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Women on motorcycles is a growing trend

The new documentary "Driven to Ride" explores the fast-growing trend—and surprising history—of women on motorcycles. Award-winning documentarian Michelle Carpenter, assistant professor of digital design in the College of Arts & Media at the University of Colorado, Denver, captured footage of five fearless Colorado riders.

"Through making the documentary, I have met and learned about legendary women in motorcycling," she says. "In 1900 Margret Gast broke the world record for the 2,600-mile bike race, and beat the men's record in 1901 for the 2,000-mile race. In the 1930s Bessie Stringfield was the first African-American to traverse coast to coast. She road decades before the civil rights movement. Can you imagine what she confronted on the road? Talk about badass!"

Women on motorcycles: Julie Graff rides her bike; photo by Sue Graff
Women on motorcycles: Julie Graff rides her bike; photo by Sue Graff

Featured rider Erin Doherty-Raty, known for her Guinness World Record 101,322-mile, four-year world tour with her husband on two BMW motorcycles, says she loves the sense of freedom, escape, and independence. "Riding a motorcycle makes me feel powerful."

Debra Conroy prefers "twisties" on her BMW 1100 S and thrives on long-distance riding. Masyn Moyer loves the speed. "I am super competitive, so when I'm riding next to anyone, I want to be better and faster. I also want to ride and test everything through speed."

Each has a story to tell about why she's driven to ride in this documentary, which premiered on Colorado Public Television in November. In addition to film festivals, it will hit select markets in 2014, including KQED in San Francisco for Women's History Month in March. We caught up with Carpenter about the impact of the project:

Women on motorcycles: Masyn Moyer and her bike; photo by Michael Lichter
Women on motorcycles: Masyn Moyer and her bike; photo by Michael Lichter

Why do you think we're seeing such a trend in women riding motorcycles?

I think women today are searching for more independence and a sense of freedom. Being women, we are smart, we do research, we seek out education, and we have more deposable income available.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while making the film?

I was always thrilled with how we could experiment with the rigging of the GoPro on motorcycles, cars, and poles. When I was filming Julie Graff, who rides a 1969 Sportster (vintage Harley), I decided I would love a close-up of the kick-start pedal while she was trying to start her motorcycle. I lay on the ground next to the exhaust and vroom! I never thought this could be really loud when it kicked over. I was surprised blood was not pouring from my ear.

Women on motorcycles: Cookie Crum and her bike; photo courtesy of Cookie Crum
Women on motorcycles: Cookie Crum and her bike; photo courtesy of Cookie Crum

How are modern women busting (or embracing) some stereotypes that come with female riders?

As humans we unconsciously judge people based on appearance within the first 10 seconds of meeting. The women riders in "Driven to Ride" represent a diverse group of riders. They are successful businesswomen and entrepreneurs. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, and they are strong and caring individuals. They have a zest for life and they live life in the "front row."

Where are your subjects' favorite places to ride in Colorado (and the U.S.)?

Erin Doherty-Ratay: In Colorado, the road over Independence Pass, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Million Dollar Highway near Ouray. Other roads in the U.S.: Continental Divide Trail from Montana to New Mexico; Road to the Sun Hwy in Glacier National Park; Blue Ridge Parkway in the south; the Finger Lakes and Bear Mountain in New York.

Debra Conroy: My favorite road is Colorado highway 92. It has little traffic, fun sweeping corners, and gorgeous views. My favorite pass is Grand Mesa. There is no traffic and it is beautiful. Best back-to-back twisties are on the Million Dollar Highway out of Ouray.

Women on motorcycles: Betsy Huelskamp; photo courtesy of Michael Lichter
Women on motorcycles: Betsy Huelskamp; photo courtesy of Michael Lichter

Give us a sense of the range of women drawn to riding motorcycles.

I have students who cruise on scooters and others who are competitive motocross riders, soaring and breaking boundaries. I have friends who ride to leave the stress and boredom of daily life behind, who love the thrill of riding, and who embrace speed. I have a new friend Cookie Crum who was a stunt rider in the 1940s who still rides to this day!

Women on motorcycles; photo courtesy of Allan Dewey
Women on motorcycles; photo courtesy of Allan Dewey

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