When Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode coast to coast a century ago, they were trying to convince the army that women were capable of being dispatch riders. They didn't persuade the military brass, but a century later, they have persuaded others, both men and women, to take up motorcycling in a new world they couldn't have imagined.
The Sisters Centennial Ride passed through Ohio this weekend, visiting AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, among other stops. The riders included some whose motorcycle licenses are fresh and new, some who have made the cross-country trek many times before, and one woman who brought along her two children, ensuring they'll have a unique summer vacation story when school is back in session. For some, like Black Girls Ride magazine Editor in Chief Porsche Taylor, coast to coast once and honoring one set of pioneering women riders is not enough, so she rode from California to Miami, participating in the Third Bessie Stringfield All Female Ride before helping lead the Sisters ride back to California.
One of those inspired to start riding was Sarah Van Buren, a descendant of the sisters who took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course in November. "I got my license specifically so I could participate in this," she said. Now, she's riding with her father, Robert Van Buren, who retraced the sisters' route in 2006 on a ride two-up with his wife.
"That was why I learned to ride, so I could do that," he said.
"We've been waiting so long for this day," Van Buren said, speaking for his family. "We started back in 2002 with the website to promote the sisters and get their message out to the public. When I look at it 10 years later, the magnitude of what's happening here, it's humbling to us."
Alongside new riders like Sarah Van Buren are experienced riders like Holly Ralph, vice president of the Canadian Motorcycle Association, who faces very different challenges. In her 50 years of riding, she's made plenty of cross-country trips before, but now osteoporosis makes it more difficult, so she downsized to a Yamaha Virago 250.
"I'm not supposed to ride," she confided. "So this is the compromise, getting a bike that's not so heavy."
She rode it from her home in Lancaster, Ontario, will do the entire ride to San Francisco, and then ride home, probably about 10,000 miles in all. One woman's idea of compromising and cutting back.
Meanwhile, the youngest particpants on the ride are Makayla and Spencer Filips, ages 12 and 8, who are riding with their mother, Monique Filips of Torrance, Calif. You can't miss them. Just look for the yellow cruiser with the matching sidecar and trailer.
She originally planned to do the ride solo and was discussing with her husband whether she should ride her motorcycle, borrow his, or buy a different one.
"And he said, 'Why don't you take the kids?' We'd always joked about buying a sidecar. No joke, the first time I looked on craigslist I found an expired ad for that," she said, pointing at the most unique rig on the ride.
"That" is a Honda Shadow with a Champion sidecar and a trailer painted to match. Her husband modified the seat to fit two children, instead of one adult. It closes up in the rain and internal USB ports keep the iPads running with movies or comic books for the kids. They also read information about the states they're passing through. The three of them talk using Sena Bluetooth communicators.
About 65 riders are doing the entire trip and others come and go, some joining for a day, some for a week. The ride will only get bigger as it goes west. The Van Buren sisters were the first women to ride motorcycles to the top of Pikes Peak, and ride organizer Alisa Clickenger expects at least 125 riders will participate in the ride up the mountain this year. Interest in the final leg was so high that Clickenger had to cap participation at 250.
It should be a finish the original Van Buren sisters, who set off alone to cross a continent on rutted, unpaved roads a century ago, could never imagine. But a hell of a finish, anyway.
"250 people going across the Golden Gate Bridge," Clickenger said. "That's my vision. That's what keeps me going, the vision of these women crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and having their 'I did it' moment, that elation, that camaraderie of the road."
Wonder who will be inspired in 2116.