Women's motorcycling events at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally have come and gone over the years, but none has had longer and stronger “legs” than the Biker Belles celebration, an event organized by the Sturgis Buffalo Chip that just completed its second year.
A group shot of the women who participated in the 73-mile escorted ride that was part of the Biker Belles event.
Held this year on August 8, the Wednesday of the rally, the Biker Belles celebration is part ride, part celebration, with a charitable component mixed in. The two benefitting charities are Helping With Horsepower, a nonprofit currently working with a South Dakota home for young girls in crisis called Abbott House, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, which has put past donations toward purchasing land for future expansion.
“I love what women motorcyclists do for charity and for the community,” said Jan Yu, a rider from Augusta, Ga., about why she attended the Biker Belles celebration. Michelle Vaughn, a Sturgis "newbie" who's also from Augusta, said, “I’m here because I want to support women’s causes.”
Jan Yu, from Augusta, Ga., getting ready for the 73-mile escorted ride on her blinged-out Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. Michelle Vaughn (in foreground) on her Harley-Davidson SuperLow, lining up for the organized ride. Beside her is Di Reinhold from Prairie du Rocher, Ill., on her Harley-Davidson Deuce. “I’m friends with Meg McDonough, one of the organizers," Michelle told us. "I had the opportunity to come up here from Austin, so I couldn’t pass it up.”
While Harley-Davidson is one of the sponsors of Biker Belles, the celebration is open to all brands of motorcycles, and men were welcome, too. The $150 entry fee included a symposium called "Paving the Way" that featured women leaders in the motorcycle industry; an escorted 73-mile ride from The Lodge at Deadwood, the staging area hotel, to the Buffalo Chip campground in Sturgis, where lunch was served; and a fashion show and live and silent auction. The ticket price also included entry to that evening’s concert at the Chip, headlined by Eric Church.
“I didn’t think the price was too much considering what you get," said Tracy Manning-Egge, a rider from Rapid City, S.D. “It was something fun and different, and it’s for charity.” Dottie West, granddaughter of female motorcycling pioneer and Motor Maids cofounder Dot Robinson, rode up from Colorado. “I came up to help out with the charity," she said. "I got here yesterday and I’m going home tomorrow.”
More than $14,000 was raised this year, more than triple what was raised at last year's event. All of the money raised will go directly to the two charities. Click through the photos below to see the rest of the story in pictures.
Lon Nordbye (left) and Toni Woodruff (second from left), both of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, helped organize the event. Here they're signing up participants and giving out swag bags that included an event T-shirt and coupons from sponsors. The lobby of The Lodge at Deadwood was abuzz with people taking part in the ride. Here riders are taking a peek at some of the silent auction items that were eventually moved to the Buffalo Chip, where the bidding took place. Laura Klock with "Mosaic," the motorcycle that she and the girls from Abbott House rebuilt as part of her Helping With Horsepower program. The program brings together sixteen young girls into a group they named "Courage" to take part in tearing down and rebuilding a motorcycle "as part of a journey to heal their brokenness.” The motorcycle is being raffled off in spring 2013. Visit AbbotHouse.org
for more info.
The women at the “Paving the Way” symposium consisted of (left to right): Jessi Combs, host of the Velocity Channel’s "All Girl Garage"; Genevieve Schmitt, WRN founder and editor; Laura Klock, co-owner of Klock Werks Kustom Cycles and founder of Helping With Horsepower; Claudia Garber, director of Harley-Davidson’s women’s outreach program; Marilyn Stemp, editor of Iron Works magazine; and Christine Paige Diers, executive director of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. About 75 motorcycles were part of the 72-mile escorted ride that snaked through the Black Hills and ended at the Buffalo Chip. Riding in the back way to the Buffalo Chip with Bear Butte up ahead.
WRN’s "Backroads With Betsy" columnist Betsy Huelskamp (left) alongside WRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt in the escorted ride. Genevieve says of their friendship, “Opposites attract; we’ll leave it at that.” WRN contributor Tricia Szulewski shooting pictures of the ride from the saddle of her motorcycle. Riders perused the silent auction tables at the Buffalo Chip. That red-haired woman just happens to be rock star Jasmine Cain taking a break from her singing duties at the Broken Spoke Campground with her boyfriend, Earl LeVere.
An auctioneer emcees the Harley-Davidson fashion show. Participants bid on the items in a live auction format. WRN columnist Diva Amy Skaling (in the orange hat) emceed the rest of the fashion show, which featured merchandise from a variety of manufacturers. After the show, the items were put out on the silent auction table. Toni Woodruff from the Buffalo Chip (left) and Meg McDonough, the originator of the Biker Belles idea, were two of the organizers who made this second-year event a success.
Bringing in nearly $2,000 in the live auction was this David Uhl giclee of pioneering rider Gloria Struck at age 25. At the auction, Gloria, now 87, shared memories from when the photo the painting was based on was taken. The crowd was surprised when Doobie Brothers lead singer Pat Simmons put up for auction two signed CDs, tickets and backstage passes to a Doobie Brothers concert, and a signed copy of his wife Cris Sommer Simmons’s book about her Cannonball Run. The 1915 Harley-Davidson that Cris Sommer Simmons rode in the Cannonball Run was on display in the "Paving the Way" exhibit near the auction tent. The exhibit featured items belonging to and information about women riders who’ve been inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame. WRN’s Genevieve Schmitt is one of those women, and information about her was featured on the wall.
Personal note (from Genevieve): I couldn’t resist sharing these next two photos with you. Sunset is a woman that Diva Amy and I met at the AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference
in Carson City, Nev., the weekend before Sturgis. Amy talked Sunset into riding to Sturgis from California for the Biker Belles celebration and offered her the spare room in the house she and I had rented. Sunset told us she's a first grade teacher—hard to believe when she's all dressed up in her biker garb, but we figured we could trust a first grade teacher.
The photo Genevieve took of Sunset in the parking lot of the Buffalo Chip during the Biker Belles ride. The photo we received from Sunset, a first grade teacher, and her students on the first day of school. Wow!
Here’s a note I got from Sunset when she got home. “For me, this trip was just what the doctor ordered. I love anything intense, extreme, and spontaneous—even better when I can get all three at once. Life improved because I became one with the road again. My ride on the first day, with the major rain, lightning, hail, and duck-under-the-overpass (only to discover another rider had the same idea), was wonderful! The 100-plus-degree heat on my last day on I-80 was more of the same. I think of riding and those circumstances as letting me know I'm alive. I know you all understand.”