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August 15, 2006   Email to Friend 

Easy Riders
Debra Davis

From left, Alfa Agent John Austin of Brundidge, Agent Danny Turner of Troy and Agent Jimmy Morgan of Luverne are among the thousands of Alabamians who cruise to work or enjoy a weekend ride with friends.
Forget the stereotypical image of the rebellious, rowdy motorcycle rider. Today's average biker could be as ordinary as, well, your Alfa agent. Mirroring national statistics, the number of motorcycle riders in Alabama is growing faster than you can say "Born To Be Wild."

The Alabama Department of Revenue reports a 48-percent increase in the number of motorcycles registered in the state in just five years. In 2005, a whopping 96,718 two-wheeling cruisers were registered in the state. That's compared to 74,055 in 2004 and 50,040 in 2000.

Agents and other employees of Alfa have joined the ranks of riders who cruise to work or enjoy a weekend ride with friends. Some even fashion their vacations around rides in exotic locations.

John Austin, 64, has been an Alfa agent for 20 years. He took up riding four years ago with his wife Merlyn. "Since our children are grown, we just wanted to do something different," he said. "We love it!"

Austin said he enjoys the freedom, changes of temperatures from hills to valleys and what he describes as a "profound feeling of bliss as you smell the honeysuckle, sweet shrubs, hay and cut grass and see all of nature."

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), Austin is among more than 20 million Americans who swing a leg over a bike each year. New model sales have topped 1 million for three straight years, and sales figures have accelerated for more than a decade, largely due to public acceptance, a wider selection of models, and rising fuel prices.

Alfa Agent Mark McKinney, 44, has been working for Alfa for 20 years in Double Springs. He took up riding motorcycles just a year ago on a Suzuki C-90. He said he's never done anything that he loves more and describes riding his motorcycle as "beyond addicting."

"Hang gliding scared me," McKinney said. "I took 10 hang gliding lessons, but decided I could not solo. Biking is so similar to flying."

Lanny Bruce, 55, has been an agent in Florence for more than 10 years. He's been riding motorcycles for nearly 40 years. He and his spouse ride with an outreach group from Underwood Baptist Church called the Thunderwood Angels. When asked what he enjoys most about riding, he replied, "Let me just say that I understand why a dog likes to stick his head out of a car window."

Jimmy Morgan of Luverne has been an Alfa agent for almost 19 years. Now 48, he took up the hobby six years ago and enjoys participating in charity rides for underprivileged children and the March of Dimes.

"Some people just can't imagine their Alfa agent riding a motorcycle," Morgan said. "But the wind in your face is a good stress reliever. You can go for a 30-minute ride on your Harley and come back revived."

Today's average American rider is about 41years old, and nearly 10 percent of motorcycle owners are women, according to a recent survey conducted by MIC. More than half of all motorcycle riders are married, have attended college and have a median income that exceeds most of the U.S. population.

Of the Alfa agents surveyed, Tek Holmes of Huntsville is the most experienced rider. Holmes, an Alfa agent for seven years, has been riding for 47 years, which included racing dirt bikes as a child. On a recent Alfa rewards trip, Holmes and several others rented motorcycles and drove to Las Vegas, a ride that made the reward even more special.

Robert Pelt, an Alfa agent in Montgomery, has been riding 46 years, including 17 years as a motocross, short track and flat track racer. At 60, he only rides for pleasure now aboard one of the three motorcycles he owns.

Alfa Agent Danny Whitmon from Moulton often rides with his wife Teresa, an Alfa agent in nearby Muscle Shoals. He's been riding nearly 40 years, but said the real growth seems to be among older professionals. "The friends I ride with include insurance agents, lawyers, a district attorney, a restaurant owner, salesmen and your typical wannabe rebels," he said.

Danny Turner of Jack has been riding motorcycles since he was 11. He's been an Alfa agent in Troy for a year and a half and enjoys riding in charity events like the Troy Bikefest, which benefits Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Pike County.

"My dad had a bike and both my brothers had bikes," Turner said. "It's sort of a family tradition."

Connie Whitecotton and Vickie Mothershed, both 51, are employees at Alfa's home office in Montgomery. Whitecotton is the chief risk and compliance officer of Alfa, and Mothershed is licensing and continuing education administrator for the company.

Mothershed rides with her husband where they enjoy participating in charity events that benefit children. She said many people are surprised to learn of her hobby because she admits she's "always been a little on the conservative side."

Whitecotton rode extensively in her younger days, getting her first bike at 15 as a Christmas gift from her dad. During her junior and senior years, she rode a motorcycle to high school. But as college and her career took priority, riding took a back seat. Then in 2002, she received a Harley Davidson 2003 Fatboy 100th Anniversary Edition for a Christmas gift. She now rides with her husband, and friends, to such places as Sturgis, S.D., Mount Rushmore, and through Tennessee and North Carolina.

"Motorcycles," she said, "make transportation an adventure."

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