Who said diamonds are a girl’s best friend?
There is a certain magic to motorcycles. There is an air of freedom, romance and rebellion. However, common societal views associate motorcycles with machismo and outlaws, and almost all iconic motorcycle figures are male. So what about the women who ride? The female legends of the industry? The newcomers with the passion? Well, get ready to rumble.
Motorcycle history recognizes a number of notable female riders from across the nation. Chief among them is the late Margaret Wilson, who was a Cedar Rapids resident. Born on March 1, 1916, Margaret owned her first motorcycle in 1946. The brand-new Harley-Davidson was a gift from her husband, Mike, a rider himself. After he introduced her to motorcycles, Wilson was enamored.
The couple shared a passion for motorcycles. They became involved as American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) members and in the 1950s formed the Corn State Riders Motorcycle Club. From 1950-1975, they were business partners and operated Wilson’s Motorcycle Sales in Cedar Rapids. They were some of the first riders to wear helmets and protective clothing, a concept they continued to champion throughout their lives. The Wilsons received numerous awards for their contributions to the motorcycle community, and both have been inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. One of Margaret Wilson’s most noteworthy awards came in 1959 when she was voted America’s Most Popular and Typical Girl Rider for 1958 by the AMA.
The 35,000-square-foot National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa currently has a number of Margaret’s memorabilia in its “Women and Motorcycling” display. Highlights of the display include Margaret’s 1959 AMA award and one of her motorcycles — with a side car her husband installed for her. In addition to Margaret’s gear, the display also includes history, photos, posters, clothes and relics from other notable female riders — including the Motor Maids, which Margaret was also a member of.
The Motor Maids is one of North America’s oldest and continuously operating women’s motorcycle organizations. Founded in 1940 — and officially becoming an AMA chartered organization in 1941— the Motor Maids began with 51 members. Today, there are more than 1,300 members in all 50 states and Canada. Kathy Disney, an Indianola resident, is a national officer and the club’s historian. The Iowa district currently has 12 members. District director Rita Wood, 62, lives in Earlham and has been a Motor Maids member for 21 years. She bought her first bike in 1975 at the age of 21. The Motor Maids is a formidable and respected organization with a storied history, but it’s not the only female motorcycle club.
The Burnout Babes
In Des Moines, an autonomous group of young, female riders has emerged — The Burnout Babes. The group is mostly composed of young, friendly and stylish millennial women. They are a far cry from society’s misconceptions of female riders. Since its inception, the group has amassed six core members, with a handful of women participating when they can.
The group was founded in 2015 by 29-year-old Adel resident Meghan Moorlach.
“It’s not a new thing. There’s always been women motorcycle riders, but I wanted to find a place where I could feel comfortable riding my bike and not feel dumb asking questions,” Moorlach says. “So I wanted to create a space where women, especially younger women, could get together and feel safe and have fun. And also meet other women who are like-minded.”
While she only started riding on her own three years ago, Moorlach has fond memories of riding on the back of her dad’s Kawasaki growing up. Her father ended up selling the bike, but as an adult the memories inspired her to purchase a bike of her own. Moorlach began riding again when she met her boyfriend, Ben Mars, the former bass player of Des Moines band The Maytags. She worked at the studio where The Maytags shot their music video for “Cassius,” and the two began chatting between takes. Moorlach recognized Mars from a newspaper article about vintage motorcycles and mentioned how she wanted to get one and fix it up. Mars helped her pick one out on Craigslist, with the promise he would help her with it. They found a non-running Honda 350 for $400. After the shoot ended, the two left together to pick up the bike. They’ve been together ever since, but the Honda still doesn’t run.
Moorlach eventually began riding other vintage bikes, but she quickly became frustrated by their unreliability.
“I was working at this photo studio, and I think they kind of got tired of ‘the dog ate my homework.’ It was ‘My vintage motorcycle broke down. I’ll be an hour late to work’ kind of thing,” she says. “And I have a new Triumph Thruxton now. It’s a 2013, it starts every time, it’s maintained. I ride it all the time.”
She can often be seen zooming around town on the black bike and wearing a sparkly helmet. She still gets her vintage bike fix. Moorlach and Mars live together on 80 acres in Adel, and their property is overflowing with vintage vehicles of all types. There’s a trio of old boats, a handful of classic cars and motorcycles in almost every corner. The acreage contains their house, a horse barn, a chicken coop, a dirt track, a camping area, a garden and their makeshift corn crib/motorcycle shop. It is an Iowa gearhead’s dream.
