Photos courtesy of Sommer-Simmons
It took Cris Sommer-Simmons three years to finish her book The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900 – 1950. Three years of research, conducting interviews, writing and tracking down old black and white photos of pioneering women in the sport.
“I was working like 16 or 17 hours a day and I didn’t even want to close my eyes at night because these women were such an inspiration,” Sommer-Simmons told Thunder Press.
She borrowed images from magazines, pleaded with museums for usage rights and dug deep into America’s motorcycling history only to discover what we have always known: there have always been female riders, despite what Hollywood and pop culture would like us to believe.
The book came out in 2009. In 2010, Sommer-Simmons joined the inaugural Motorcycle Cannonball, a transcontinental antique motorcycle journey that started in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and ran to the Pacific Ocean.
“It was the weirdest thing,” Sommer-Simmons said. “I had been looking at all those old pictures for so long and all the sudden it felt like I was living the book. I knew what it felt like to ride these old bikes.”
Indeed, Sommer-Simmons was recreating history by riding a 1915 Harley-Davidson 11-F, a three-speed V-twin. That same model was ridden by Effie Hotchkiss in 1915, with her mother Avis in a sidecar. Those two women are seen as the first women to complete a cross-country, round trip motorcycle ride totaling some 9,000 miles.
When Effie got to the Pacific Ocean, she pulled out a small jar filled with water from the Atlantic and poured it into the Pacific. Sommer-Simmons did the same thing.
“I wanted to honor the women that paved the way for me, and I hope I have paved the way for other women,” she said.
Sommer-Simmons has been an ambassador for female motorcycling since 1985, when she co-founded Harley Women, considered the first widely distributed magazine for women riders. Besides The American Motorcycle Girls, she published the widely popular children’s book Patrick Wants to Ride (1994) and The American Motorcycle Girl’s Cannonball Diary (2012).
Sommer-Simmons has worked hard to support women riders. And a lot of that work has paid off.
“Some men didn’t like seeing women ride. God forbid a woman would get her independence,” she said. “Now, a lot of younger women come up to me saying I inspired them. To me, that means that the magazine really did mean something.”
Find Sommer-Simmons book at www.cannonballcris.com — Kali Kotoski