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Breaking Barriers: Women Motorcyclists On The Road

Updated: Jan 27

A woman on a motorbike leaning into a corner
image credit: Altea Design

I'd parked and was walking toward the office when I noticed a man eyeing me. It was spring and I could smell the sweet scent of mimosa blossoms mingling with the warm afternoon air and feel the flutter of butterfly wings stirring the sunshine. As I neared him, his eyes skipped up and down my tall frame, not so unusual considering what he was looking at.

But when I reached for the door handle, he leaned toward me, his brown eyes locking onto my green, and uttered the sweetest words,

“Whoa, I thought you’d be a dude.”

But I am not a dude – or even a dudette. I am a woman who rides a motorcycle.

And, as I swing my leg off the saddle and slip my helmet from my head, the element of surprise chokes these words from the most macho man, and for a moment, the world becomes a sweet, sweet place.

The thrill of motorcycling is not new for women

When a woman slips into the saddle of her own motorcycle, a rush of power comes over her, different than that a man experiences because of the social taboos she is breaking by crossing into a man’s world.

Women motorcyclists, however, are not new to the experience of riding; they have been holding bikes between their legs for the past 121 years. It may chagrin some men to learn that women have been riding since the invention of the motorcycle in 1885, although American women did not get the opportunity to straddle the machine until 1901.

That was the year E. R. Thomas of Germany began shipping and selling his gasoline-powered bicycles to riders in the United States.

With engines snuggled into the bellies of bikes, the urge to race was irresistible – even to women.

In October 1910, 18-year-old Clara Wagner rode a four-horsepower motorcycle in a 365-mile endurance race from Chicago to Indianapolis.

Battling brutal roads and foul weather, she finished with a perfect score, bettering most men in the race.

But alas, the judges refused to acknowledge Wagner’s perfect score because she was a woman and gave her trophy to a male rider instead.

Women motorcyclists have always broken CC barriers

While many men do not view women and motorcycles as the perfect pair, this has not stopped women throughout history from striving to change that by achieving greater goals as motorcyclists.

In 1915, Effie Hotchkiss and her mother, Avis, became the first women to ride round-trip, coast-to-coast, by motorcycle. They had a Harley with a sidecar. Bessie Stringfield refused to let her gender or race hamper her from breaking barriers. As a young, black wife and mother devastated by the deaths of her three children, she turned to riding motorcycles in 1928.

“I’d toss a penny over a map and wherever it landed I’d go,”

she said.

Fifty years later, stuntwoman Marcia Holly rode a Kawasaki-based streamliner to set a land-speed record of 229.361 MPH, becoming the first woman to break into Bonneville’s 200 MPH Club.

Women from all walks of life – students, mothers, wives, governors – ride. Ann Richards, Texas’ former governor, started riding at age sixty. Elizabeth Taylor, k. d. lang, Tanya Tucker, Gene Tierney, and Ann-Margret have all owned and ridden motorcycles. Rosie rides. Women, like all riders, ride for many reasons, but perhaps Lauren Hutton summed it up best when she said,

"I love the feeling of being a naked egg atop that throbbing steel. You feel so vulnerable but so alive.”

Sex and motorcycles sell in marketing

Few things get a man’s attention faster than a woman on a motorcycle. Advertising executives have used the image for years.

They dress women in G-strings and stilettos, posing them on 800-pound machines to sell everything from tools to tacos to bikes. They do not really believe women have a right to straddle as riders.

You cannot argue it; their sales figures confirm it – near nakedness sells.

But I am not a naked rider. Nor even a near-naked rider.

I layer my body in protective gear. So much so, that when I climb off my bike and start stripping, men can be so taken aback I feel as if I have reached between their legs. It is my full-face helmet that enables the surprised reactions I love so much.

Riding around in a more exposed fashion might make drivers’ heads turn, but it will not squeeze those sweet words from awestricken men when I dismount.

Full-faced helmets have more pros than making men gasp

There are many reasons I wear a full-face helmet, surprise is but one. In my state of Indiana, riders have a choice to wear or not to wear a helmet. In addition to enjoying the gasps of men, I like the present arrangement of my face. I like the pleasant symmetry it offers.

Should the unthinkable happen one day – a crash – I would not want to have to live out my life with my chin where my nose used to be. But that is just me.

I must admit, the surprise some men show when they see a woman atop her own Hog or Beemer both baffles and delights me.

Perhaps it is the primitive notion that bikes are boys’ toys or that women are not strong enough to muscle their own machines.

If so, they are wrong. On the road today, one in five riders are women; that is, three million two-wheel riders belong to the weaker sex. And those numbers are growing.

A woman’s place is on the road

But enough of this talk about men and women and their respective place in society. The sun is shining, and it is time for me to start my engine; it is time to swing my leg over those ccs and twist that throttle; it is time to feel the vibrations between my legs.

And the next time a man utters those sweet words, “Whoa, I thought you’d be a dude,” I won’t hear him because I’ll be in my place – on the road, riding into the wind.


C.L. Stambush

Indiana / US

a young woman kneeling in front of a motorbike in a motorbike  parking area
C.L. Stambush working on her Royal Enfield, India 1997

C.L. Stambush is a journalist, writer, and editor who has lived, worked, and traveled in over 20 countries.

She is the first woman on record to ride a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle solo around the edge of India – 5 months and nearly 7,000 miles.

Visit the author’s website here.


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1 Kommentar

Kerstin Krause
Kerstin Krause
28. Nov. 2023

Dear Connie, Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational post with us. It’s a powerful testimonial that women can do whatever they want and succeed!

Here’s is to more women power on wheels!

See you out there 😍

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