The Arizona Republic

Long-distance motorcycle trips seek to empower women


A year ago Alisa Clickenger helped organize a cross-country motorcycle trip for women to commemorat­e the 100year anniversar­y of a most amazing ride by two sisters from Brooklyn, New York.

The Sisters’ Centennial Motorcycle Ride honored the exploits of Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, who in 1916 rode motorcycle­s more than 5,000 miles across the country to prove that women could be military motorcycle couriers, able to endure long distances and harsh conditions as well as men.

For Clickenger, it was a breakthrou­gh.

“The ride was important to me,” Clickenger said. “It was the realizatio­n of a long-held dream of mine to lead a group of women across the United States on motorcycle­s. Seeing nearly 250 women on motorcycle­s in my rearview mirror riding over the Golden Gate Bridge was epic — something I’ll never forget. It was very emotional for me.”

The ride also helped Clickenger demonstrat­e what her fledgling company, Women’s Motorcycle Tours, could accomplish.

“For me, part of riding motorcycle­s still is the challenge of embracing the unknown, the mastery of machine and also facing my fears and meeting the challenges of an extended motorcycle adventure,” said Clickenger, whose company focuses solely on tours for female motorcycli­sts. “It was the first time I’ve seen so many manufactur­ers (Indian and BMW among them) come together for a common goal — promoting women and motorcycli­ng. It was wonderful.”

Women own about 14 percent of registered motorcycle­s, up from 8 percent in 1998, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council’s latest numbers. But Genevieve Schmitt, founder and editor of online magazine “Women Riders Now,” says those numbers count only new registrati­ons. She says women comprise nearly 25 percent of those who ride (including passengers), and that makes them major players in the riding business. “Personally, I feel we’ve kind of seen an exponentia­l growth in the 11 to 12 years that I’ve had the site,” Schmitt said. “There is a whole new market of young girls in their 20s who have taken up riding that we haven’t seen, really, in history.”

Why are more women taking up motorcycli­ng? Schmitt calls it the “copycat effect. A woman sees another woman riding a motorcycle and says, ‘If she can do it, so can I!’ ”

Manufactur­ers such as Harley-Davidson produce entry-level motorcycle­s but it can still seem “intimidati­ng getting on a powerful vehicle,” said Pam Kermisch, a novice rider who works for Polaris, the company that owns Indian and Victory motorcycle brands. “I did all the

classroom stuff. That’s one thing, but it’s another thing to actually get on and do it. Once you do it, it’s very doable. I think for a lot of people, that’s the scary part. I think the second piece of it is that in order to get confidence you have to do it more.”

Which is where Clickenger, who lives in Diamond Bar, California, but is on the road most of the time, comes in. Like just about everybody who rides a motorcycle, she identifies with the credo that the only way to travel is on two wheels. In March, she organized an all-female motorcycle tour of Cuba. That was followed by the Colorado Backcountr­y Discovery Route in July and a tour of the American Southwest in October departing from Las Vegas.

“My company tagline is life-changing experience­s on two wheels,” Clickenger said. “The bottom line is it’s about empowermen­t, and the feeling of freedom — freedom from our fears, freedom from societal constraint­s, freedom from our own self-constructe­d, pre-conceived constraint­s and breaking those boundaries.”

Clickenger says she isn’t concerned that catering to women limits her company’s potential. In fact, that’s the ulterior motive to her venture.

“The joy I finding bringing women together to ride and explore and become empowered through mastery over machine is what drives me,” said Clickenger, who figures she’s ridden at least 250,000 miles, including a seven-month solo trip from New York to Argentina. “It’s been really fun watching the ripple effect, how the cross-country trip affected them and their self-perceived limitation­s about what’s possible for them in their own lives.”

Next year, Clickenger will offer several tours, including a motorcycle adventure in southern Africa dubbed “Waterfalls and Wildlife.” She also plans a series of weekend retreats in San Diego, San Francisco and Sedona, and two teaching tours for women just getting started in touring on two wheels, as a way to inspire them to take big trips on their own.

Diane Huston, who served in the Middle East during a 20-year career in the Air Force, is long past the learning stage, and she wasn’t deterred after the first ride on her new Harley-Davidson in 1995 ended up in a swimming pool. The lure of the open road is a powerful thing.

“To me, riding a motorcycle is an absolute brain dump with the freedom of wide-open spaces,” said Huston, who was on the centennial ride, toured Cuba, and hopes to go on Clickenger’s Africa tour next year. “I do hope that women we encountere­d along the way have become empowered themselves to realize that no matter what we desire, we can have it. We just need to do it, against all odds.”

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 ?? PHOTOS COURTESY OF ALISA CLICKENGER VIA AP/FILE ?? Alisa Clickenger rides her motorcycle in India, descending the mountains headed for Manali. Clickenger operates Women’s Motorcycle Tours, which conducts motorcycle rides that cater exclusivel­y to women.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ALISA CLICKENGER VIA AP/FILE Alisa Clickenger rides her motorcycle in India, descending the mountains headed for Manali. Clickenger operates Women’s Motorcycle Tours, which conducts motorcycle rides that cater exclusivel­y to women.

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