Women riders celebrate their passion

Rising to new heights in Colorado

Keystone, Colo. Aug. 19–22—Over 1,000 women and supporters came together from 46 states across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia to participate in four days of the AMA International Women in Motorcycling Conference held high in the Colorado Rockies. After attending the last conference in 2006, I learned that, with few exceptions, the women of the AMA are serious riders—very few will fly or trailer their bikes into these events. Women rode solo or in groups on American and metric cruisers, touring bikes, sport bikes and sidecar rigs. For those short on time or traveling across the ocean, EagleRider provided substantial motorcycle rental discounts. No one wanted to “cage” to the premier women’s motorcycling event of the decade.

This is the fifth Women in Motorcycling Conference held by the AMA, but the first one held west of the Mississippi River—and by all accounts, attendance surpassed the last one in Athens, Georgia. As they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the ride getting there… and the largest group riding in was the Motor Maids Inc., 66 members strong. The Motor Maids were founded in 1940 and was the first women’s motorcycling organization in North America. Age held no limits for 84-year-old “Mighty Eve” who rode from the West Coast to meet-up with 84-year-old Gloria, who rode from Florida to Sturgis and then on to Keystone.

The largest numbers belonged to the independent riders, but other large groups in attendance included: Women on Wheels, Women in the Wind, Christian Motorcyclists Association, Sisters of Scota WMC, Miz Behavin Divas MC, Spokes WMC, Windy City Women Riders MC, Women in Motion, Chrome Angels, Satin Wheels, Sisters in Spirit and many more. While celebrating women in motorcycling, the AMA wants to stress that this is an inclusive event, which means everyone is welcome, including men. More men than ever came out to enjoy the activities and support the women who love to ride.

Rocky Mountain High
We checked in at the conference center with Tracey Powell of the AMA. Keystone is best known for its ski slopes, beautifully appointed condos and upscale shops, breweries, bars and restaurants. In summer, when the roads clear of snow, it becomes a playground for motorcyclists with wide sweeping highways, secondary switchbacks and breathtaking views (and sometimes wildlife) around every turn. We quickly unloaded the bikes and prepared for the AMA president’s reception with Rob Dingman. Rob gave thanks to all the women who rode to the conference and special credit to Tigra Tsujikawa, the AMA’s marketing and special events manager, who did the legwork to make it all happen.

For those wanting more, the AMA did not disappoint. Guided tours were scheduled across the Continental Divide at 11,992 feet, or you could ride across the 14,000-foot passes to Estes Park in the rugged Rocky Mountain National Park. There were day rides to Hot Sulphur Springs where riders could take in a soak in one of the nation’s oldest, largest natural hot springs or ride the Central City gambler’s route for a chance to win big in one of the local casinos. Everywhere the conference took us, we were greeted with smiles, curiosity and open arms by the locals.

The welcoming ceremony was a veritable who’s who in the sport of motorcycling. The theme of “Riding to New Heights” was aptly chosen for the altitude of the conference site, but also reflects how far women riders have come since the early 19th century. Rob Dingman opened the conference with these spirited remarks: “Every year, more and more women are becoming motorcyclists. Today, the pioneering spirit of the Van Buren sisters—who embarked on their historic cross-country trip in 1916—lives on through your own motorcycling adventures. Each of you has, in your own way, played a vital role in securing a significant and ever-expanding place for women in motorcycling. Women are a different voice in motorcycling and the AMA is listening to that voice. Never again will motorcycling be known as ‘a guy thing.’ The AMA is ‘all things motorcycling.’ The AMA welcomes all riders. If you are a motorcyclist, you belong in the AMA.”

