If the goals of the sixth AMA’s Women & Motorcycling Conference last July were to enjoy some humor, diversity, education and a roaring good time, the couple in front of us at the cookout was doing well. The woman was honoring the first women’s motorcycling organization by wearing a Motor Maids vest, and her husband next to her was wearing a T-shirt that read, “Protecting the public from the Motor Maids since 1940.”
I’d ridden from Southern California to meet up with my friend Debbie in Northern California, and we then rode the 300 miles to Carson City, Nevada, for the four-day event. Seminar hopping, riding to nearby Lake Tahoe, cookouts and checking out vendor goodies were on the agenda. Manufacturers Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Kymco, Star and Yamaha supplied 75 demo bikes. We met old and new friends; women had ridden in from Alabama, New York, Wisconsin and other parts of the country.
Group rides were organized with area volunteers mapping out routes and “pointer sisters…and brothers” were placed at turns to keep riders heading in the right direction. We rode with the pack to Zephyr Cove, and then chose a table in the sand to enjoy a sparkling view of Lake Tahoe on this cloudless summer day, listening to reggae music and sipping virgin daiquiris.
Cris Sommer Simmons, author of several books, who rode her husband’s 1915 Harley coast-to-coast in the 2010 Cannonball Endurance Run, inspired us in a seminar with her motto that life begins when you step out of your comfort zone. Around-the-world rider Carla King told about many nights sleeping on couches and in garages. Her Russian-built Ural broke down two times in 125 miles and the same tow truck driver came to the rescue. Sue Slate of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation presented tips for off-road riding, and there were other seminars including how to load a bike on a trailer, touring tips and basics of motorcycle mechanics.
Friday evening we were off to the once-booming mining town of Virginia City for a Western-style cookout. Rows and rows of bikes were parked up against Main Street’s wooden sidewalks lined with tourist shops and watering holes with names like Bucket of Blood and Suicide Table. A “miner” led his donkey up and down the street while riders strolled past munching on cones piled high with ice cream.
The highlight for me was Saturday night’s celebration when 75-year-old Mary McGee captivated the audience with stories of her motorcycle racing days in the 1960s. Originally an auto racer who drove Ferraris, Lotuses, Porsches, Mercedes and Jaguars, she always gave the response, “Ya, sure!” whenever asked to drive any vehicle. She bought her first bike in 1957 and was hooked. After roadracing for a few years, actor/rider Steve McQueen told her that she needed to get out to the desert. So began her desert-riding career in 1967…with the Baja 500, solo, aboard a 250 Husqvarna, passing 17 two-man teams. She still rides in vintage competitions, but wasn’t allowed to ride in the conference’s opening parade because she didn’t have a street motorcycle license! The executive council generously awarded the pioneer of women’s desert racing a certificate good for an MSF RiderCourse.
Good times; I’ll be at the next conference. At this writing, no dates had been set for 2014’s event. For information, visit womenandmotorcycling.com.
(This article Women Riders in the Old West was published in the January 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)