Pioneering Women and the History (and Future) of Motorcycling in America

July 2016 marks what’s sure to become an important milestone in the history of American motorcycling: the Sisters’ Centennial Motorcycle Ride.

A cross-country motorcycle trek consisting of close to 200 riders, the Sisters’ Centennial started in New York on July 3 and will conclude on July 23 in San Francisco, marking the 100th anniversary of sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren’s legendary 1916 ride across America. With that ride, the sisters became the first women in history to motorcycle solo across the United States, breaking boundaries and championing the cause of equality in the years before Suffrage.

In the spirit of the Van Buren sisters and the centennial ride honoring them, here’s a look at just a few of the pioneering women in the history of the motorcycle community.

Della Crewe

When a nephew suggested in 1914 that experienced traveller Della Crewe take to motorcycling, she took the advice to heart. Crewe planned a 5,000 mile trip from her home in Waco, Texas to New York City that ended up becoming a sprawling 11,000 mile journey. Crewe rode on a Harley-Davidson two-speed, with a sidecar containing over 100 pounds of gear and a Boston terrier named Trouble (“Trouble is the only trouble I will have with me on this trip,” she said). Over thousands of miles, Crewe and Trouble faced their share of harsh weather poor roads before arriving in New York. After plans for a similar trek across Europe were dashed by the onset of the first World War, Crewe took Trouble and her Harley across the Southern U.S. and Central America.

Avis and Effie Hotchkiss

While Augusta and Adeline Van Buren often get credit for being the first women to cross the country on motorcycles, this mother and daughter team from Brooklyn actually made their own cross country trek a full year earlier in a three-speed Harley-Davidson and sidecar (the Van Burens each rode on their own bikes). When asked about their ride, daughter Effie said, “We merely wanted to see America and considered that the Three-Speed Harley-Davidson for myself and sidecar for mother and the luggage best suited for the job.”

Vivian Bales

Over a decade after the Hotchkiss and Van Buren rides, 20-year-old Vivian Bales again made history by riding totally solo from her home in Albany, Georgia to a Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee. The 5,000 mile ride was unofficially sponsored by The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast magazine, with Bales known as its official “Enthusiast Girl.” She appeared on the cover of the May 1929 edition of Enthusiast, the first woman to appear on the cover of any motorcycle magazine.

Bessie Stringfield

Known as “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” Bessie Stringfield became the first African-American woman to cycle solo across the country in 1930, and spent much of the ‘30s and ‘40s traveling America, Europe, and South America on her bike, performing motorcycle stunts for carnivals to earn her money.

Stringfield also made history during World War II by serving as a civilian courier for the Army, crossing the United States eight more times in the process. Stringfield’s role in the war is especially significant given the fact that many women had lobbied, unsuccessfully, to be allowed to serve as motorcycle couriers during World War I (including the Van Burens, who made their journey in part to prove that women were up to the task).

Women Riders in 2016 and Beyond

bannerbg4Here in 2016, it can be easy to take the diversity of the riders we see at rallies and on the road for granted, but the accomplishments of the women above and others like them are what’s made our own communities possible.

But while we’ve come a long way from the days when Augusta and Adeline Van Buren were arrested (multiple times) for wearing men’s clothes on their motorcycles, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some progress to be made. For example when it comes to motorcycle gear, the simple fact is that women have far fewer options than their male counterparts when it comes to style, size, and availability.

At Gravitate Jeans, we do our best to tackle this disparity head-on, by offering a full line of women’s motorcycle jeans and plus-size women’s motorcycle jeans in a variety of colors, designs, and sizes. And alike all our jeans, our women’s and plus-size women’s lines feature our patented Comfort Panel in lieu of an inner seam, specially designed provide stretch where you need it most and reduce the uncomfortable bunching that’s common with regular jeans.

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