Next up was Maggie McNally, who has the distinction of being the first female member of the AMA Board of Directors in 15 years. An avid rider of 30 years, involved with multiple clubs and organizations; she works to promote the motorcycling lifestyle with manufacturers, other drivers and the government. She introduced Leslie Porterfield, who spoke of her ascent to be named the 2008 AMA racing female rider of the year. This 32-year-old, 110-pound racing dynamo went down at 110 mph in 2007; but that did not curb her appetite to go back and set the record. In 2008, she set three land speed records on the salt at Bonneville. She is the first female member in the history of the prestigious Bonneville 200 MPH Club and owns High Five Cycles in Dallas. Karen Davidson, great-granddaughter of The Motor Company’s co-founder, Willie A. Davidson, spoke about officially joining Harley-Davidson in 1989. Karen’s education, insights and ability to connect with the Harley rider have increased general merchandise sales ten-fold. Leslie Prevish, the Harley-Davidson women’s outreach manager, drove home a lesson from history. She played an audiotape made by Vivian Bales, the Enthusiast Girl, who in 1995 at the age of 85 made an audiotape describing when she first bought her Model B single-cylinder Harley-Davidson in 1926. “I paid $150 for it, but I couldn’t ride it. I pushed it down the block until I found a nice young man and asked, ‘Would you crank this over for me?’ After he got it started, I told him to get on the back and I’d give him a ride to work.”

It was time for our keynote speaker, who spoke the loudest without saying a word. Maggie McNally got a little choked up announcing the accomplishments of 19-year-old Ashley Fiolek, who holds 13 amateur national motocross titles, is the first female on the American Honda Red Bull Factory Race Team and made her debut at this summer’s X-Games, taking home the gold. The room fell silent as the petite woman and Roni, her mother/interpreter, took the stage. With her hands signing at raceway speed, she told us how she has never let any obstacles stand in the way of her dreams. Her greatest obstacle was not, however, being born profoundly deaf; it was being a female competing in a male-dominated sport. She acknowledged the foundation laid by female racers who came before, but until now amateur championships were as far as any girl could go. “For a boy there is a path to the pros; they get support and sponsorship. But for girls, there was no path.” She continued, “I want to make a path for girls the same as for the boys.” And a path she blazed when she went pro in 2008 and won the Women’s Motocross National Championship in her rookie year. Ashley received a standing ovation when she closed the ceremony with, “In the spirit of this conference, ‘Riding to New Heights,’ I think you all must believe in yourself.” Her words rang loud and true to all of us who made the long journey to celebrate our passion for motorcycling.

Getting “Dirty”
The “Dirty Dozen,” brainchild of Sue Slate and Gin Shear of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation, raised over $41,000 for breast and ovarian cancer research. The recipe was simple: take a dozen competent street riders, add dirt bikes and gear, a generous portion of dual-sport training, sprinkle in camping and meals, pour the entire mix onto some of the best unpaved roads across Colorado, and presto! You have just made 12 adventure tourers at the bargain fundraising price of only $2,000 per rider. There were numerous other ways to get dirty, including the popular Coach2Ride dirt bike school taught by Andrea Beach and Bonnie Warch, which had a waiting list every day. Erin Doherty-Ratay, whose adventures with her husband Chris netted them the Guinness Book of World Records for the Longest Motorcycle Ride (Team), presented a seminar on dual-sport and adventure riding. Lois Pryce, author and adventure tourer extraordinaire, shared her inspiring stories and incredible wit at the closing ceremonies. In 2003, she rode solo on a Yamaha dirt bike from Alaska to the tip of South America, as chronicled in her book Lois on the Loose. She described how polite Americans are during an encounter in Tennessee where she was working on her bike in a parking lot and this man tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Excuse me ma’am, can you take a look at this?” When she turned around, the man had his genitals hanging out. Above the roar of laughter she yelled, “Hell, even the flashers are polite in America.” Fearless to a fault, in 2006 she set off to ride the length of Africa. Four months and 10,000 miles later she rolled into Cape Town, mostly in one piece, having tackled Kalashnikov-wielding soldiers and Angolan minefields, as described in her latest book Red Tape and White Knuckles. She encouraged us all to seek out our heart’s greatest adventure, saying, “It’s so much easier than you can ever imagine.”

