Women have become motorcyclists in record numbers over the last decade or two, and they’re altering the very orbit of our sport in many very cool ways. It’s good stuff, for sure, and perfect grist for this special edition of Thunder Press.
But for me, those of dual X chromosome makeup have been profoundly impactful for a lot longer than that – for most of my nearly fifty years of riding, actually.
Honda’s You Meet The Nicest People magazine ads in the ’60s (when I was a young boy) were my first exposure to motorcycling and women, but pretty quickly it was my late mother who took over that role, and fortunately for me she played it for a long time.
When my father broached the idea of me having a minibike in ’70 she obviously agreed – or at least didn’t fight it. (I also got a BB Gun around the same time, so the words “You’ll shoot your eye out!” clearly never crossed her lips). God love that woman!
When I started racing motocross in ’74 she came along with me and Dad on occasion, and while too horrified to watch the starts (maybe because of the time I holeshotted and proceeded to get run over by several bikes when I bailed in the first turn) she packed a mean lunch and took care of things so my spoiled teenage ass didn’t have to. She’d clean my goggles and hang up my sweaty Bates leathers (see photo) and keep our little pit space nice and tidy.
And later, when I took up motocross again in college, she and I probably did 75 percent of the races together during ’83 – and had a blast. It’s been 12 years since she passed and boy do miss her. RIP, mom. And happy Mother’s Day.
My wife was a motorcycle-industry insider for quite a while, too, doing scooter and motorcycle advertising during the ’80s and ’90s for American Honda – which is where we met, actually. Just as today, there were times back then when she did not appreciate me or my motorcycling hijinks. One of those times was at Laguna Seca during filming for a dealer video, when I somehow got her to agree to ride on the back of a CBR1000 with me for a couple ‘slow’ laps. (Hee hee!)
I feel the need to mention a handful of other women who’ve been helpful or inspiring – or just plain cool – over the years. Irma Hutton was like a second mom to me when I moved to Los Angeles to join the Motorcyclist staff. Heather Hane-Karr, Motorcyclist’s art director in the late ’80s, taught this rookie the ins and outs of layout and design. Fellow motojournalist Jamie Elvidge came onto the scene about the time I did in the mid-’80s and has been a friend and colleague since. Jan Plessner made it easier to get my son Alex into motorcycling way back when.
There are more. Leah Orloff is a Harley-Davidson engineer who builds a mean-ass KZ550 engine in her off hours (MOMBA, yes!), while Anne Wiley builds some mean-ass windscreens. The late Cindy Cowell made vintage racing even better (if that’s possible). Joyce Smith, wife of Malcolm, helped grease the skids (and scanned a bazillion images) for Malcolm’s autobiography. Alice Sexton’s a great designer who’s just cool as hell. And Becki Edmondson and Marilyn Stemp, who are just great people. Must also mention the late, great Jessi Combs, who inspired so many women (and men) across the powersports industries. RIP, JC. I know I’ve left some out, and I’m sorry!
Lastly, huge thanks to Joy Burgess, who came up with the idea to do this special Women In Motorcycling section and who’s spent several months assembling the many pieces. And of course there’s the always amazing Gloria Struck (and her daughter Lori), who was gracious with her time and photographs while rehabbing a broken hip. Thank you all!
See? Bad-ass motorcycle woman are everywhere. Hope you enjoy the issue.
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