In 2012 I heard about a woman who was preparing to set off cross-country to spread the word about supporting American-made products. She planned to visit Harley-Davidson dealerships coast to coast on her spiffy new Street Glide that had the words “We the People” painted across the fairing. She had six sponsors and a gob of supporters excited to embrace her 36-month quest as both unique and inspiring. A less-publicized footnote was that as she traveled, she would also market for Design Wraps, a company she started in 1989 manufacturing head wraps for riders.
A party was planned from an Arizona dealership and several women arranged an escort as she departed the Grand Canyon State in February of 2013. I figured I’d ride down to watch the send-off but as the day drew near, there was no information so I called to ask about the festivities. They had no clue what I was talking about and had never heard of her. I started quietly investigating who Joan Krenning is. During the process, many women had plenty to say; none wanted to be quoted in print.
Since then, much has been written about Krenning. She made her journey, spending 13 months on the road visiting H-D dealerships, barely one third of the intended expedition, and she sold a few head wraps, but something happened along the way. It seems she lost focus of the job, causing her two business partners a great deal of grief, resulting in what she describes as a “hostile takeover.” She lost her company as she instead began to embrace the freedom of the road and found herself steeped in a period of personal enlightenment. Her blogs started coming up under the name of Lady Road Dog. Publicly, she began talking a lot more about God.
Joan turned into a promoter and a sort of riding guru for women. She formed a public entity, with a board of directors, called the Steel Horse Sisterhood and set about organizing a summit for female riders with a variety of speakers and presentations, along with a group ride, set against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado, in May of 2014. I was invited but declined since weather can turn ugly that time of year and riding into the Rockies didn’t make sense to me. Supporters declared the event a success. Detractors declared war.
She managed to piss off a lot of people over the years, mostly ex-husbands, ex-employees, disappointed business partners, and suddenly she found herself in a big pile of grief as her profile became more public. When I asked to hear the story from the guru gal herself, she agreed but said she’d never sat down with a journalist before and, if she listened to the knot in her gut, she probably shouldn’t. Still, we met for lunch in Mesa, Arizona.
“You know, nobody even noticed me for 20-some years when I was selling head wraps to the Harley dealerships out of the trunk of my car. Nobody ever paid any attention until I got a motorcycle. Now, two or three women got mad at me and suddenly my whole life is upside down. It’s ridiculous. This whole thing has gone way too far and it’s really ugly. This isn’t just bad for women; it’s bad for the industry.”
In particular, Krenning was referring to a blog posted by a Canadian woman calling Joan out for everything from her past on up to current events, specifically questioning the donations made to charities during the Steel Horse Sisterhood summit as well as tax liens from years past. Still, when pushed for names of the women she feels initiated her current woes, Joan refused.
“I know who’s behind all this, what they’re saying; it’s even been on social media, but if I name names then I’m just like them. How does that help anything? Where does it stop? My past has already been written about; I’ve never hidden anything. I’ve been married four times, widowed once, three divorces. I’ve been in business since I was 18 and I’m 60 now, so there have been mistakes. That whole thing she (the blogger) brought up about my tax bills with the Department of Workforce Developments with the State of Wisconsin? That is completely blown up. I make payments to the State of Wisconsin every month but whose business is that but mine, anyway? None of that has any bearing on my ability to run a summit. I have a team and we’re putting together an event that’s really good for women and last year’s success made people realize women really need something like this. Instead of being supportive they want to take over the summit and what better way than to destroy me? But not just anybody can go do this. Who am I? I’m just a girl on a motorcycle selling head wraps so how did that equate to women riders following me all over the place? I don’t know; I didn’t initiate this, didn’t start putting out feelers or anything. It’s a very God-inspired journey; it has been from the beginning. Somebody else can look at it and say, ‘I don’t want to talk about God,’ and that’s OK; that’s their thing, but this is the way I see it. I’m working really hard to share the experience with other women. This is all very powerful stuff and bringing women together to share this power is good for everyone, don’t you think? We have a variety of presenters; strong, influential women with messages to share. We had a good time last year and I heard a lot of positive feedback that we used when putting the summit together this year. Some have felt threatened and concerned that what’s happened to me could happen to them.”
For me, at issue is the sort of Svengali effect Krenning seems to have over riders, particularly the inexperienced ones, and I asked if she felt responsible for the rookies who chose to ride into the Rockies during a snowstorm to attend the inaugural SHS summit.
“No,” she said flatly. “I got a call from one saying she was at Wolf Creek Pass and I asked her why? Who would choose to ride through the pass that time of year? Who does that? I just assumed people would check the weather and chose a safe route. It’s a mountain; it snows, it can be dangerous. Doesn’t everyone know that?”
Motorcycle safety is one of the issues addressed during the summit, which has been moved to June for 2015.
Krenning answered my questions, asking that names be off the record, and provided documentation that charities from the 2014 SHS have all been paid. She’s addressed the past financial issues and the info I collected shows a checkered past, but mostly what I gleaned is that Krenning is, at the very least, a naive businesswoman who doesn’t believe in contracts. Taking people at their word is novel, but not prudent. She admits she doesn’t like to be involved in the administrative part of business, leaving those tasks to others and says she could write volumes on the number of people who’ve ripped her off.
As for the future of the Steel Horse Sisterhood, it seems that as long as Krenning isn’t in control of the purse strings all should work out well. I’m amazed at how many women riders are looking for camaraderie and a bonding experience with some direction. Krenning has certainly stepped up to fill that niche. The SHS has almost 6,000 members on their social media page. Whether women can come together in support, rather than turning on each other, is another issue. Several prominent figures in the motorcycling community have chosen to distance themselves from the drama, at least until the dust settles. My advice is to do your homework; know where your money goes when registering for any event, including charities. As for sisterhood, be cautious. Females of any species can be vicious. Some even eat their young.