(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – August 2016.)
Grinning a giant grin, I threw my leg over the seat of my sweet, pearly two-wheeled steed and set the GPS for the mountains of North Carolina – destination Little Switzerland. That May weekend, women from all over the country were gathering near the Blue Ridge Parkway to check out the first annual “Mountain Moxie” women’s motorcycling conference. My excitement that morning came on several levels. First, I was traveling on a motorcycle, and second, I was traveling solo. But I believe my biggest joy came from the anxious anticipation of attending this gathering of women motorcyclists, for an entire weekend, and celebrating our passion for two-wheeled adventures together.
As I made my way to the Blue Ridge Mountains that morning, choosing the quaint, sleepy backroads as my route, I passed a billboard advertisement that highlighted the phrase “Make Your Passion Your Paycheck.” That set off a couple of hours of deep thoughts. But, little did I know how far that statement was going to ring true over the weekend. In fact, it was a bombshell that totally rocked my world.
Mountain Moxie was a longtime dream of the woman who developed Moto Girl Cafe (a site dedicated to women who love motorcycles), Robin Dail, and she did an all-around amazing job on every aspect of the conference. Robin is nothing short of a superhero – she is an associate professor at Duke University in the School of Nursing teaching in the graduate programs and doing research around the thermal stability of premature infants to decrease their morbidity and mortality. Like I said, a superhero…AND, she’s a motorcyclist. Boom! Robin put her dream into motion – a dream of creating a gathering of women who ride so they could learn about new products, better safety techniques, hear inspirational stories about women leaders in the motorcycling world, and just simply hang together, ride together and share their passion together. Ah, there it was…my first example of that profound statement from the billboard taking place before my very eyes.
During that weekend in the mountains, I heard from many woman leaders: our very own BMW MOA member, Laura Smith of Worse for Wear, who was one of the three major conference sponsors and has just launched her fabulous “Crosstown Jeans” (see my Product Review on this site); extreme long-distance BMW rider, Gwen Phillips, who is truly iconic in the travels she has logged and the MacGyver-type doodads she has invented to make her travels more smooth; Sofi Tsingos, a brilliant, young custom motorcycle builder; the first woman to have circumnavigated the coast of Great Brittain, Gail Biddulph, who through her life experiences, empowers other people to live to their full potential; the first African-American woman to road race in the United States, Joi “SJ” Harris from the MotoGirlGT Team; Breeann Poland, a woman who has been involved with motorcycling most of her life and is now the Social Media and Digital Marketing Manager of Royal Enfield North America; a Motorcycle Law Group attorney (and another major sponsor of the event), Liz Sorrell, who passed along her vast knowledge of laws affecting motorcyclists; as well as several others that inspired us over the weekend. As I listened to each of these women tell their stories and explain how their passion for motorcycling has shaped their lives, I again heard the whisper from that billboard… “Make Your Passion Your Paycheck.”
Reflecting on what I took from Mountain Moxie and the theme from that billboard that crept into my experience over-and-over, I thought about the distinct pleasure I’ve had over this past year of personally watching that statement in motion as I’ve kept up with the aforementioned Laura Smith and her women’s riding apparel company, Worse for Wear. When I first interviewed Laura and her husband Scott back in 2015, they were hard at work putting those passionate wheels into motion, making Laura’s dream of providing women with safe, durable and stylish riding gear that fits come true. It’s been quite an inspiration to watch this chrysalises first-hand.
Considering recently published statistics which report that 25% of people who throw their leg over a motorcycle are female (including pilots and pillions), it’s no secret that we ladies are hard-core on the hunt for more riding products, such as those from Worse for Wear. Over the years, riding gear has slowly trickled over to our female gender, but typically is an altered version of men’s gear, and is usually uniformed in pink or purple. This Fashionista, for one, can’t swallow that princess-colored pill…sorry guys. With our demographic steadily on the rise, I have observed other women throughout the country, like Laura Smith, with the goal to create gear made especially for women and our needs. Most recently, I’ve come across a network of very clever women in California who are making breakthroughs in this industry and have embraced the concept that I spied on the billboard that very fateful day – “Make Your Passion Your Paycheck.”
What really drew my attention to this group of women in Cali was the fact that they are all separately creating their own products, but are collaborating closely together to support one another. Epic concept! I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking in depth with two of these women – Debra Chin of MotoChic and Aliki Karayan of VnM Sport. They both share the same motivation for joining the world of women entrepreneurs – their passion to create riding gear made specifically for women, a passion which was hatched out of sheer desperation from an obscenely limited ladies’ riding gear market.
Debra Chin, founder of MotoChic, is originally from New York and now firmly planted in San Francisco. She is the creator of the sassy “Lauren” bag (see my Product Review on this site) and the more compact “Valerie” bag. Debra’s passion began on the rear seat of her boyfriend’s motorcycle. As a pillion, now rider, she became extremely aggravated when she discovered that the gear options available for women “were limited to the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach taken by most mainstream manufacturers.” Through the combination of her genuine knowledge of fashion (previously owned a bridesmaid boutique), astute marketing background, and a serious leap of faith, Debra launched her product line in the spring of 2015. Her bags are selling very well as they are highly fashionable, extremely multi-functional and their unique versatility crosses over to many lifestyles, not just motorcycling.
But Debra hasn’t kept all the glory for herself. She has collaborated with other women breaking into the industry and has included them on her e-commerce site, as well as booth space at events. Debra not only made her passion her paycheck, but has reciprocated her good fortune with other women so that they, too, can see the fruits of their labor.
I had the amazing opportunity to speak to another one of those women – Aliki Karayan of VnM Sport. Aliki is one cool chick, let me tell you! She spent her young life in Canada, then joined the military at age 18 and began a stint as a heavy machine operator. It was there in the military that she was exposed to motorcycles through her teammates who were all guys and loved fast machines. When Aliki sampled her first ride on two wheels, she was hooked. Almost 20 years later, she is a California resident living the dream – contracted by Honda, she is racing, demo riding and teaching track days. Once she was submerged into the super bike world, she also felt the pang of desperation to find gear designed specifically for women. In her words, she “started riding tracks and got pissed ‘cause I couldn’t find good gear.” With absolutely no design experience or garment manufacturing knowledge, Aliki started her unsurmountable quest with a huge passion in her heart to overcome the odds. She did, indeed, turn her passion into a paycheck – her company, VnM Sport produces high-performance compression base layers with high-quality fabrics that work when it’s “bloody hot and bloody cold,” including designing matching base layers to SuperBike teams. (See my Product Review on this site.) Aliki is also a big proponent of women-helping-women in this industry. She sees herself and her California compadres as being a team, rather than competitors…they work together for the good of all women in the motorcycling world. What an impressive and noble vision.
Flashback to that spring morning in May, when I was riding to Mountain Moxie…the ride was completely intoxicating as the fragrance of new blossoms and the delicious dewy air permeated into my helmet. Indeed, I was smiling big. And, as I fatefully raised my head towards that billboard and read, “Make Your Passion Your Paycheck,” I fist-pumped at the statement, not truly understanding the depth of those words. And then I arrived that day at the Little Switzerland Inn, and in good time, it all became very, very clear. 💋
(For more information on Mountain Moxie 2017 and Moto Girl Cafe, please visit motogirlcafe.com; for additional information on Worse for Wear, please visit worsewear.com; for more information on MotoChic, please visit motochicgear.com; and for VnM Sportgear products, please visit vnmsport.com.)