Genevieve Schmitt launched her journalism career in the late 1980s as a television producer, but it wasn't until she moved to the Speed Channel in 1997 that her career in motorcycling really began to define itself.
For six years with the network, she was a correspondent in a weekly show called "Bike Week." During the same time, she also edited "Woman Rider," a quarterly print publication serving female motorcyclists.
In 2006, she founded "Women Riders Now," an online motorcycle magazine that is still active today. While Genevieve stepped down from the website's day-to-day business operations in 2017, she remains an active member of the motorcycling community, and in 2019 was presented with the AMA's prestigious Bessie Stringfield Award. This honor is presented to those who work to introduce motorcycling to new or underserved markets.
I sat down with Genevieve for the 10th episode of Season Two of our Highside/Lowside podcast. We talked about motorcycles, the changing landscape of media coverage, and the shift of women’s involvement in the motorcycle industry. The following is an excerpt of the discussion, but to catch the full interview when it’s released, type in “RevZilla” on Apple iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and subscribe to our Highside/Lowside podcast.
Spurgeon Dunbar: Let’s kickstart this conversation by talking about bikes. What are you currently riding?
Genevieve Schmitt: I have a 2008 Harley-Davidson Street Glide in the garage.
I remember when I made the switch from my Dyna Low Rider, I thought, "Oh no, I'm going to the other side. I'm getting a couch to ride on the road." But, you know, once you get used to these comforts, it's really hard to go back. At least for me, I've never looked back. I love this bike. I wouldn't want a bigger bike or a more powerful bike. I feel like all the engines are bigger now. My Twin Cam is perfect for me.
SD: Your Street Glide is still a pretty substantially large motorcycle.
GS: Absolutely. And, you know, for many years, it was the number-one-selling motorcycle in the United States, and I believe it may still be. Look at some of the other manufacturers and they've copied that Street Glide look. Even the new Indian Challenger, it's copying the Road Glide with the fixed fairing but still, it's that Street Glide look that so many other manufacturers have copied. It's a great all-around bike.
SD: Let’s take a step back and talk about how you got started riding.
GS: I learned while I was in South Florida in Boca Raton. I was 26 years old and I started on a 1985 Honda Shadow 500 that I bought in 1990. It was a great learner bike. I couldn't find a Rebel, so the Shadow it was. I didn't have it for very long. I moved to L.A. and bought a '92 Harley-Davidson Sportster.
SD: What was the catalyst that got you into motorcycles?
GS: I actually got into it through my job. I was a producer for "Good Morning America," the morning show on ABC, and I was assigned a story on the fact that more women were driving trucks. And the producers, for some reason, wanted to expand on that and said, "Why don't we see if more women are riding motorcycles?" So I was assigned that story. And I went around to all the dealerships and said, "Could you round up some women so I could interview them on their motorcycling passion?"
I had them all show up at this city park. And it wasn't easy finding those women. Back then, there were very few women riding motorcycles. But about 10 women showed up on all sorts of bikes, and it’s what got me hooked. I remember vividly the quintessential image of a woman pulling off her full-face helmet and her blonde hair cascading down her back that kind of just stuck with me. I was probably 25 at the time when I did that story and I thought, "I want to have what these women have."
Through the course of doing my story, I contacted the Motorcycle Industry Council to get statements and interviews from them. And then they put me through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCourse. I loved it. No one in my family rode, my dad, my brother, nobody rode. I didn't have a boyfriend who rode, so really it was my own inner... rebel? I don't know. I just wanted to be a rider. I created that identity for myself.
SD: It must have been pretty exciting for those women to have been involved in your project, especially considering the time period?
GS: It was. I think maybe two percent of the population of riders were female back then. If you look at the last 20 to 30 years, the growth of women in the sport has been exponential. I believe with magazines and what I did with "Women Riders Now," along with the advent of social media, it all just really helped to propel it forward.
SD: You had a successful career in television, so what was the catalyst for your move form broadcast to print journalism with "Woman Rider" magazine?
GS: In cable news, our stories started to get more salacious, more invasive of privacy. And ethically, I wasn't enjoying that I had to ask celebrities about their personal lives. We would be on the red carpet line for a movie, and we would have to ask them about somebody's baby that just got born and other celebrities' behavior. I just basically got disenchanted with the whole thing. I didn't want to do that.
But I had been riding a motorcycle all these years since 1990 and I was living in L.A., and I had been freelancing for Thunder Press and a bunch of other different motorcycle magazines. I was starting to get entrenched in motorcycle media by moonlighting on the weekends. So I basically jumped ship. I left a very lucrative six-figure, three-year contract with "Extra" because I didn't like what they were doing with paparazzi video and I seized an opportunity to be this woman reporter on Speedvision, which was the predecessor to Speed Channel.
During this time, I had an opportunity to turn around a fledgling women's motorcycle magazine, which is funny because I always told people I did not want to have anything to do with a women's motorcycle magazine. I didn't like that it was so narrowly focused and so girly-girly, and we are sisters. I didn't like that exclusiveness. So I actually turned down a publisher who wanted me to turn around that magazine. I turned him down twice. Before the third time, he finally said, "I really, really need you to help me with this magazine." It was called "Asphalt Angels," which was the original "Harley Women" magazine. And so, I finally said "Yes," with the caveat that I could do it the way I want to do it. And he was so desperate, he said, "That's fine." So while I was doing Speedvision and Speed Channel, I was doing this print magazine on the side.
