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Common Tread

Cross-country ride to follow sisters' route a century later

Apr 05, 2016

Imagine getting geared up for an epic motorcycle ride. You’ve been planning this trip for weeks: the routes, the gear, the accessories, the places you want to stay, eat and sleep! Time to jump on that beautiful bike and see the world around you as you’ve never seen it before.

But then as you begin your journey, you’re pulled over by police time and time again because you’re wearing pants. That’s right, you’re not supposed to be wearing “men’s clothing." You’re not violating any traffic laws, but you’ve decided to go against how society has dictated your gender should behave and dress.

The year is 1916 and women are supposed to be at home, learning how to be a proper wife or family member. Forget about riding motorcycles. For women of a certain class, free time is consumed by etiquette classes, looking beautiful and living the rest of your life on the arm of a wealthy, successful man.

Van Buren sisters
Among other accomplishments, the Van Buren sisters became the first women to ride a motorized vehicle to the top of Pikes Peak. Van Buren LLC photo.
Excuse my French, but screw that. I wonder if that’s what was going through the minds of Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, two sisters who were exposed to boyish things such as shooting guns, horseback riding and riding motorcycles. For these two women, it wasn’t enough for them to just be. They decided to take the trip of a lifetime and ride across the United States (before paved roads!) on a pair of 1916 Indian Powerplus motorcycles. They started in Brooklyn, N.Y., rode to San Francisco, and eventually made their way to Tijuana, Mexico.

To honor the Van Buren sisters' accomplishment, the Sisters' Centennial Motorcycle Ride will take place this summer from July 3-24, starting in Brooklyn and ending in San Francisco. Most of the journey will follow the Van Buren sisters’ original route, with a few improvements along the way, like paved roads and the ability to ride freely without being arrested for wearing pants!

long ride
It will be considerably easier to ride coast to coast in 2016 than in 1916. Photo by Chris Force.
There will be local events along the route in nine cities, including a kickoff party in Brooklyn and grand finale party in San Francisco. Riders can participate in part of the ride or choose the fully guided option, which includes luggage assistance, hotel rooms, most meals, chase vehicle support and more. You will also get to ride with a diverse group of women including Alisa Clickenger (MotoAdventure Gal), Porsche Taylor (editor, BlackGirlsRide Magazine), Sue Slate and Gin Shear of the Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists and others. I will personally join the ride in Brooklyn and follow through Pennsylvania before the group leaves for Ohio.

The Sisters’ Centennial Ride is not an annual event. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will not happen again, since 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Van Buren sisters’ trip.To find out more about this ride or to register, visit

Van Buren sisters in Mexico
After completing their coast-to-coast ride from Brooklyn to San Francisco, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren continued south to Los Angeles and crossed the border into Tijuana, Mexico, just for good measure. One goal of their trip was to prove to the army that women were fit to be dispatch riders. Van Buren LLC photo.

To learn more about the Van Burens and their trail-breaking ride, see their bio at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame or read more about them and other rebellious Victorian women of the early 20th century in William M. Murphy’s book, "Grace and Grit."

Today, we take so many things for granted that women before us were unable to accomplish or even attempt, such as voting, owning property or learning how to ride motorcycles. I can’t imagine being that restricted and I feel so lucky to live somewhere that gives me these freedoms. I know that many of my fellow sisters around the world still live in places that do not. But for me today, right here, right now, I am going to enjoy and respect how women like the Van Buren sisters suffered before me so I can enjoy my life the way I want to.