEY'S ANGELS NO LONGER MOTORCYCLE MAMAS, WOMEN TAKE FRONT SEAT ON HARLEYS.

Byline: Candice Choi Staff Writer

Gone are the days of women riding the back seats of Harleys; these days, women are revving up sales in the driver's seat.

``It was a man's world before,'' said Cathy Sumandra, who works at Van Nuys Harley-Davidson. ``So many more (women) want to ride now. They rode on the back and now they want their own.''

Reseda resident Nancy Swan just shelled out $21,000 for a Harley Road Glide.

Swan got her first Harley a few years ago because she was sick of being ``left behind'' by her boyfriend when he went riding with the boys. The boyfriend is long gone, but Swan is still in love with biking.

``I ride from sunup to sundown every chance I get,'' she said. ``As you get older, you realize it's not all about what your guy is doing. You pick your own passions.''

The women riding on the back seats of motorcycles are a natural built-in market for manufacturers, said Genevieve Schmitt, editor of Woman Rider magazine.

Sales of Harley-Davidson motorcycles to women rose from 2 percent in 1985 to 10 percent in 2003, according to the company. That reflects a larger trend in the biking industry, where women account for nearly 10 percent of all motorcycle owners, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Reaching out to new markets could be the key generator for sales at Harley-Davidson, which on Thursday posted a record $209 million in fourth-quarter profits.

When women walk into the Van Nuys Harley-Davidson dealership on the arms of their husbands or boyfriends, saleswoman Michelle Mansur tells them they should stop taking a back seat on the road.

``I tell them they can ride themselves,'' said Mansur, a Harley rider for the past six years.

Until recently, however, Schmitt said the motorcycle industry has largely ignored women. It's only in the last couple years that Harley-Davidson went ``above and beyond'' in tapping women as potential customers.

Harley this month rolled out a Web site devoted specifically to women riders. The Enthusiast, a magazine for Harley owners, recently featured a special insert profiling women riders. For the first time last year, Schmitt said Harley even invited a dozen female reporters to test out its new Sportster, a smaller, entry-level model that is popular with women.

It's all part of Harley's recent effort to reach ``the broadest possible segment'' of the market possible, said Paul James, spokesman for Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson.

Leslie Long, who was in the Van Nuys dealership with her husband on Thursday, typifies the new Harley buyer.

``I got into it 'cause my husband was into it,'' she said. ``I think that's how a lot of women get into it.'' By the time the couple's annual bike ride rolls around this spring, Long said she plans to have her first Harley.

With a growing fleet of women riders taking to the open road, Long won't be alone.

Sumandra started riding 17 years ago with an inexpensive Honda, while working as a kindergarten teacher. Now 41, Sumandra commands a $15,000 Super Glide to get her rush.

``It's being in control - it's strengthening and independent.''

Candice Choi, (818) 713-3634

candice.choi(at)dailynews.com

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(color) Nancy Swan is an accountant by day, a leather-clad Harley rider on weekends.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 21, 2005
Words:553
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