If a group of male riders got together to plan a sportbike rally, you might guess that the agenda would include a race to the death. For light evening entertainment, perhaps there would be a cage match between the newest flipflop-donning squid on his ’Busa and the most well-meaning of ATGATT riders. When a group of female riders organize a sportbike rally, it’s all about philanthropy, education, and outreach.
Having never been to an event centered on performance motorcycling enthusiasts, I clearly didn’t know what to expect. Would there be citations issued for exhibition of speed? Would I be relentlessly passed on the ride as if I accidentally wandered onto the track with the A-Group? Much to my pleasure, it was none of the above.
The Women’s Sportbike Rally West, which took place over the course of three captivating days in Big Bear, California, was the sort of event that leaves the attitude at the door and serves as a reminder of why we love to ride. In WSR’s own words – it’s all for the twisties, for charity, for sportbike girls, by sportbike girls.
The original incarnation of the rally was founded by two riders from Ohio in 2006 and is still held in Robbinsville, NC (home of the infamous 11-mile, 318-turn stretch of road affectionately named the The Tail of the Dragon). The WSR West rally was instituted in 2015 to commemorate the WSR East event’s tenth anniversary. This boots-on-the-ground organic event is made possible through hundreds of volunteer hours and a contingency of gracious sponsors.
The mission of the Women’s Sportbike Rally is two-fold, the ladies of the rally serve as a cautionary tale for both. The primary focus is on increased melanoma awareness and prevention. Motorcycling role model, Tiffany “SportbikeGirl” Weirbach, lost her battle with stage III malignant melanoma at the unfathomable age of 24. Between 2007 and 2011, the rally donated over $10,000 to the melanoma foundation created in her honor. With the support of Tiffany’s parents, the event has contributed all profits from subsequent events to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The secondary objective of the WSR is to shift the paradigm of skin safety in motorcycling. To say that director Brittany Morrow and her staff are passionate about their cause would be an understatement. Brittany, founder of RocktheGear.org, earned the title “Queen of Road Rash” after she endured a brutal get-off of a GSX-R750 as a pillion in 2005. Her injuries and consequential recovery have lead her down a path of skin safety advocacy over the last decade. Emphasis on this message is clear and present during the weekend, as many up and coming women-owned motorcycle apparel brands were highlighted at the event.
So, did we gather round a hotel parking lot like pit-tootsies in booty shorts and bounce off the rev limiter all day long? I should say not! With riders of all ages, abilities and engines in attendance, we broke off into groups for a quick 100-mile jaunt around the San Bernardino National Forest. Riders had a choice between Beginner “Leisure,” Intermediate, and Advanced “Ride at Your Own Risk” routes. Relatively confident in my two-wheeled prowess, fully geared in leather and Kevlar, and riding a 2017 Ducati Monster 797, I signed on for the intermediate ride. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be certain that I wasn’t getting myself in hot water as I watched other girls pluck their track bikes off the stand and zip up their one-piece race leathers.
Fortunately, the trusty Duc, my knight in shining trellis-framed armor, came to the rescue. To be completely candid, my initial getting-to-know-you handshake with this bike came on a miserably sweaty 104-mile commute from Long Beach to the WSR event in Friday afternoon dead-stop rush-hour traffic via a half dozen of my least favorite Southern California freeways. First impressions had me satisfied with the machine’s agile nature in traffic and stopping power of the dual four-pot Brembo calipers and 320mm discs. Even so, I didn’t know what to expect when faced with an unfamiliar path of switchback mountain roads. To say that the Monster floats effortlessly through the twisties would be an understatement.
This naked bike’s short wheelbase (56.5 inches) leaned into the turns with the greatest of ease. The firm suspension provided stability and served well to plant the bike securely in the corners (although did nothing for my kidneys and lady-bits through the surface street construction in Big Bear Village). In a higher gear than even I would have imagined, I found myself leveraging a good chunk of the bike’s claimed 75 hp gleefully gliding through the turns on the tail of two veteran riders on their track bikes. With that being said, I know my limitations and I don’t have any illusions of grandeur on a sportbike. There was nothing intimidating about the 797’s 51-ish pound-feet of torque, which produced plenty of scoot off the line and a silky smooth power delivery. In short, it made for a delightful ride along with the WSR girls. I can assure you, there were no wheelies popped that day. At least not by me…
Let’s pause for a second to talk about the attendees of this event. Speaking of wheelies, a stunting icon was present in our midst. Although her humble and friendly demeanor would have never given her away, Robyn Diamond’s Kawasaki 636 complete with custom-fabricated tank and stunt crash bars did. Being one of seven women in the entire country to earn a reputation as a stunt bike rider, Robyn says she enjoys being a girl in the stunt world and is “excited to enter the race world.” Despite my repeated attempts to play devil’s advocate, she refrained from pissing off the hotel management by putting on an impromptu wheelie show in the parking lot. Curses, foiled again!!
Our fearless leaders of the Intermediate Ride were Dani Malena and Kiona Bell. Dani set the pace for our ride on her 2005 GSX-R600, outfitted for the track by Matsushima Performance. As a newly licensed racer, she plans to begin her Chuckwall Valley Motorcycle Association racing program this year. Kiona, wearing a brightly colored race suit atop her 2004 R6, has put 20,000 miles on her bike in the last two years. Make no mistake about it, these girls are fast as hell and nice as pie.
One of my most favorite moments of the rally was having the pleasure of meeting Shelly John, a death rocker that grew up to be an attorney-at-law with a heart of gold. This gem of a human and I shacked up all weekend as roommates and forged a friendship that I’m sure will last as long as our love of riding. Shelly recently purchased a BMW R1200RT that produces a grin on her face that can only be described as the look of someone that has found their perfect bike. She likens the feeling of riding her Beemer to “really, really good sex.” The girl has a point.
Once the rides were over for the day, school was in session. WSR had nine or so workshop options planned for the afternoon. From bike maintenance to riding position pointers, and track days to an introduction to racing – there was truly something for everyone. As the seminars went on, it became clear that the skill set and knowledge base of these women was more than impressive. Following the classroom experience, the WSR invited everyone to “Be Their Own Hero” and join in on a slow-speed parade lap through Big Bear Village.
As if in a Clark Kent-esque transformation, several dozen ladies appeared in costume next to their bikes, eager to show off their empowerment to the general public. My team spirit paled in comparison to their costume changes; I could only muster a red sweater from my meager wardrobe options to match the red and star-white silk color scheme of my Ducati. Close enough.
At the end of the day, in the twilight hour, I snapped a group photo of the Women’s Sportbike Rally group. It wasn’t until that time that I realized just how many women were there in attendance, supporting each other and their passions. I would highly recommend this event for female riders that have an interest in performance machines.
Even I, the salty dirt rider with too many two-wheeled opinions, felt as though I had known these gals for ages after a mere three days together. Last but not least… if there is one important take-away from this, it’s that you should come for the riding, and stay for the shirtless bike wash!!