Article about the Women’s Motorcycle Conference in Revzilla’s Common Tread Magazine 

The thrum of motors, smell of leather, smiling faces, echoing laughter — motorcycle meet-ups invoke nostalgia through various senses. How could an online conference possibly recreate that experience? Or, does it even need to?

Or could an online conference actually deliver a whole new dimension to the experience? As the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped so many aspects of our lives and pushed us to more digital solutions, the Women’s Motorcycle Conference boldly launched its first live virtual conference back in April. After a resounding success in attendance, organizer Alisa Clickenger decided an encore conference was in order. This month I joined the flock of avatars logging in to educational seminars, inspirational panels, and open-format meet-and-greets with lady riders from across the globe.

So what’s it like when these gatherings go online?

Of pixels and panels

I appreciate that the Women’s Motorcycle Conference Online had a balance of topics that ranged from clinics on technical skills to panels focusing on inspirational stories. My craving for knowledge to improve my wrenching skills was satisfied along with some nourishment for my mental motorcycling state of mind.

Valerie Figarella of Motogrrl Garage demonstrates an oil change

Valerie Figarella of Motogrrl Garage walked attendees through her oil change seminar. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.

When it comes to technical know-how, Valerie Figarella of Motogrrl Garage shared a live feed while conducting an oil change from start to finish. Valerie went into great detail about choosing an oil, explaining what the “w” means in the oil type (spoiler alert, it means winter not weight!), and of course a live step-by-step guide to conducting the oil change.

Valerie Figarella of Motogrrl Garage demonstrates an oil change

Watching a step-by-step demonstration is even more effective when you can ask questions as the job gets done. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.

I’ve watched many tutorial videos online, but being able to post questions and ask Valerie for different view angles as the work happened live was definitely an improved experience.

Joanne Donn gives advice on winter gear

RevZilla’s Joanne Donn, aka Gearchic, offered advice for getting ready for cold weather in her Winter Gear Workshop. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.\

I also enjoyed Joanne Donn’s in-depth guide to gearing up for winter riding. Like a professor, Joanne explained the science of layering, the importance of your own temperature sensitivity, and presented a comprehensive overview of the best options on the market for women’s winter riding gear.

Josée Perreault of Can-Am

Josée Perreault of Can-Am outlined initiatives by her company to encourage more women to ride. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.

Joey Lindhal of Polaris/Indian Motorcycles (shown in the top photo) and Josée Perreault of Can-Am outlined major initiatives their companies are undertaking to grow and nurture the female rider community. At Polaris, an Empowersports Women’s Riding Council has been formed with 12 trailblazing women who meet regularly with Polaris decision-makers to help keep female riders at the forefront of new company policies and direction. Can-Am is also taking an active approach to encouraging more female riders to try motorcycling with their Women’s Mentorship Program. Can-Am aims to increase that number of women riders by making information on learning how to ride more accessible, building an active community of ambassadors to help mentor new riders, and creating a resource site for female riders to visit for fresh content to aid in their riding education and journey. These informational panels were eye-opening, as I am sure many lady riders aren’t aware of the extensive efforts being taken to make sure they are represented in the media and the community.

Andria Yu

Andria Yu explained how motorcycling has helped save small towns like Tazewell, Virginia. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.

Andria Yu of the Motorcycle Industry Council focused on how riding builds community and healthy lifestyles in her panel. The story of how the old mining town Tazewell, Virginia, was revitalized into a tourist destination by the efforts of motorcycle riders who loved the Back of the Dragon route kindled my interest on where and how else motorcycling could serve the greater good in my local communities and beyond.

The Women’s Motorcycle Conference provides inspiration, along with information. Some of the panels made me want to laugh, cry, and ride, all at the same time.

Members of the Women Riders Now Leadership Board and staff, Tricia Szulewski, Erin Sills and Sarah Schilke, presented a panel on connecting the world through motorcycles. They shared stories of overcoming language barriers, experiencing new cultures, and forging friendships through the shared bond of riding with others from all over the globe. During a Women’s International Motorcycle Association rally in Germany, Sarah and the American WIMA chapter found themselves bonding with the Japanese chapter as they both tried to decipher a route on a German map. Sarah spoke a little German, the Japanese had one rider fluent in English, and together they successfully navigated a route to the next rally point.

Sarah Schilke of Women Riders Now

Sarah Schilke of the Women Riders Now Leadership Board told of her experiences of motorcycling crossing cultural and linguistic borders. Screenshot by Jen Dunstan.

This triumph lead to a long-lasting friendship between the two WIMA chapters beyond the German Rally, with each group hosting each other to visit and explore what both cultures had to offer. Sarah maintains a great relationship with WIMA rider Yumiko and get this — Yumiko lives in Germany now and when the two meet up they converse purely in German! Sarah doesn’t know any Japanese, Yumiko knows very little English, but the two riders have a thriving friendship in a second language. When COVID-19 restrictions lift I am hopeful I can seek out a rider community like this that knows no boundaries or barriers.

Four more Women’s Motorcycle Conferences are scheduled, two of them online-only and two in person, one east and one west, also with an online component. Attending virtually costs $25, and an upgrade to $50 includes recordings of the entire conference for future reference.

So what are the pros and cons of a virtual conference?

At the end of the day, most all of us will always prefer an actual ride-to conference IRL (in real life). However, there are advantages to this kind of virtual conference that shouldn’t be ignored. For one, I came out with a lot more knowledge than I normally would from other motorcycle events. At most other rallies, I often sign up for seminars during the day, only to go riding and get lost or forget I had a commitment. While I don’t regret the great memories made on those rides, I know for a fact I absorbed way more knowledge by attending a virtual meet-up without the temptation to “just go ride” and skip seminars.

The virtual conference also tries to replicate the socializing aspect of the in-person conferences with an “After Hours Party” at the end of each day. All participants and panelists get to join a Zoom party meeting and reflect on the day’s happenings. I appreciated the opportunity to ask panelists follow-up questions and to also get to see my fellow attendees “face-to-face.” It felt like an intimate huddling at a cocktail party, full of laughs and making new friends. Through the chat feature, I was able to trade contact info with many fellow female riders so we could keep our virtual friendships going even after the conference.

Another notable aspect is how the online conference eliminates barriers. There are so many motorcycle events I wish I could attend, but there is always some barrier, whether it is time off or the cost of travel. Virtual meet-ups like these allow me to connect with riders and have experiences that I normally would miss because I can’t go to every event I’d like to join. Those barriers are even bigger for many new or potential riders, who can log in to their first conference much easier than they can travel across the country to one.

The COVID-19 epidemic is the main reason for this type of event, but I think there is value in a virtual meet-up, with or without the constraints of COVID-19. At the end of the day, motorcycling is in our hearts and at our core, and though we didn’t ride to this conference, the spirit and focus remained unchanged. Through screens or behind handlebars, we will always find a way to connect with our love of riding.