Cris Sommer and Linda 'Jo' Felts Put Female Bikers on the Road to Respectability with Harley Women

updated 05/02/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1988 01:00AM

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda took some of the menace out of motorcycling men in their 1969 counterculture classic, Easy Rider. Now Linda "Jo" Felts and Cris Sommer would like to do the same for women bikers. Their bimonthly magazine Harley Women, which has more than 12,000 readers (75 percent of them women), is raising female consciousness about the breezy high of tearing up the open highway on a chopper.

"It's a feeling of power," says Felts, 38, who used to sell motorcycles. "It's something that gets in your blood." Adds Sommer, a 30-year-old mother of two: "Motorcycling is like the last frontier for women."

One of the magazine's covers featured motorcycle buff (and millionaire publisher) Malcolm Forbes with his pal Elizabeth Taylor in matching red-and-black leather riding togs. Felts and Sommer rode with the twosome last September to report Forbes's presentation to La Taylor of a purple 883cc Harley-Davidson Sportster.

Felts and Sommer, who admit that-Taylor isn't your typical Harley lady, started the magazine in 1985 with $1,000 seed money, setting up shop in a 10-foot-square office in Felts's house in a Chicago suburb. Sommer, a former mail carrier, has quit the postal service to devote full time to the magazine.

Harley Women avowedly tries to dispel the male cycle magazines' image of women as biker bimbos and motorcycle mamas. The casual reader of a recent spread showing scantily clad women astride enormous bikes might mistake HW for an ordinary macho motor mag, but the difference, they say, is in the attitude. The copy reads, "These young ladies...wore multiple-colored leather, tattoos, and held their chins high. You could almost see the expression 'Harley women—and damn proud of it!' "

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