Heads turn when this biker hits the road

In many ways, Debbie Karriker is a typical 50-something year old woman. She plays golf on the weekends with her husband of 24 years, Dave. She goes out to dinner and laughs with friends. She donates time to her favorite charities.

Who would guess she's also the leader of a biker gang?

Well, not quite.

Karriker is the chief officer of Ladies of Harley, a group of 30 female Harley-Davidson enthusiasts within the 141 member Speedway HOG chapter in Concord, who get together to share a passion for all things Harley-Davidson.

Four to five days a week, motorists along Interstate 85 can catch the 5-foot-4 Karriker riding her Heritage Softail motorcycle from her home in Kannapolis into Charlotte, where she works as the lead administrator of a tire company. The 700-pound, nearly 8-foot-long bike causes a lot of double takes along the road. "You would not believe the looks I get," she said.

But Karriker, like other members of the Ladies of Harley chapter, isn't the kind to ride on the back of her man's motorcycle, like in outlaw biker movies. She has her own ride.

In fact, those Hollywood movies, like "The Wild One" starring Marlon Brando, that depict Harley riders as unsavory criminals who travel above the law, couldn't be more off.

Today's riders come together to give back, not take.

Their meetings, held once a month, are often spent discussing charity work. This year they will focus on Hospice House of Cabarrus County and the American Cancer Society. In the past, they've decorated entire rooms at a local orphanage with Harley memorabilia.

They hold safety workshops and invite guest speakers. This month's scheduled speaker will educate members about breast cancer.

They even quilt. Right now they are working on a queen-size quilt made of T-shirts from the different places they've ridden throughout the country. "It's all handmade," said Karriker.

The quilt will be raffled off and proceeds donated to the charities they are sponsoring this year.

"The stereotype is not like what it used to be," said Karriker. "You have so many different people riding now."

There really is no one kind of Harley rider today. The Speedway chapter is made up of bankers, legal professionals, engineers, even a couple of retired teachers.

"It's a variety," she said.

The average age of a Harley driver today is 49 with a household income close to $90,000. That's quite a difference from the average rider 20 years ago, who was typically under 35 and had a household income of $38,000.

Karriker and the other members get together on the weekends for rides, some far, like a trip to Washington, D.C., where they will honor veterans.

Other trips are closer to home. "If you've never ridden through the mountains on a motorcycle, it's breathtaking," said Karriker, speaking of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

To her, riding a Harley-Davidson is the ultimate stress reliever. "The freedom. It's hard to explain. You've got the wind in your face and no true destination."