2009 Women & Motorcycling Conference – Day 1

August 25, 2009
Sarah Schilke
Sarah Schilke
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Sarah Schilke is an avid street rider and MSF instructor turned amateur AMA District 37 desert and motocross racer. She has ridden and worked in the motorcycle industry for over 15 years and participated in the AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference as a member of the Advisory Council and Seminar Speaker. Sarah is the first woman to be elected to the Motorcycle Industry Council Board of Directors and is the U.S. representative to the FIM (International Motorcycling Federation) Commission for Women in Motorcycling.

Women Ride to New Heights at the 5th AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference

The author rode from Los Angeles to Keystone Colorado to attend the AMA Women   Motorcycling Conference
The author, Sarah Schilke, rode from Los Angeles, California, to Keystone, Colorado, to attend this year’s AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference

This past weekend, hundreds of women riders (and some men) thundered into Keystone, Colorado for the AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference. The fifth Conference in the series was given the theme “Riding to New Heights,” honoring the contributions of women riders to motorcycling’s past and present, and recognizing the growing numbers of women in motorcycling. Past conferences have been in Ohio, West Virginia, and Georgia, so many participants were excited to see the event moved West to the Rocky Mountains.

The conference was aptly named since the 9,000-plus feet altitudes of the area proved problematic for many. Even a short staircase or enthusiastic swing of a leg over a motorcycle was enough to take one’s breath away. Nevertheless, shrieks of greeting and laughter pierced the air in the registration area as lady bikers greeted old friends and new from all over the country, and even the globe. Ponytailed and bedazzled riders hailed from as far as Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.

The registration area fills up with motorcycles as women show up and sign in.
The registration area fills up for the 5th Women & Motorcycling Conference.

The parking area outside registration quickly filled with every style of motorcycle imaginable: from cruisers to touring bikes, sportbikes, trikes and scooters. Some riders, like the women from Japan, flew to Denver and rented motorcycles for the week, but a stroll through the resort offered a smorgasbord of license plates from every corner of the US. The numerous bug-encrusted fairings were proof of the thousands of miles many had traveled to take part in this momentous event.

A small group of riders known as the “Dirty Dozen” spent six days on an off-road adventure in the mountains near Boreas pass and Altmont. The women participating in the adventure garnered attention since they were all new to the off-road side of motorcycling. The ride leaders interspersed basic dirt riding lessons with all day dual-sport rides creating an inspirational learning experience for the riders. However, the Dirty Dozen ride wasn’t just about riding, it was also about fundraising for breast and ovarian cancer research. Fueled by the initiatives of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation (womensmotorcyclistfoundation.org), the ride participants raised over $38,000 for the cause.

Alice Sexton  Carla King  and Sarah Schilke greet AMA President Rob Dingman.
Participants Alice Sexton, Carla King, and Sarah Schilke greet AMA President Rob Dingman.

Pre-registered AMA members were invited to attend a special “President’s Reception” that afternoon at a cozy Mexican locale. Reception guests sipped margaritas and munched on spicy appetizers while AMA Marketing and Special Events Manager Tigra Tsujikawa welcomed everyone to the event. AMA President Rob Dingman took the podium to thank the number of women who have “taken the handlebars” and joined the AMA, and to emphasize AMA’s commitment to more inclusion of women in their programs and promotions.

The AMA kicked off the conference with welcoming ceremonies featuring a slate of female motorcycling celebrity speakers. After AMA President Rob Dingman welcomed the crowd with a speech about the ever-increasing numbers of women on two wheels, he turned the podium over to “Mastress” of Ceremonies, Sheila Andrews, AMA’s Washington D.C. Legislative Assistant. Next up was Maggie McNally, the first woman elected to the AMA Board of Directors. The star-studded lineup continued with 2008 AMA Racing Female Rider of the Year, Leslie Porterfield, who talked about her record-setting run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Porterfield was followed by Harley-Davidson’s Director of General Merchandise (and great granddaughter of William A. Davidson), Karen Davidson. Leslie Prevish, Harley Davidson’s Women’s Outreach Manager gave a historical overview of women riders before keynote speaker, Ashley Fiolek, stole the hearts of the audience.

Deaf 2008 AMA Womens Motocross Champion Ashley Fiolek delivers her welcoming speech in sign language as mom Roni interprets.
2008 AMA Women’s Motocross Champion Ashley Fiolek delivers her welcoming speech in sign language as mom Roni interprets.

Ashley is 18 years old, deaf, and last year won the AMA/WMA Women’s Motocross Championship. Ashley’s mom Roni interpreted as she signed about her trials and tribulations as a girl in a male-dominated sport, which she views as her biggest challenge in ascending to the professional ranks – even more so than being deaf. The teary-eyed audience gave Ashley a standing ovation as she encouraged women to band together for encouragement and support.

The next morning, the conference was in full swing by the time most attendees cruised in to pick up their registration packets and conference shirts. The day was chock full of activities including demo rides from Harley-Davidson, Buell, Ducati, Yamaha, Kymco, and BMW, a vendor area, informational seminars, a dirt bike school, parties and just going for rides in the panoramic Rocky Mountains. With so much to do on-site, some found it difficult to squeeze in time to ride. Luckily, Keystone sits at the base of US Route 6, providing a perfect opportunity for a quick jaunt up a winding mountain road. In just under 10 miles, this wonderful stretch of scenic playground leads up to Loveland Pass, peaking at 11,990 ft at the continental divide.

Bonnie Warch looks over the bikes before the offroad class kicks off.
Coach2Ride instructor Bonnie Warch looks over the bikes before the offroad class.

For those riders who were inspired or intrigued by the Dirty Dozen adventure, Bonnie Warch and Andrea Beach of Coach2Ride (coach2ride.com) conducted off-road riding clinics. To fill out the off-road curriculum, National Hare and Hound competitor and Heather Lewis conducted a seminar on “Dual-Sport and Adventure Riding.”

For some women, the altitude sickness and fatigue from their long journey lasted beyond the first few days, so they enjoyed the downtime to attend some of the numerous seminars. Prominent women in motorcycling presented such topics as “Solo Riding & Touring,” “Preparing for the Ride,” “Street Strategies,” “Accident Scene Management,” “Dealer Interaction,” “Making Your Bike Fit You,” and more. If that wasn’t enough, there were also workshops on picking up a fallen motorcycle, basic motorcycle mechanics, and a dual-sport ride.

The first day was brought to a close with a down home American Barn Dance at the Conference Center stables. Attendees were greeted by live horses before trading helmets for cowgirl hats supplied by Kawasaki and feasting on delicious western BBQ. After dinner, the rowdy bunch was treated to a cozy campfire, horseshoe toss, lasso instruction and boot-scootin’ line-dancing lessons to a country music DJ. Let’s hope these wild west women didn’t wear themselves out too much for another full day of excitement and activity.