WMT: What’s your name and how did you get into motorcycling?
SB: My name is Shannon Boesch. I discovered my interest in motorcycles quite late! I had been on two motorcycle rides as a passenger when I was young that left me scared and uninterested in them…or so I thought. I went for my first Harley ride in the summer of 2013 with my new (at the time) boyfriend who is a Harley and BMW GS rider. I was terrified but also very excited. Summer of 2014 my friend called me and said she found a Groupon for a local MSF course and urged me to take it with her. I rejected the idea at first, however she knew I really wanted to do it but was just scared. She persisted and I finally gave in and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. By September of that year I had my first bike. I was pretty convinced I was going to be a Cruiser girl and so bought a beautiful Vulcan 900. Fast forward to today and now I ride a BMW R1200GS…and have a hard time imagining riding anything else!
WMT: What age were you?
SB: I was 46 when I took the MSF course.
WMT: What type of riding do you do?
SB: Even though it has been a couple years now, I am definitely still “learning” ADV riding (there is a lot more technique needed for the off-road riding than pure road riding). Most of my time is on pavement, however, I prefer getting off the beaten path to explore the off-road beauty and get away from traffic whenever I can.
The Vulcan 900…You never forget your first love.
WMT: Is motorcycling a physical, spiritual or emotional experience for you? (or all three?)
SB: Ooph! You might want to take a seat. This is going to take a minute…LOL. It is absolutely a physical, spiritual, AND emotional experience for me. Through riding, I have become much more acutely aware of my different types of strength.
I have always been pretty strong physically, but I respect the need for physical strength and endurance in riding and do not take that for granted…especially with ADV riding. It inspires me to take better care of myself so I can be a safer and stronger rider.
The emotional and spiritual experiences are tied quite closely together for me. Historically, I have been known to be sort of a brat about learning new things because I don’t like the learning curve. Not being good at something or making mistakes is VERY uncomfortable for me. Riding has really challenged me emotionally at times and, to be honest, it has completely pissed me off on more than one occasion. That is where the spiritual part has helped me. I feel so happy and positively charged when I ride and those positive feelings outweigh my insecurities and frustration and they squash any inclination to give up when I am struggling. Even on my worst day of riding, I never thought about giving up. That trend of fortitude and confidence has spilled over into my everyday life as well. It is a great thing.
When I rode the Vulcan 900, I kept falling over due to slow speed gravitational challenges and being a rookie, and I was getting very discouraged and increasingly nervous about riding. Some people suggested that I might want to quit riding, which was not an option. When I did manage to keep the “shiny side up”, I felt so happy and empowered and I really needed more of that in my life. Riding has helped me tap into feelings and strengths I had never experienced in my life. After much thought, I determined that the Vulcan was just not the bike for me and I downsized to a BMW F650GS, already with an eye towards learning ADV riding. That was a hard decision because I really liked that Vulcan and the idea of that iconic Cruiser-lifestyle vibe, but changing bikes and riding style was totally the right move for me.
Going to the smaller and nimbler bike allowed me to build my skills and my confidence and I felt the difference IMMEDIATELY. I rode the F650GS for about a year and then my boyfriend, who has since become a riding coach, urged me to try the “Big Bike”, the BMW R1200GS. Yikes! I thought he was insane for suggesting it, but I accepted the challenge. Let’s just call it a trust exercise. Now I ride the “Big Bike”, with great respect and gratitude because it is something of a beast after all. It has been a trusty steed and a great teacher for me. Every time I ride it, I try to learn something new and I try to get better. I am more open to the learning process now and I do believe that continual skill-building not only makes it more fun, but may end up saving my life out there.
There is an added bonus that I was not expecting from this sport, and that is the INCREDIBLE people I have met who are so supportive and welcoming! It truly touches my heart. I was very shy growing up and was not much of a joiner for group activities. I feel such a natural and strong emotional connection with so many of the riders that I have met. Maybe it is due to the shared interest in riding and the shared spirit of adventure, but whatever the reason, it is really special. I found my tribe when I started riding which is a really big thing for me.
It is difficult for me to verbalize the emotions I feel for what I have learned about myself through riding. It has been very therapeutic and cathartic, to say the least. Riding has a way of helping me put things in a different and more positive perspective. The need to be decisive on a motorcycle has helped me be clearer in my day-to-day life. On a practical level, it has taken work, and I am finally starting to feel somewhat in control on that wild machine and I am truly proud of the riding skills that I am developing.
Maybe what excites me the most about riding though is the allure of all of the unknown adventures to come and the gratitude I have for the people around me who are now part of my life and along for the ride as well. Giving credit where credit is due, my boyfriend/significant other/partner/soul mate, Matt Rozar, is the man responsible for that Harley ride four years ago that sparked this whole thing and he is the one who has inspired and taught me the most about riding. He also just happened to have that extra R1200 GS I could use as well!. It is because of him that I ever even considered getting involved in this amazing sport. Because of that, I have grown personally, have met wonderful people, and had very cool adventures. I am a very grateful for all of it!
