A Woman Rider Wins her Class In the Cannonball Run

Vintage motorcycle ride makes history

By Genevieve Schmitt, Photos by Laura Klock, Kevin Bean're, & Donna Kaminsky

The coast-to-coast Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run is now history and one of the two women riding in a field of 45 motorcyclists is the winner in her class of machine. Katrin Boehner, a 41-year-old rider from Germany, won the class of single cylinder, single speed bikes riding her 250cc 1907 J.A.P. motorcycle 3,000 miles over 16 days. Katrin won one of three commemorative prizes, a bronze sculpture by artist Jeff Decker. It was her first time to America.

Katrin Boehner rides to the finish in Santa Monica among an enthusiastic crowd who came to watch the end of the Cannonball Run.
Katrin along the side of the road during the run. She did the ride with her husband who rode on a different vintage bike.

The other woman rider, Cris Sommer Simmons, rode a 1915 3 Speed V-Twin Harley-Davidson finishing 20th overall. She had an all-women crew named Team Effie that assisted in the cross country journey that started September 10 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and ended this past Sunday, September 26, in Santa Monica, California. Riders had to ride pre-1916 motorcycles. Results were determined by overall miles ridden (many riders lost miles due to breakdowns on the old machines), age of the bike and age of the rider.

WRN spoke with Cris from her home in Hawaii two days after the end of the event. “It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she said. “The spirit of the riders, the camaraderie, the friendships, all talking and working with each other, was just amazing. That’s something I take away from it the most.” Read Cris complete interview in the WRN Feature Articles section.

Cris Sommer Simmons, her arm in the air, rolls to the finish on the Santa Monica pier.
Cris riding through the plains of Oklahoma.

The overall champion is Brad Wilmarth who finished the ride on a 1913 Excelsior with a perfect score, 3,294, one point for every mile ridden. He won a painting dubbed “Winners Table” that artist David Uhl turned around during the course of the ride. David was at the start of the ride in Kitty Hawk, then flew home to Denver to complete two paintings that would be awarded to class winners.

Winners Table, the painting by David Uhl. David said, “My task was challenging but insignificant compared with those who actually completed the run. By far the most difficult aspect for me was trying to dream up a composition that reflected the variety of manufacturers that were entered in the run.”

Being the only American woman in the Cannonball Run, Cris Sommer Simmons, along with Team Effie attracted quite a following through Cris blog and Facebook page. She and her crew chief, Laura Klock, provided daily updates on the ride through their respective Facebook pages.

Team Effie consists of (in back l-r) rider Cris Sommer Simmons, crew chief Laura Klock, (in front l-r) videographer Toast Boyd, mechanic Athena Ransom.

Below is a poignant article written by Laura at the start of the ride that puts Cris’ Cannonball efforts into historical perspective and explains the meaning behind the name Team Effie. After reading this, if you want to read more about the Cannonball Run, visit MotorcycleCannonball.com.

Team Effie and Her Cannonball Run
By Laura Klock

Ninety five years ago a young woman named Effie Hotchkiss decided she wanted to travel coast to coast. And what better way to do that than on a motorcycle? She purchased a 1915 3 Speed V-Twin Harley-Davidson with some money she inherited and was ready to go. That is until her mother, Avis, told her she couldn’t make that trip alone. There were still cowboys and Indians, and paved roads were a luxury, besides the fact that a woman on a motorcycle in those days was sure to draw much conversation and attention. So the deal was made between mother and daughter that Effie would buy a sidecar, and Avis would make the trip with her.

Effie and Avis Hotchkiss in their sidecar motorcycle in Salt Lake City.

They set out to travel from Brooklyn, New York, to the World’s Fair in San Francisco, California. It took them about two months, and by the time they were done Effie had dipped her toes in the water of the ocean on the east coast and the water of the ocean on the west. She also carried water from one ocean with her and dumped it into the other ocean when she arrived. Effie and Avis made history as the first women riding a sidecar to do a transcontinental journey. Their story is an inspiration to women and men even today. Effie lived by the motto that “anything is possible if you put your mind to it.” She inspires me.

Effie and Avis at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. Effie pours sea water she collected from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific to signify the end of their history making transcontinental journey. (Courtesy AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum)

This morning, September 10, 2010, 95 years after the trip that Effie and Avis made across the country, I report with amazing pride that I am witnessing history repeat itself. This morning at sunrise, we gathered on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to collect water in a jar that will travel in the saddlebag of a 1915 3 Speed V-Twin Harley-Davidson as my dear friend Cris Sommer Simmons carries it across the country. I, along with Athena Ransom and Toast Boyd are on Cris’ crew. Cris has named her 1915 Harley Effie in honor of Effie Hotchkiss, a woman who inspires us. She is riding in a coast to coast endurance run called the Motorcycle Cannonball and the plan is to empty that jar of water from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific in Santa Monica, California, 16 days from now.

Cris collects ocean water in a jar in Kitty Hawk.
Laura and Athena on the beach in Kitty Hawk, showing off the sand they collected in their badges.

And in true Effie style, Cris and us as crew have become a topic of conversation. Cris is the only American woman entered in the Cannonball, and we are the only all woman crew participating. Our common bond besides our love of motorcycles old and new is that we are all Motor Maids, an all-women riding club now in its 70th year. Athena, Toast and I arrived in Kitty Hawk on Wednesday night to Cris and her daughter, Lindsey, doting over Effie tightening bolts, making last minute adjustments, and preparing mentally for the challenge that lies ahead. It was so awesome to see Cris light up when we, her crew for this journey, arrived.

Athena in her element…making adjustments.