SD: Considering you just mentioned that you were concerned about the magazine coming across as “too exclusive,” what was the rationale behind the “Woman Rider” title on the next magazine?
GS: I was not the owner of that. I was the founding editor and brought the idea to the publisher. They were publishing "Rider" magazine, "American Rider" and "Cruising Rider." And so they wanted to kind of fill out their stable with another magazine that focused on women. And I said, "Well, the obvious thing is to call it 'Woman Rider' magazine."
So I came up with that name, and yes, it was geared towards women. But I wanted to make sure we included men, as well. We would include passenger stories, so female passengers, with motorcycles ridden by men. We tried to cover it all. We didn't just want to have it be just all women. We didn't want to exclude men. But we had to have "woman" in the title because of the stable of magazines.
SD: Motorcyclists are a small pool to begin with and motorcyclists who are also talented writers is an even smaller pool. I imagine that finding female motorcyclists who were trained writers and wanted to write for a motorcycle publication was an even smaller pool.
GS: Yeah. Those were the challenges. I wrote a lot of the articles, and I even wrote under a pseudonym for a long time. So, actually, the headshot at the time in the print magazine for Victoria West, which was my pseudonym, was a woman with a full-face helmet with sunglasses on, so you couldn't tell it was me.
SD: So you were actually two of the women writing for the magazine at the time?
GS: [Laughs] I was. And I had other women who worked for other magazines at the time, and I will keep these women’s names secret still, but they wrote for me because they really believed in what we were doing, reaching out to women. So they wrote under pseudonyms and also wore full-face helmets, and one of them wore a wig just so that her publisher at the other magazine would not know that she was writing for me. All of this because women writers, good writers, were few and far between. Back then, and even today, which I just find crazy because one of the coolest jobs in the history of the universe, I think, is to be a motorcycle journalist.
SD: In 2006 you transitioned from "Woman Rider" and founded an online publication, "Women Riders Now." What was the reason for the transition?
GS: I love to tell this story because the publishers of "Woman Rider," the print magazine in 2004, determined that there really wasn't a market for women in motorcycling and that the print publication wasn't sustaining itself in the family of other magazines. So they decided to fold it.
At this point, I had moved to Montana. I was one of the first people who did the whole telecommuting, working from home thing. And I get notice that they laid me off. I've always had control of my exit from a company, so being laid off, giving me the pink slip, so to speak, was quite a blow to my ego.
But I took the severance money, and I made the first version of "Women Riders Now."
Around 2004, Harley-Davidson had just started their women's outreach department. And I'm like, "Harley-Davidson? They're the leader. If they're doing the women's thing, and they have money to spend on women's engagement, women advertising, there's a market here."
So I thought to myself, "Do I want to do a print magazine?" I looked at the cost of print compared to the cost of a website, and the overhead was like nothing. It was my time. That was it. And that’s where the .com came from.
SD: The "Women Riders Now" website has arguably been the longest endeavor of your career. What has kept you interested and focused for such a long period of time?
GS: It was the engagement with the readers. It was having a real connection through the internet. Of course, we didn't have social media back then, but we always had comments, so we were able to get comments onto the article. So I was able to communicate with people that way and then going out to the events, having a reason to go to the events, women's events, just any rallies and connecting with the readers because women were craving a community.
SD: In 2019, you were presented with the AMA's Bessie Stringfield Award, which is presented in recognition of individuals who introduce motorcycling to a underserved market. What was it like for you personally to be recognized for an entire career's worth of work?
GS: It's just so humbling and gratifying. I couldn't believe it. I kind of cried and teared up when I got the e-mail that I got the award. I also feel like, "Wait, don't awards come to old people?" [Laughs] I'm like, "Oh, but that is kind of older. You're pushing 60 in five years, really."
I'm just now trying to decide where I can best serve the industry. When you get an award like the Bessie Stringfield Award there's a responsibility that comes with those accolades. I'm not just going to sit back and, you know, wait for whatever else comes. I feel like, "Great, let's use that as momentum to continue to inspire those who are sitting on the sidelines who still want to get in motorcycling." The motorcycle industry is trying to redefine itself and get more millennials and more young people into saddles, motorcycle saddles.
I have great ideas and I still want to share those with the industry. Almost 20 percent of the population of motorcyclists are female. Now, that includes passengers, but that's women who are involved with the sport. That's significant. And that growth happened during this explosion of "Women Riders Now" and social media. So I would like to think there's some momentum there, and I would like to help fuel that momentum in any way that people think that I can serve the industry.
SD: You've obviously been a huge influence on thousands of riders, both men and women. When you look back at your career in the motorcycling community, if you could offer one piece of advice for a new rider, or for someone looking at getting into riding, what would that be?
GS: Yeah. You know, that's a question I'm often asked, and I tend to give the same answer, which is really be true to yourself and not give way to influence of your peers. You know, that whole saying of "Ride your own ride," which is, do it the way you want to do.
The problem is we often come to this sport really not knowing who we want to be, what kind of bike, what kind of biker, what kind of group we want to hang out. We're looking for community. But the young women of today appear to have a little bit more of a backbone, a little bit more identity to themselves just by way of social media than I would say my peers did in our 20s and 30s.
So I just say, really press into that truth. Listen to your heart, listen to your gut, and be true to yourself and what you want to do and how you want your motorcycling life to evolve, because it becomes your life, your motorcycling life. It's a part of us. I really don't know a rider who just rides without it being part of the fiber of who they are.