Hear Our Thunder: Women Riders of Yesterday and Today

By Laura Burke
The sound of thunder rolling past my family’s car wasn’t thunder at all; it was a “Biker Chick” leading a pack of motorcyclists. Even in the early 80’s it was rare to see women on a two wheels, and even more unusual to see a group of women riders. Today, women everywhere have begun to show their strength in numbers at two wheeled events, from the racetrack to Amerivespa, Sturgis and beyond.

Women have been rolling their way across the country on two wheels since 1910. Some of the most infamous female riders were Avis and Effie Hotchkiss, a mother daughter duo who crossed America twice on their wheels in 1915, Vivian Bales, made a 5,000 mile trip around the US with only one mission, to recruit women riders into riding, and was nick-named “the Enthusiast Girl” after appearing twice on the cover of Harley Davidson’s Enthusiast Magazine, one of the first magazines of it’s kind.

The Van Buren sisters, Augusta and Adeline, were among the first to ride coast to coast, traveling aboard an Indian Power Plus in 1916. They were the first women to ride motorized vehicles to the summit of Pikes Peak.

At age 19, Bessie Stringfield made her mark as the first African American to ride across the US solo. Stringfield cruised through all of the lower 48 states, and motored throughout Europe, Brazil, and Haiti during the 30’s and 40’s. After a long career of riding Stringfield was honored by being inducted into the Motorcycle Hall Of Fame in 2002 for her accomplishments.

One of the most iconic female riders of the century was Dorothy “Dot” Robinson, the president of the Motor Maids for 25 years, competed against men in endurance races for decades and claimed victory in the 1940 Jack Pine Enduro Race in Michigan. Dot recorded more then 1.5 million miles on two wheels during her lifetime, and was a true crusader for women riders.

Of all of today’s scooter divas I can think of two who would have ridden comfortably alongside the ladies who started it all. In 2004 Janice Ashrat won the Cannon Ball Run, a coast to coast scooter race, and logged as many as 4,800 round trip miles just to attend a single rally in Victoria Canada later that year. This year at Amerivespa, a woman named Terri Cambell rode 5500 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia to attend her first scooter rally, Amerivespa, near San Jose, California. These ladies have shown that adventure still abounds for the intrepid traveler who can take the time to ride.

Over the past few years there has been a noticeable change in the industry, female riders have made a big swing in the demographic. There are hundreds of local clubs, founded by and for women, more companies like Corazzo are catering to the needs of women riders to create apparel for riding that is not only flattering, but functional and provides the protection every rider needs, and a startling number of events to promote women on two wheels has filled our calendars in recent years.

One of the most highly recognized events this year was the International Women & Motorcycling Conference held in Keystone, CO on August 19th-22nd. Although you may be thinking that’s a motorcycle specific event, Kymco, who hosted the awards dinner at the 2009 Amerivespa , was at the conference showing off what their line of scooters can do.

Conference attendees heard from some of today’s most amazing women riders like 18 year old Motocross sensation Ashley Fiolek, who placed first in the 2008 and 2009 Women’s Professional Motocross Championships and intends to compete on the men’s circuit in the not too distant future; and Leslie Porterfield, a 32 year old who holds three land speed records and was named AMA Racing Female of the Year. To read more about the conference and the amazing women who were there, check out www.womenandmotorcycling.com .

The Hotchkiss’s and Van Buren’s, Bales, Stringfield and “Dot” would be proud of the female riders of today, and might have even been surprised to hear in 2003, an estimated 9.6 percent of all two wheeled owners in America were women, but in just 5 years, that percentage has increased to an estimated 12.4 percent.

“There are more women in motorcycling than ever before. But every woman, from the very first who slid onto the seat of a motorcycle to the Fioleks and Porterfields of today, has made a contribution to the world of motorcycling.”

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