Cris immediately found the courage to give Effie a kick and ride her around a bit. I watched in awe and encouraged and cheered for her. It felt pretty surreal to think about what we were about to embark on. Yesterday was spent getting the chase van ready, making sure we had a fire extinguisher, spark plugs, tape, wire, tools, gas, oil and all the essentials necessary loaded into Effie’s saddlebags. Walking through the parking lot I was truly amazed by the variety of bikes I was seeing, some I’d never even heard of such as the Militaire. This thing is amazing with the strangest front axle I’ve ever seen. And considering it was designed in the early 1900s it’s pretty amazing when the owner shows that it’s rigged up with reverse of all things. Indians, Flying Merkels, Excelsiors, Sears, and of course Harley-Davidsons all 1915 models or older, all being prepped to attempt something that hasn’t been attempted as a group like this ever before. Getting ready to travel just about 3,300 miles, coast to coast!

I saw some familiar faces such as Dale Walksler, Buzz Kanter, Jeff Decker, David Uhl, Matt Olson, Carl Olson and many more. And of course popular motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter was there. Michael is actually attempting a Guiness Book of World Records feat by riding the entire Cannonball Run backwards on a seat that Carl Olson built for him on the back of his bike!

Michael Lichter rode on the back of a bike specially designed for him so he could photograph the ride.

We were excited when some of our Motor Maids sisters showed up to see us off. Eight-five year-old rider Gloria Struck, her daughter Lori and granddaughter Kathy, along with Terry and Deb were there. You can bet we made some noise at our all-girl table with a few “Motor Maids rock” chants during the banquet last night.

Gloria Struck in white, still riding at age 85, rode down from New Jersey to see Team Effie off.

It’s all really been a blur. This morning after collecting the ocean water (and some sand in my name badge), we witnessed a history-making event. All of the entered bikes (45 of them) rode to the Wright Brothers Monument, and were lined up by Michael Lichter for a panoramic photo. Then they took off for day one of the endurance run from the monument. If something like that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you may want to pause a moment and just try to understand the depth of the history that is being repeated, and made. It hits you in a place that’s deep inside. I looked around me and just couldn’t believe why I am blessed with experiences like this, and knowing that I have to share the story. Maybe it will happen again in my lifetime, maybe not, but I know that I am surely going to cherish every single second.

The support vehicles aren’t allowed to travel with their rider, so we headed out behind the bikes toward the next stop, which for today was 162 miles away in Greenville, North Carolina. We parked the van, set up the E-Z Up tent and waited for Cris to roll in.
This morning when she left I felt like I was sending my baby off to kindergarten, and waiting for her to ride in was like waiting to hear how that first day of school went. Athena and I were pacing the parking lot. Toast is along filming this history-making event and she found a lot of humor in our reactions.
About an hour later, Cris pulled in. She made it through the first day! She had some challenges and told us she “rode it ugly.” But the first day, the first time, is always when we learn the most, right? We sent her off to bed and went to work.

Cris all geared up on her bike.

We are settling in to what our tasks will be for the next 15 days of this journey. I’ve become an expert in the roll charts, refilling gas, oil, and keeping the saddlebags filled with the necessities, and Athena had the honor and privilege tonight of working beside vintage motorcycle experts Steve Huntsinger and Dale Walksler as they walked us through some adjustments that were needed for Effie that we understood but hadn’t done before. So, we wrenched on Effie, and talked to her sweet because her job tomorrow is to carry our friend and Motor Maid sister safely to the next stop. Tomorrow’s ride is 225 miles.

There were adjustments and fixes nearly every day of the ride.

To Effie Hotchkiss, there were no hard and fast rules about how life ought to be lived, particularly according to how social circles of the day dictated the mannerisms of a well-conducted lifestyle. The motorcycle was the perfect invincible companion to match the tenacity and free spirit of Effie and Avis Hotchkiss. I’m so proud of those pioneer women who went before us. I’m excited that we are bringing attention to an important piece of history, inspiring women of today, and well into the future. Someday maybe our grand kids will read about Cris Sommer Simmons who rode a 1915 Harley-Davidson named Effie from coast to coast, 95 years after the maiden voyage, and her all woman crew and feel inspired to do the same! Isn’t that what it’s all about? Honoring the past while we ride into the future.

Team Effie cheers at the end of the Cannonball Run.
Cris and her husband, Pat Simmons, lead singer of the Doobie Brothers, at the finish line.

Editor’s Note: To read more about pioneering motorcycle women, and Cris Sommer Simmons, check out this book written by Cris, The American Motorcycle Girls.

11 thoughts on A Woman Rider Wins her Class In the Cannonball Run

  1. Great article! What an inspiration and the historical background on Effie makes it particularly interesting and meaningful. Thanks!

  2. Great article and adventure!

  3. Freakin’ incredible! Way to go ladies. You are truly an inspiration to all of us. I am most certain that many generations will read about Effie and her all-woman team of “motorcycle pioneers.”

  4. My husband and I were vacationing in Arkansas on our motorcycles. We got the lucky chance to see the Cannonball Run leave Hots Springs, Arkansas, on Saturday morning Sept 16. It was awesome seeing all these vintage bikes leaving the hotel. You go girls!

  5. Great articles! Can’t wait to see the pictures and hear the stories next year at the Motor Maids Convention in Michigan! Motor Maids ROCK!

  6. What great and inspiring story. Makes me proud to be a Motor Maid and part of the support group along the way on this Cannonball Run. Good job Cris!

  7. Hi Genevieve, Quint from HOG Radio. I enjoyed your article and Laura’s also. Very inspiring subject. Thank you for being our guest on the show. I’m looking forward to speaking with you again.

  8. The article is AWESOME!Great! What an inspiration all these women are. I can’t wait to see what the photographers, videographers and writers are going to do with everything they’ve collected from this adventure.

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