Street dreams
For those whose riding dreams are limited to the constraints of pavement, there were ample opportunities for adventure. Harley-Davidson, Buell, Ducati, Yamaha, BMW and Kymco had their demo fleets onsite for a full four days of riding ecstasy. The only requirement was a valid motorcycle endorsement and availability of your chosen bike. Harley brought the Tri Glide Ultra Classic and debuted their new 2010 Street Glide Trike at the conference. To ride the trikes required additional practice between the cones before taking to the open road. Comments ranged from, “Love it, gotta have it,” to, “I think that trike is trying to ride itself.” The Progressive Insurance Action Center truck was out by the demo fleets and offered practical “how-to” classes.

With all the riding and parties going on, the vendor marketplace and seminars were an informative diversion to the many physical activities. Conference sessions were as varied as the presenters—ranging from how to choose the right bike to what to do at the scene of an accident. I took in the “Making Your Bike Fit You” session put on by Paul Golde, senior products specialist at Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., and Athena “Chickie” Ransom, owner of Vagabond Chopper Co., one of the motorcycle industry’s leading custom motorcycle builders. She takes personal pride in the unique character, ridability and durability of every Vagabond creation. She described an ideal after-purchase relationship that we should all strive to have with our service techs: “First, listen to your bike and develop a relationship with how it reacts—communicate any issues to your tech and expect definitive answers. If you think you hear a strange noise then you probably do. Don’t allow the ‘blow-off’ that so frequently occurs. Educate yourself to basic technical terms so you can speak to the tech in words they understand (and respect). Lastly, be patient; if you want your bike fixed right you may have to wait until your tech has time to focus on just your bike. Remember, a good shop is busy and every customer wants to feel that his or her bike is the most important one there.”

Celebrate good times
Every night, a different sponsor hosted the party. The AMA sponsored the president’s reception for AMA members on Wednesday evening before the opening ceremony. Not to be outdone, Kawasaki Corp. and local dealership Fay Meyers Motorcycle World hosted a mountain barn dance on Thursday night. John Fish, supervisor of the Keystone Ranch, gave a warm welcome to us all at the gate. The succulent barbecue was served with all the fixin’s as we sat down to eat “family-style” with about 800 of our new best friends. The music was cranked up in the main barn where those with two left feet were invited to line dance the night away. There were photo ops, roping dummies and approachable draft horses at the ranch for city-slickers to get the feel of a real, country hoedown. As the women danced, a bonfire was lit and the sun sank slowly on good times in the West.

Friday night, the Women Riders Council of the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC) hosted the international street party at the River Run complex. We shifted gears from pleasure to purpose as we were honored with the inspiring words of Canadian Deb Gray, the first Reform Party member of Parliament, where she served for over 15 years. She was a larger-than-life figure on Parliament Hill, arriving for work dressed in black leather riding gear astride her Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. After her speech, we were treated to a motorcycle fashion show, and lined up for the official AMA International Women in Motorcycling Conference group photo. The conference day activities were so varied and spread out, that it was at the night events where we got to feel the magnitude of the event as we socialized around the River Run complex.

On Saturday, it continued with a dual-sport guided tour, demo rides, seminars and an ice cream social. Many were beginning to feel the depression of departure knowing they would not be seeing their friends until the next conference in 2011. The Saturday evening celebration ceremony and banquet honored the AMA Advisory Committee and featured outstanding cuisine and speakers. Tickets for door prizes were pulled, but it was difficult to concentrate with the end of conference so near and that next long journey waiting. We took the shuttle back and were discussing Fresno when a voice from the back said, “I’m from Sanger.” Small world; the conference is about over and I just meet a woman who lives 10 minutes from my home, 1,200 miles away from Keystone. She rode solo along Highway 50, the loneliest highway in America, which would be our home for the next three days. We exchanged numbers and promised to meet up, knowing full well the odds were slim. But who knows… a kindred spirit runs in the veins of long-distance riders. Perhaps we will meet again on that next long journey far from home. Until then, I’ll look for her and all my friends on the road and in the pages of the next Thunder Press.


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