Women and Motorcycles – Part III – Clubs
Join me now, brethren, as we go for a brisk walk across extremely thin ice and attempt to not fall in! Our topic today is motorcycle clubs designed by and for women.
I will start with basics, for the sake of clarity and possibly to stay the lynch mob.
- The statements below do not represent those of BMW North America, Ride West BMW, any of their employees, and so on and do forth.
- I’m not female, so what I write may need large grains of salt attached due to unintentional blinders of gender.
- My wish is that Part I of this series has provided me with a grace period of attention span to see if there’s anything of value here.
Motorcycling combines individual enjoyment with group activity in wonderful ways. Riding alone is fun, and for some that’s enough. For others, riding alone is fun and riding with friends is more fun. Any group of up to about 10 motorcycles will fit, loosely, with the concept of riding with friends. More than 20 and you’re involved in a group event, which can also be a great experience of a different sort.
In this Petri dish of potential positive ride experiences have grown clubs of all sorts, from “meet-up groups” to dealer-associated clubs to formal independent clubs based on make or model or preferred sort of riding.
At the women’s seminar last week I was asked why Ride West does not have a women’s club. I could see eyebrows rise as I began to answer, and for some they kept going up to the point of indignation. Not my intent! Some background is in order.
When I worked for Cycle Barn, I started the Cycle Barn Sport Bike Club, invented to replace a Cycle Barn Sport Riders Club that had significant problems. The transition was necessary but not in any way fun. I accepted a lot of personal attacks and verbal and written abuse as the fastest way to get from a situation with potentially disastrous liability outcomes for the business to a new club that would better represent what most sport bike riders were all about.
That club was very successful, and still exists in a smaller form. As it grew, the Sales Manager noticed the positive attributes of a dealer club and began signing up anyone who purchased any motorcycle to the club. I used an incredibly broad definition of “sport bike” for CBSBC, as in “if you ride your motorcycle in what you consider to be a sporting manner then it is a sport bike.” However, the day he signed up a Honda Metropolitan scooter buyer I knew something had to be done.
In short order we had a cruiser club, a Triumph club, a dirt bike club, and in time – a women’s club. I could not really run a women’s club, so I relied on a few interested women who were experienced riders to come up with the rides, and I let everyone know, edited the newsletter, etc.
After a few years I noticed problems with the women’s club. The leaders were setting up rides that were longer and more challenging than some of the members found attractive. The leaders were not all that interested in bringing along new riders, and were not always as diplomatic as I might have wished. On the other hand, they were not being paid, either, and I was.
The solution was elegant in its simplicity. I held a Saturday morning meeting for women riders. Coffee and doughnuts and 15-20 women in a big conference room asking me questions about gear, riding, routes, and all manner of topics. This was extremely informative for the women, and for me as well. So I repeated it.
I then tried putting on two rides at the same time, with routes that started and ended together. The first route was longer and more demanding, meant for men and women with a lot of experience. The 2nd was much simpler, led by me, and was sort of an A to B route meant for people new to motorcycles and/or new to riding in a group. This was spectacularly successful, and I’d at last figured out a system that would work for everyone. I set about looking over all the routes I usually used to come up with a 2nd set of directions for the A to B version.
Then I got laid off.
A month later I’m the new kid at Ride West, and things start over in simplified form – one club. Team Ride West was also successful from the start, and after two months the owner asked me if we should have a separate club for women.
And now I segue to the answer I gave at the seminar. I’d noticed that the % of riders who were female was much higher with Ride West customers. Further, nobody, male or female, seemed to have any concerns about the sex of anyone on any of the rides. As a check I asked the opinion of three different women that I knew rode a lot. All of them, asked separately, responded in the same way – first a blank look and then a “why”?
So we do not have a separate club for women and I do not think we need one. In my experience, which now spans 12 years, group rides simply work better when there is at least one woman in the group. For obvious reasons, I cannot assert with any authority that the reverse would be true.
To be sure there are clubs for women. They may or may not accept men riders in their groups, but for the most part male participation seems to be discouraged. I think this is a mistake.
If we expand our focus for a bit, I’ve been attempting to think of any group or time or place in my 6.5 decades of existence where any sort of segregation was a good idea. I can’t think of any. Further, I have seen so many cases where a minority group, whether by race, sex, sexual orientation, or any other way of classification, assimilated into a larger group with ease once the door had been opened.
