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06-18-09, 08:16 AM
June 18, 2009
'Wild Hogs' with fewer mishaps

Motorcycles mean adventure to young at heart

Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

In his 20s, Dan Burnhardt hopped on his Harley Davidson motorcycle and blazed a trail from California to Iowa after his discharge from the Marines.

Then, he sold his bike.

Two wheels and one seat was impractical for starting a family. Later, responsibilities dwindled and his savings increased. His daughters grew up and moved out. The projects around the house were finished.

Finally, 30 years later, Burnhardt is full circle. He reached a point in his life where he can rekindle his wild side, he said.

"I can just set off and go, like I did 30 years ago," said Burnhardt, 56. "I was always going to do it, it was just a matter of when."

Burnhardt recently bought a 2009 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. He, his wife, Joan, 60, and a small group of 50-somethings are on a 2,600 mile adventure. They are traveling the country on backroads to Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap -- a 380-turn Mecca for motorcyclists through the Smokey Mountains -- and winding up in Charleston, S.C.

Picture the movie "Wild Hogs" with fewer mishaps, Dan Burnhardt said before the trip.

"We have no idea what is going to happen," he said.

That is the experience he and many other baby boomers are looking for, motorcycle industry officials say.

Baby Boomers represent the largest demographic of motorcycle riders and buyers, according to the Irvine, Calif.-based Motorcycle Industry Council. Boomers make up 44 percent of the riders on the road, said Ty van Hooydonk, director of product communications for the council.

It's partly that the older generation has more means to buy a motorcycle -- a new bike like Burnhardt's can run $17,000 to $20,000 -- but, it's also that boomers are looking for a sense of adventure, he said.

"Boomers have really taken to motorcycling and scooter riding. Boomers have shown that they are more active later in life when they are empty nesters," van Hooydonk said. "It is great to see people aren't just fading away and getting comfortable on the couch. They still want to experience great adventures."

After years of responsibilities, it's the idea of freedom that motorcycles represent that often appeals to boomers, said van Hooydonk and Dean Rogers, sales manager of Hawkeye Harley Davidson in Coralville.

"It's not really the tough guy biker any more. It's more freedom than anything. It's the wind in your face, and not sitting in the car," said Rogers, who sold Burnhardt his Harley.

For Burnhardt, it's all of those things: the freedom, the wind in his face, the open road, the nostalgia and the sound of the engine. That's why he traded in the golf clubs for the hog, he said.

"You've got to do this stuff now before you are too feeble, because one day you will be thinking, 'I could've done this or should've done that.'" Burnhardt said.