So…your question was, “is motorcycling a physical, spiritual or emotional experience for you?” My answer is a resounding YES on all counts.
The end of day #1 of my first road trip. One of those perfect moments you never forget!
WMT: What’s the single most important lesson that motorcycling has taught you?
SB: I don’t know if I can pick just one! The first word that came to mind was persistence, but that was followed by a flood of others that are equally significant. I guess the overarching lesson for me is that it is important to keep your eyes open for unexpected passions and opportunities that may emerge in life. I never DREAMED I would a) learn to ride, b) buy a motorcycle, or c) become completely overcome by them and start my own business because of it! I am a single mom in my late 40’s for crying out loud! I took a risk (not something I am historically prone to do) and here I am, a changed person because of the amazing man who came into my life and took me for a Harley ride and a Groupon for an MSF course from a friend. Those two very specific things led me to this wonderful world of motorcycles!
WMT: If a woman came to you thinking about riding a motorcycle, what words of wisdom would you have for her?
SB: Do it! Find a good MSF course and just try it! You will figure out quickly if it stirs your soul, and if it doesn’t then you figured that out in the safest possible way without much expense. If it DOES stir your soul, take the time to learn and practice but don’t do anything that you don’t feel right about in your gut! Intuition is powerful and bears listening too when motorcycles are involved. You will know when you are ready for new challenges. Keep learning new techniques and skills!
It is natural to be nervous when learning how to ride and that is a healthy. HOWEVER, sometimes there is a different feeling that comes up that is heavier and more foreboding…THAT is the one to listen to. If you are not feeling it, listen to that. We often hear the expression, “Ride your own ride”, and that means don’t put pressure on yourself to do things or ride in a way that does not feel safe to you. If you need to go slower than everyone else, then so be it. If you need to cut the day short because you are too tired to go as far as you thought you would, so be it. If you need to pull over and rest, so be it. The only thing that matters is being as safe as YOU need to be.
Don’t let fashion outweigh common sense. There is something very alluring about the image of the independent rebel in jeans and a t-shirt with wind in the hair on a sexy bike, but the reality is that we are mortal, and on a motorcycle, there is very little between us and a tragic outcome if an accident happens. There are a lot of different ways to get hurt out there these days like distracted drivers being an increasingly terrifying one. Take control of your destiny with education, training, and proper gear, everywhere you can and have fun and enjoy the ride! Some people happily choose to go with the jeans-and-t-shirt-wind-in-the-hair option and that is certainly an option, however, I personally believe that the more protective gear you can tolerate, the better.
There are lots of different styles of gear out there that go beyond simple fashion. Take some time to find what style works for you and wear it! I really believe that you generally get what you pay for with motorcycle gear due to the different textile technologies and safety features and levels of quality applied so I try to get the best stuff I can. That being said, NOT being able to afford the best stuff out there should not keep a person from getting SOMETHING that will protect their skin and bones! What anyone else thinks of your gear choice just does not matter, so if your friends prefer the jeans and a t-shirt style and you need more coverage, then so be it. Not to be morbid, but it is tough to look cool in a hospital bed or a coffin! Consider your apparel as a safety tool rather than just clothes and accessories. Speaking as one who has taken a
Consider your apparel as a safety tool rather than just clothes and accessories. Speaking as one who has taken a low-speed spill on pavement in a hairpin turn on a mountain pass combined with a little gravel, I walked away with a bruise, I am a believer! I am quite confident I would have had a nasty road rash at least and quite likely could have broken something if I was not geared up. I hope I never have to find out what a high-speed wreck is like. All of my personal gear is armored and I would not have it any other way. I have no shame wearing my armored (Adventure Riding) gear when riding as a passenger on the back of the Harley with Matt both because it makes me feel more comfortable and then I enjoy the ride more. I don’t care if people look at me a little funny sometimes. Most people are pretty cool about it though.
Loving life in the Colorado Rockies!
WMT: You have a mission. Want to tell me what that’s about?
SB: I want women AND men to be as protected as they can be when they ride. To me that means education, training and gear. The issue of gear kept haunting me over these last few years. I had challenges finding mine when I started riding and kept hearing similar complaints echoed by other women I met along the way who had trouble with sizing, fit, availability and the lack of comparably adequate products for women.
I had trouble finding women’s gear that would fit me (I am almost 6’ tall and hover somewhere in the 170-180 pound range and I wear a size 11 shoe). Most of the women’s gear I found was just not large enough for me, much of it lacked the safety features found on the men’s versions, or it was just not good quality and I knew it would be a waste of money. All of these scenarios are completely unacceptable in my mind! So style options were limited enough, but then when I tried to find women’s gear in my size that was armored I had even fewer choices.
The stores near me had pitiful selections and I felt that one should not have to drive many, many miles to get to a store that MIGHT have more than a small handful of options that MIGHT work! The upshot was that I was limited to men’s gear for most things because I could not find acceptable women’s version for me. That bugged me. It REALLY bugged me. I ended up getting the majority of my gear online. Typically, I had to scour multiple sites and do a lot of research and detective work to find what I needed and I am really not an unreasonably picky person!