I believe future historians will view the passage of Title IX legislation in the very early 1970’s as more important than any other civil rights legislation. Title IX, by mandating equal opportunity for women in school sports, affected 100% of the population involved in public schools, which is a higher percentage of people affected than anything else I can think of. Not only affected, but affected radically. All over this country, almost overnight, millions of young women were “free” to be athletes. Is there any possible argument that this was not a good thing? Would anyone want to go back to the “good old days” where the boys did and the women watched?
Title IX led to systemic changes in our society that cannot be reversed (some current political campaigns aside) and that is a good thing.
As the tiniest of thousands of examples, a rational discussion of the concept of women’s motorcycle clubs can be traced back to Title IX.
There are certainly situations created by change that generations find hard to accept. I have a distant niece who is a very successful wrestler in what is not a co-ed sport, and that is hard for me to wrap my head around. My high school won the state hockey championship this year – the girl’s team. Wow! The changes have been massive, and that does not always make for comfort.
I grew up in a homophobic culture. My parents were pretty open-minded, but the Midwest was hardly a place accepting of gay men in the 1960’s. Gay women were more of a rumor than a factual demographic. As an adult, I began to have social interactions with gay men and women and guess what? They’re pretty much like the rest of the population – both in strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re a member of any race and spend time with enough members of any other race, it becomes harder and harder to hang on to biases – even those you did not know you had. I recall with horror an incident in my first year of teaching. I had one PE class, and one day I discovered that a black student of mine could not dribble or shoot a basketball. I thought he was kidding, and thank goodness my brain clicked in just before my mouth did. Like lots of people, he was not a good athlete, but at 22 years of age I’d literally never seen a black person who was not a good basketball player. He was a good student, a good person, and a fellow car nut. He later became very successful as a Nordstrom shoe salesman. He did not need to play basketball. I needed to be around more people of color.
In the past 12 years I think I’ve ridden with just about every sort of motorcycle club in the area. In almost all cases, the most fun to be had was with a group where different brands and models were represented. I listened in to a lunch conversation between the rider of a Suzuki Hayabusa and a Honda Valkyrie. They were discussing the differences and applications of horsepower and torque, and they were both clearly interested in learning of the other’s experiences. What fascinated me the most was that before that lunch, neither one had ever heard of the other’s bike!
Most clubs I have ridden with have been friendly, but if it is a one-make club there is definitely a feeling of segregation you can feel if you’re on the “wrong” bike. The only exception I’ve experienced to this (I’m sure there are others) was with VERMIN, a group of Honda Valkyrie riders. I went for a ride with them in 2000 and was so gratified that the Kawasaki ZRX I was riding was welcome.
Yes, there is a point here. Women are entering the motorcycle arena in greater numbers every month. The best way to make women riders “normal” to the 90% of riders who are men is to ride with together. I’ve now had the pleasure of riding with women who are far more skilled than I am, both (some) on pavement and (many) off-road. I’m still able to function, and other men will get over it quickly as well.
If you’re a woman who has attempted to ride with a club and run into gender bias and negative comments, my apologies and sympathy. I’ve never heard a negative comment directed to me about any female on our rides. In fact, the usual response from the males to the news that one or more of the riders is female is “cool!” I’ve found men very eager to be helpful, and it does not matter what the woman is riding, her relative degree of attractiveness, or even whether or not she is single. It seems to be more about welcoming a woman to what used to be a alpha-male activity, by and large. If the woman is an experienced rider you can tell immediately by the bike and gear. Fine – let’s just get on with the ride.
So… if you have suffered in trying to ride with a club with male riders, please do not give up. Find a different club.
Does all this mean women cannot go for a “just us girls” ride? Of course not. Once in awhile you want to get away for a bit with close friends, and they may or may not all be one sex. If you belong to a club, or form one, that does not mean you will never ride with anyone else, or with everyone in the club at the same time.
I think a motorcycle club that excluded men would be a bad thing, and by the same token a club for only women. Separate but equal did not work for segregated schools, and it does not work for anything else.
The best way for all motorcyclists to get to know all other motorcyclists is to ride together as much as possible and as often as possible, with as few walls of separation as possible.
Whew! Thanks for hanging in. Let’s go for ride.
Copyright 2012 David Preston