Ann Hofmeister revs up interest in women and Harleys

Ann Hofmeister shatters the stereotype that motorcycle riders are rough, tough men. Sure, she owns two Harleys and wears leather when she rides. But she is also soft-spoken, business-savvy and extremely supportive of her customers. Her “gang” includes the many members of the Lady Riders group connected with her shop.

Hofmeister is the owner of Faribault Harley-Davidson, a dealership that her father, Bob, opened in 1977 and ran for 30 years. She joined the business in 1999 after the dealership’s manager, her uncle, passed away. She had just earned her business degree from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“It was something that I hadn’t planned on or thought about before,” she said, “but I was passionate about Harley-Davidson. And so to come and work here was like having a dream job, because you’re doing what you love. And when you like what you do, it’s easier to do well at what you do.”

Growing number

Women ridership is growing, Hofmeister said. “The more people see women out there, then the more women decide, ‘Oh, if they can do that, then I can do that too.’ So they’re getting into the sport more and more all the time.”

Nationally, 15 percent of sales of new Harley-Davidsons are to women, but “we’re averaging 17 to 18 percent, and I think it has to do with some of our efforts,” she said. “Having a female owner, me, of the dealership, I’m so supportive, and hopefully that helps create loyalty.”

Those efforts include women-only Garage Parties and group rides. “There’s over 300 women that I send an invite to when we have a group ride,” Hofmeister said.

‘It’s fun – pure and simple’

One of Hofmeister’s customers is Brianna Gustafson, 35, of Hopkins. Gustafson grew up riding on the back of her dad’s bike in Faribault. Now, 30 years after her first ride, she has a license and a Harley of her own.

Her bike, a Softail Slim model, is her preferred form of transportation to her work (weather permitting) as a weight-loss counselor, but its appeal goes beyond its fuel-efficient practicality.

“It’s a way to spend time with my dad and my sister and my brother-in-law. But it’s just fun – pure and simple. The wind blowing and you’re outside,” Gustafson said. “I love [being outside], I can’t get enough and it’s just another way I can enjoy that.”

Hofmeister echoed that sentiment: “If you don’t ride, it’s hard to explain, but when you’re out there and you get all the senses working … it’s really neat.”

Plus, there’s freedom in riding and a sense of power, Hofmeister said, and that’s true for women and men. Riding with a spouse or friends is additional motivation.

The Lady Riders

Both women spoke of the power of traveling with other women.

“I love my time riding with my husband,” Hofmeister said. “But then on the other side, when you go on these women’s trips, it’s just all gals out there, and getting loud and having fun, and feeling empowered and free.”

Gustafson added that she learned from other Lady Riders. “They’re extremely welcoming and patient and so willing to help,” she said. “The passion that they have too, it just overflows. They’re just as excited to see a new rider come along as that new rider is.”

It’s not just women helping women, Hofmeister noted. She sees men encouraging and supporting women riders, a change from 30 or 40 years ago.

“Those women had a tougher battle to get through to be accepted as a motorcycle rider because people back then, maybe men, were more apt to say you shouldn’t be on the motorcycle,” she said.

Learning the basics

Hofmeister stressed feeling confident and stable on the machine. Motorcycles come in many styles and sizes, and there are many ways to customize bikes to fit each person, she said. For example, changing handlebars or seats and using a lowering kit can make the ride more comfortable for smaller people. Some women may prefer a smaller bike, but Hofmeister knows many who are riding big touring models. She has even taught women at the Garage Parties how to lift an 800-pound motorcycle that’s tipped.

In addition, the dealership’s Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified course for beginning riders will introduce basic skills and techniques and can help riders get their Minnesota motorcycle endorsement.

Then, Hofmeister said, it’s time to hit the road: “The accomplishment of getting to that point where you’re out there and you’re riding and you’re confident is an amazing process to go through.”

Gustafson put it another way: “How can you not feel cool when you’re on a Harley and just feel good about that?”

FFI: Lady Riders of Faribault: www.faribaulthd.com/miscpage_002.asp