Finally, I got so frustrated that I decided I wanted to do something to make it easier to get women what they NEED. I wanted to attempt to provide a solution instead of just continuing to complain about it. There are plenty of gear sights out there, but I wanted to compile a solid collection of quality gear in one place for women riders who are serious about riding and being protected but still want to look good, whether on their own bike or as a passenger on someone else’s. I felt like too many sites catered to one type of rider or another but did not really make it easy to look at the options across riding genres.
Another problem I felt is that the existing online sites are largely male-centric and it seems like women’s gear is something of an afterthought. Even the selections at the online stores, which I find are usually better than the brick-and-mortar stores, are often pretty limited. And by the way, just because someone rides a certain type of bike does not mean that they must wear the gear marketed to that style of rider! I want to erase that rider-style barrier so people can see all the choices easily and they can be assured that all of the options shown would offer a certain standard of protection. With the exception of some Kevlar jeans on my site, all of the motorcycle jackets and motorcycle pants on AthenaMotoGear.com have armor. I should mention that because of size and feature limitations on much of the women’s gear, I do offer men’s gear as well on the site. I felt like I had to be able to accommodate as many of the shapes and sizes and needs that are not met by the women’s side of the business.
Besides the development of the AthenaMotoGear.com website to provide gear, I want to give a voice to the incredible community of riders out there who share the same frustrations. Granted, the women’s motorcycle market is still small, but it is growing steadily and that is an undeniable truth. Many of the women coming into this sport tend to be older, quite savvy and know what they want (and are often having trouble finding it). They have money to spend and understand the importance of protection and good gear and want better choices. The days of “pink it and shrink it” are over. You cannot just splash some pink and some flowers on a product and let that be “…good enough, because women riders are a small part of the market”. Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are out there riding and they crash and get hurt just like the men do. Every manufacturer should offer women gear with the same level of safety features and quality as the men’s and it would be nice if they could raise the style bar just a bit as well while they are at it. These women have experience, preferences and voices that deserve to be heard by the manufacturers. I am trying to find a way to start those conversations through this effort.
WMT: What’s your biggest challenge?
SB: I am a single mom hatching a business out of thin air with limited funds and a corporate day job and those things are challenging enough, but the biggest challenge is that I do not, and do not intend to, have a retail store. Because of this, I cannot establish dealer agreements with the many of the brands out there that I would like to. It is extremely frustrating.
I have the utmost appreciation for the suppliers for my site. They all understood when I explained what I am trying to do with AthenaMotoGear.com. I am very grateful for their shared concern over the women’s moto gear market and am extremely appreciative that some of them made special allowances for my drop-shipping business model so that we could work together! Almost everything on my site is there because someone shared my vision and was willing to help me (and help women riders in general), even if it meant doing things differently than they usually do.
WMT: What happens next?
SB: I will continue to work on building the product selection as best I can and round out the various categories offered on AthenaMotoGear.com. The next step is to focus on developing the community part of AthenaMotoGear through social media, blogging, cyber-networking, and good ol’ grassroots efforts (like word of mouth, events, and stickers…lots and lots of stickers!).
Along the way, I want to engage and gather feedback from my customers and others who I will dub Athena Ambassadors, so I can start having conversations with manufacturers about developing better options all types of riders. I would love to host some live or even virtual events where Athena Ambassadors and manufacturers could come together to have a dialog about future products. We should be talking about what works and what doesn’t, what we NEED and what we don’t! It is not hard to get women talking about what is wrong and what they want.
Loaded up and ready to roll!
WMT: How can our community support you?
SB: Tell a friend! We all know there are well-established gear sites out there, but AthenaMotoGear.com aspires to be more than just a gear site. I urge women riders to keep it in mind and consider it for their next purchase, but whether they decide to shop on the site or not, I invite people to get involved and be part of the community. Hopefully, we can make a positive difference in accessible high-quality gear, as well as rider education and training.
I would love to see fewer posts on Facebook talking about friends and loved ones who were badly hurt in a wreck and see more posts about how incredible it was that they walked away with barely a scratch because of their gear or how some tidbit of knowledge they learned helped them avoid an accident or just generally be a better rider!
I am particularly interested in partnering with and promoting other small and/or women-run businesses and other organizations that share the vision for improving rider protection through gear, education and training, and those who just generally desire to raise the bar for riders and rider safety in general.
There is a familiar expression that I love that sums up where my mind is with all of this… “United we stand. Divided we fall.” If we, women riders, and anyone else who cares, work together and collectively communicate to manufacturers what we need from them, our voice is louder and we may be taken more seriously. Simultaneously, we can help ourselves and each other to be better riders by sharing information and participating in continuing rider education so we are safer as a group.
There is a paradigm shift happening in the motorcycle world as women become more involved in it, and I believe women riders (and their friends) can make a valuable difference through collaboration at different levels. I encourage people who feel the same way to get in touch and let’s talk about what we might be able to do together. Let’s build a network of badasses and see what we can do!