NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -

Traditionally ignored as potential customers, motorcycle dealers are gearing their business more toward women as more and more females are jumping on bikes and taking to the road.

The number of women motorcycle operators in the U.S. has increased slowly to about 2.7 million overall in 2009, according to the latest survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Motorcycle manufacturers feel that number will only increase. With sales slumping in the last few years due to the economic downturn, they see women as a growth market.

Harley Davidson dealerships around the country have started “Ladies Garage Parties,” where everything from basic bike maintenance to product demonstrations is highlighted.

The laid back, ladies-only events are designed to connect with a demographic that may have been overlooked in the past, but today they are the target of marketing and sales campaigns.

At a recent garage party in New Smyrna Beach, Bruce Rossmeyer Harley Davidson had women with a variety of riding ability in attendance.

Tyna Lynch, of Holly Hill, has been riding since she was a kid. She says the event is a great way to meet other women in the biking community.

“You don’t feel like you’re an oddball. I ride with a group of friends, and sometimes it’s more women than men,” Lynch said. “We laugh because you would think it would be the opposite.”

Lynch says she’s met all sorts of women while riding.

“It’s housewives, doctors, there’s a variety. You may never know what walk of life they come from," she said.

Former pharmaceutical rep Linda Jo Marinella got the bug in 2001 when she first attended Bike Week in Daytona.

“I was parked at a stop light, and a woman pulled up next to me on this beautiful Harley Davidson," Marinella said. "She had the biggest smile on her face, she looked so confident, so excited. So I came home that night and said I want my own bike.”

Marinella now rides a 2012 Harley Dyna Switchback. She says she’s seen a big change in the gender distribution in the past 10 years.

“When I’m at Daytona, at the rallies, I’d say it’s almost half [women] and half [men],” she said.

And it’s numbers like those that have the manufactures’ attention.