The Burnout Babes met at Mullet’s on a sunny Saturday morning in May for the first brunch meet-up of the season, which also coincided with International Female Ride Day. Six women attended — four core members and two new faces. The crew of women motorcycle riders turned some heads at the busy restaurant, and a few curious onlookers appeared to be in awe.
The two new faces are Alyssa Wagner and Audrey Miller, who rode from Ames. Both are members of the Iowa State University Motorcycle Club. Alyssa came across The Burnout Babes online and posted about the meet-up in the club’s Facebook group. The two girls met for the first time that Saturday, but because of their love of bikes, they already shared much.
Communication on the Internet has been a major factor in the growth of women’s motorcycling. Finding each other was much harder previously, especially for women. Now it’s easier than ever for these likeminded females to meet up and ride together. All the women interviewed unanimously agreed that riding with other women is empowering and is a very different experience than riding with men.
“I’ve met and become good friends with so many women across the U.S. It’s crazy; it’s amazing,” Moorlach says.
One of those women is Burnout Babe Paige Kleckner, 26, who first began riding motorcycles in a similar way to Moorlach, through her fiancé, but she has made it her own.
“It’s so cool to do something in this masculine-dominated hobby and be able to claim it as your own and find yourself in it,” Kleckner says. “There’s a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.”
Kleckner first discovered The Burnout Babes on Instagram and also recognizes the way the Internet has contributed to motorcycle culture.
“When I grew up, my two uncles both rode Harleys. They went to Sturgis, they did the whole thing, and I thought that’s kind of what motorcycling was,” she says.
In Iowa, many riders lament the fact that there are only a few good months of weather to ride. As such, much of the culture’s activity takes place on the coasts or in the south. Because of these two factors, cultivating a local scene can be challenging. Social media can act as a direct link to that culture, exposing would-be riders to a side of motorcycling that would otherwise be more difficult to see.
“It’s way easier to see where people are and what they’re doing,” she says. “Instagram is a resource, better than the Internet and Googling.”
Instagram can also perpetuate the stereotypes.
“Some of them (are true),” she says. “It’s kind of finding that balance. The stereotypes of the industry and … trying not to get caught up in that.”
The V-Twin Vixens
April Davis, 52, has been riding since 1972 and has been around motorcycles long enough to see a shift in the culture and the way women are treated. Several women interviewed reported that they hadn’t run into any problems with male riders. Some even acknowledged that they had been welcomed into the community.
“There was an air of disrespect,” Davis says of when she first started riding. “I still get ignored on occasion. Going into a motorcycle dealership, it’s funny because I’ve been riding longer than most of those sales boys have been alive.”
Davis bought her first bike in her late teens and currently rides a Honda Valkyrie.
“You don’t see women on one, and that’s why I had to have one,” she laughs. They’re huge, they’re rude, and they’re obnoxious. Nobody disrespects me on that big bike.”
After a lifetime of riding mostly alone, she began riding in 2013 with the V-Twin Vixens, an all-female motorcycle group with 70 members across Iowa and a few in Des Moines. The group was formed in 2013 by Bloomfield resident Pamela Horn, 48, who doesn’t hesitate to hang with the boys.
“I actually have very few problems. I’m 6-foot-1. So if you’re going to talk shit, you probably better pack your A-game,” Horn says. “Thank goodness, because I have a mouth on me, and it probably wouldn’t turn out very well for them.”
The V-Twin Vixens also had a meet-up on Female Ride Day with several members participating.
“We had our ride. Apparently, there were men that were upset because they couldn’t go with us,” she says. “I said fine. If the guys want to come, they have to dress in drag.”
So far, no one has taken her up on the offer.
Horn was exposed to motorcycles at a young age and has been enthralled by two-wheeled machines ever since.
“When I was 5, my sister dated a Hell’s Angel, and this was back in the ’70s. He showed up on his motorcycle, and my sister let him take me for ride, and I’ve just been hooked ever since,” she says.
Horn rode dirt bikes for 17 years before buying a street bike. A cancer survivor, she enjoys its curative powers.
“Riding is so therapeutic for me, because it helps clear the head so I can focus and not be so worried about being in pain and what I can’t do,” she says.
Horn also enjoys the way riding encourages other women to break free of what’s expected of them. She’ll often come across elderly women who will approach the group and look at their motorcycles in admiration. Horn says they often express regret that they had never driven a motorcycle.
Kleckner recently had a similar eye-opening experience. She was riding and came to a stoplight and was next to a pick-up. She then noticed a little head pop out of the window. An 8-year-old girl was looking back at her.
“She’s just grinning. She starts waving at me, aggressively waving, and I got so happy,” she says. “I got a little teary-eyed in my helmet.” ♦
1) Margaret Wilson information provided with the help of the American Motorcyclist Association.