Why Was It Not OK for Women to Ride Motorcycles?

Reader seeks our insight

american motorcycle girls book cover

Dear WRN,

I have been riding since 1999 and I have several female friends who ride as well. I thought women riding was a new phenomenon, but I just read Cris Sommer Simmons book, The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950,about women who rode in the first half of the 1900s. It was so fascinating to me that I read it out loud to my husband while we were trailering our bikes home from vacation.
So now for the question:
What happened to make it not OK for women to ride motorcycles over the last several decades?
When I was a young girl I knew I wanted to ride when I saw Jaclyn Smith ride that sportbike on Charlie’s Angels.
Would love your insight into this. Thanks.
Teresa Morgan
via email

Please answer this question in the comments below. Thanks!

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8 thoughts on Why Was It Not OK for Women to Ride Motorcycles?

  1. I have been riding vintage bikes since the 70s. I am 57 and currently still ride a 1947 Flathead 80cc, kick-start, tank-shift, with a foot clutch. I will be on the Sister’s Centennial Ride celebrating the pioneering women and I will attempt to ride Pikes Peak in Colorado. I haven’t been spotlighted too much because I dedicated my life to Harley-Davidson and in the 80s and 90s I worked at the Harley-Davidson York Motorcycle Company building the modern-day motors. When I was building, I was also a professional H-D Rider’s Edge instructor and MSF instructor. So ladies, there are a few ladies that follow our heroes in the wind. I will be in Ohio on July 8, 2016 for Vintage Days. Hope to meet you.

  2. I finally got my license back in 2009 at the tender age of 44. Been riding for seven years now and I am loving the freedom of riding my bike. Power to all women who don’t follow what we are supposed to do! Cruising through life and enjoying the ride.

  3. I rode my first “real” motorcycle, not counting dirt “mini” bikes, in 1976. Even in the ’70s, people were very judgmental of a woman riding a motorcycle. I was told to my face that women didn’t belong on a motorcycle, and was most often judged as unfeminine for doing so. It was like a private boys only club and I was trespassing.My parents didn’t like the whole motorcycle community, so a gentleman friend of mine would pick me up in his grandmother’s car and we would go get his bikes and ride. I can remember how wonderful the wind felt and the empowering feeling that it gave me.I lived in a small town, and it was very rare that I would see another lady rider. It was amazing when I did, because we would both point and wave, and usually stop for a chat. So many memories and so many truly wonderful people have entered my life because of the motorcycle community, and I am blessed to still be a part of it.

  4. I have that book, too. Had it shipped home from Keystone, Col. during the 2009 AMA Women in Motorcycling Conference. And if I remember correctly, it wasn’t OK for women to ride motorcycles back then, either. Heck, before the 1960s it wasn’t even OK for women to wear bathing suits in public in some locales! But they all did it anyway. I am truly grateful for all the women who have broken barriers and lived life their way. They have made it easier for me to live life the way I want to, which hasn’t been the most socially acceptable way. It’s been my choice to have never married, never had children, own my own home so I have a place to keep my cars, my bicycles and my motorcycles. (And my dogs.) I have been hooked on wheels ever since my parents bought me a tricycle. They also encouraged me to think for myself and stand up for myself, although I don’t think they ever thought I would be as independent as I am. I cannot imagine living my life to someone else’s ideal. I would be absolutely miserable. Life is too short to spend it worrying about what society thinks I should do. Society can be so very restrictive, if you let it.

  5. I got my license last year but my family was never a fan of motorcycles (they knew too many people who had accidents). I got my license (I am 27) because I was tired of riding on the back of hubby’s bike, and I figured life is short; I might as well do something that scares and fascinates me. I love riding and I have found as a woman rider that I get mixed reviews. Other motorcyclists have been friendly and helpful and I haven’t encountered any men who don’t want women in the motorcycle “club.” Coworkers and people outside of motorcycling have had reactions from awe to fear. The most common comment that I get is, “Oh, I’ve always admired motorcycles and all the gear, but I’m too scared to ever learn.” It’s refreshing to meet other women motorcyclists, too, because in my area, there aren’t many to ride with.

  6. My wife just got her license. She’s been wanting to do it for years, but has been holding off. (Why I don’t know.) Now at 34, she’s the first person to get her license on her side of the family, and the first female on my side. She credits (blames) myself and my father for getting her hooked. Now our 5-year-old daughter says she’s going to get her license. As for the reasons it wasn’t OK? Same reason it wasn’t OK for “respectable” men for a very long time. The stigma just stuck around longer for women.

  7. This happened about 10 years ago: I was riding solo one day and had stopped at a red light when an older man (probably 60s), whom I did not know, looked over at me and said, “Where’s your old man?” I replied, “At home laying on the couch where he wants to be.” I’m not sure where the male macho thing came into being regarding females riding, but my father, uncle, and especially my husband love it!

  8. I’ve had my motorcycle license since 1965 at the age of 20. Never had any issues about being a riding female, in fact just the opposite. People seemed to be in awe and curious. Never gave it much notice that there weren’t that many other ladies riding as I rode with (alongside) my husband until he passed in 1990. Rode alone for several years and then found Women On Wheels. Love that more women ride their own now, and still ride my Gold Wing every chance I get! 183,000 miles on her and still counting!

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