Motorcycling has been an important part of Debra Boardman’s life for the past 37 years.
But the 56-year-old AMA Charter Life Member from Michigan says coworkers and new acquaintances still are amazed when they find out she rides.
“Most of my employees, work contacts and friends are surprised when they discover that I ride, both on the road and off,” says Boardman, who supervises a chain of convenience stores. “The most frequent comment is, ‘How can someone your size hold that big motorcycle up?’ Another comment is, ‘You ride a motorcycle? You sure don’t look like a biker.’”
Boardman has owned 18 street bikes, including a Honda Gold Wing with a sidecar that accommodated her son for the first three years of his life.
“I have logged over 200,000 miles on my own bike, riding in all 48 continental United States, along with several Canadian provinces,” Boardman says. “In 37 years of marriage, we have taken only two vacations without motorcycles.”
But Boardman doesn’t confine her riding to the asphalt.
At age 40, she took up observed trials competition.
“My current ride is a 250 Beta,” she says. “In 2004, I was voted Rider of the Year by the Michigan Ontario Trials Association. I also won the novice class the same year.”
Boardman has been riding for 37 years. Her first road bike was a Yamaha 175 in the early 1970s. In addition to the Beta trials bike, she currently rides a 2012 Suzuki VStrom 650 Adventure.
We chatted with Boardman to get her thoughts on motorcycling and the non-riding public’s perception of those who ride.
American Motorcyclist: What got you started riding?
Deb Boardman: I have loved motorcycles since I was very young. My dad had a homemade mini bike I rode around the backyard as a kid, and a cousin had dirt bikes that I rode some, but mostly just envied. Soon after getting married, I talked my husband into buying a motorcycle [360 Yamaha road bike]. Then I asked him to teach me to ride and have been on motorcycles ever since. Some people think I am obsessed with them.
AM: What is your favorite ride?
DB: Most of the roads in Colorado, especially U.S. 550. I also really like Bennington County, Vt., with all of the covered bridges.
AM: What is the best memory you associate with riding?
DB: Riding as a family — which includes my parents, my husband, my son and myself — to Americade West in 1987 and winning the Americade Family award. My son was 9 months old and rode in a sidecar attached to my 1986 Gold Wing. Also, there were many other trips from 1981 to 2000 with my parents and husband and son after he was born in 1986.
AM: What is the general public's image of motorcyclists?
DB: I think much of the general public envies the motorcyclist and wishes they had the guts and, possibly, funding to try riding, while another part of the public finds it scary and dangerous.
AM: How can motorcyclists improve their image?
DB: By wearing helmets, not having excessively loud mufflers, riding safely and abstaining from alcohol while riding. Another way is to talk to non-motorcyclists when out riding, so they can see we are just people too.
AM: What practical benefits do you personally get from riding?
DB: Riding motorcycles is great stress relief from work, relaxing and just plain fun. I tremendously enjoy the ride and scenery on a motorcycle. There is no frame around your view, like in a car. You can see everything. It is something you just can’t understand unless you have ridden a motorcycle. It is its own sense of freedom.
AM: Have you ever taught someone else how to ride? What did you learn from that experience?
DB: I used to help my husband teach the motorcycle safety course. It taught me to be a better rider, and it was really fun when I demonstrated the range exercises and the 16- or 17-year-old guys thought it would be really easy but were unable to do it. It also taught me how to relate to people of all ages better.
I also have worked with another woman from our trials club. It has been very fulfilling, especially when she told me how much she improved at the next event and asked if I would be willing to help her more. I have had many people help me with my trials riding, so it was really nice to be able to return the favor. I would like to do this more often, especially with women, as we seem to have more difficulty in this sport than men.
AM: How can we get more people on motorcycles?
DB: Well, in Michigan, I think it would be helpful if something could be done about the Michigan catastrophic claims association fee that makes insurance extremely expensive. Another way might be to make motorcycle safety courses more readily available, as it would make riders feel safer if they knew the correct way to ride.
Deb Boardman is an AMA member from Jonesville, Mich., who was featured in the December 2014 dirt/competition edition of American Motorcyclist.