Gabrielle Cesar-McBride

What is it like to dirt bike in the arid desert of the North American state of Arizona? Find out from veteran dirt biker Gabrille Cesar-McBride as she chats with us about riding on the sand dunes, trails and washes of her adopted state, crashing and getting back on, and her love for the Honda CR250Rs.

Rashmi Tambe
Editor, Global Women Who Ride

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Name: Gabrielle Cesar-McBride
Age: 35
Country: United States
Languages: English, French
Years Riding: 10
Height: 5’7″
Inseam: 30″
Current Motorcycles: 2003 Honda CR250R
Past motorcycles: 2001 Honda CR250R
Riding Gear: Alpinestars Stella Tech 6 boots, Alpinestars Stella all-weather riding jacket, Troy Lee Designs & Fox jerseys, Oneal & Fox riding leathers, No Fear chest protector, Oneal helmet, Scott Goggles, combination kidney belt and spinal support, Thor MX knee braces, Thor MX gloves, Oneal all weather gloves
Miles Per Year: 250-1,000

 

Please introduce yourself.
I am a married, home-based mother of three children. Although I was born and raised a city girl, I moved to the Wild West a decade ago. After some moving around within Southern California, I find myself firmly planted in the high desert foothills of Western Arizona in a small town called Lake Havasu.

I am passionate about sustainability and have been spending any free time I have writing and researching for a project I founded called TrashSanity, which raises awareness about the current state of global waste production and management. I also do some creative writing at my blog www.mobilizedmama.com.

In a perfect world I would ride all day and write all night! I love riding and wish that I had more time to do it. I had knee surgery a few months ago to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, injuries I sustained during a crash several years ago. Now that I’ve sufficiently recovered and as the kids are getting bigger and more independent, I am able to commit myself once again to more time spent atop my steel horse.

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Describe your path into motorcycling.
My first ever memory of motorcycles was seeing a picture in my dad’s scrapbook from his time served in the US Army. While stationed in Germany he rode a motorcycle across the country. The image of him standing in front of his bike looking so cool, and the accompanying story of his epic ride would resonate within me for years to come. He never had a motorcycle when I was a kid, but he had a little moped and even that little teaser was enough to inspire my desire to ride motorcycles.

My hometown Washington DC was not really a big motorcycling town but it was very bicycle friendly. I rode bicycles pretty intensely for most of my life, both as a commuter and as a bicycle messenger. I think this was where I developed the muscle memory which allowed me to pick up riding motorcycles relatively quickly. Dodging cars on a bicycle in the city involves basically all the same reflexes required to dodge boulders and other dangers in the desert.

When I was 26, I made the decision to leave DC to try my luck on the West Coast. I left with two goals: learning to weld and learning to ride motorcycles. Within six weeks of arriving in California, I was happily doing both!

I met a group of guys who owned a welding and mechanic shop. That’s where I started riding. They all rode dirt bikes and though I hadn’t considered the idea of dirt or desert riding, I quickly discovered that I loved both. Those guys exposed me to some of the craziest trails that my little city girl self could ever imagine! The passion was ignited. And because of that exposure, I know that I will ride until my body doesn’t work anymore or until I’m dead. Whichever comes first!

What bike did you first start on and why?
The first bike I ever got to ride on my own was a 2001 Honda CR250R. It was the first one I ever had anyone offer to teach me to ride. It belonged to one of the guys at the shop and he eventually sold it to me.

Describe your current motorcycle.
I have a 2003 Honda CR250R. I’ve stayed loyal to my CRs! I love them because, like everything Honda makes, they go forever and can bounce back after a serious beating. I’ve always been a fan of Hondas and I love to ride in the dirt. It’s pretty hard to top a CR250 for that. However, with the pace at which new technology is moving, I have to say I would really like to upgrade to one of the newer 4 strokes like a CRF250 or even a CRF450.

Even though I love the top end power of the 2 stroke motor, from what I understand they’ve done a good job of replicating that feeling with the new 4 strokes. I haven’t really felt inspired to get a street bike but I could see myself getting an XL for thumping around town!

Do you have a motorcycling achievement that you take pride in?
Yes, a few. Earlier in my riding career, I participated in a desert poker run. It was a pretty laid back race but I was the only female to compete and amazingly ended up coming in 3rd! At the finish line, the announcer challenged me to jump a bike that was downed in the sand. I revved the throttle, pinned it, rode it up the little make-shift ramp they’d set up, and jumped the bike. I bailed on the landing, but when I stood up and took off my helmet, everyone saw I was a woman and just erupted!! They started chanting “Jump Chick! Jump Chick!” It was pretty rad. I have since learned to stick the landing.

Other than that, I have gone on some pretty gnarly rides that were extremely challenging and probably way beyond my skill level. But because I was stubborn and didn’t want to quit, especially in front of the boys, I pushed myself and got rewarded with some of the most amazing feelings of achievement imaginable.

There’s nothing quite like looking back down some insane, rocky, steep trail with clouds below you, participating in a perfect union between woman, nature and machine.

Can you tell us a good story from your rides?
Probably the one above! But I have also ridden out of some hard wrecks. I guess one of the most hilarious and scary of these took place on one of my first big group rides with the guys. We were camping in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the Mojave desert, east of Los Angeles. We left camp and headed towards the higher elevation and wilder trails. We were riding fast up a rocky dirt road that was basically more of a big wash. I was super excited despite my lack of experience. The guys started doing wheelies all around me and I got amped!

Before I knew it, I was in fourth gear, pinned and riding through a huge dust cloud. Suddenly my front wheel stopped short on a big rut. I was so inexperienced I didn’t even know to pop the clutch to get my front wheel up! I endo’d SO HARD!! I remember cartwheeling through the dirt and seeing the bike flipping end over end behind me! It was pretty terrifying. I have no idea exactly what I did but when I stopped sliding forward I carefully stood up and started wiping the dirt and sand off my gear. I just looked up to see a circle of dropped jaws. All the guys were staring like they’d seen a ghost! They said that I had rolled out of the wreck “like a football player” – just tucked and rolled. They were stunned that I wasn’t seriously hurt and that I actually continued the ride! I got some pretty radical respect that day.

I also gained respect for the importance of gear. My gear obviously saved me from serious injuries. I actually love being suited up in my riding gear. I feel like a warrior ready for battle!

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Have you done any long distance road trips?
I have ridden so little on the actual pavement that it’s kind of pathetic. But my longest desert ride was over 100 miles of trails in one day. We ran out of gas and had to push our bikes at one point. My forearms were shredded cheese for a few days after that.

Have you made any close female friendships due to motorcycling?
I really wish I could answer in the affirmative to this question. I have not met nearly enough women riders. But hopefully I will now!

Do you do maintenance and repairs on your bike?
I try to do as much basic upkeep and maintenance as I can and I always have the service manuals for my bikes. I am comfortable replacing levers, changing oil, bleeding brakes, adjusting sag, cleaning the air box and replacing air filter, changing tires, tightening spokes etc. I have done apprenticeships in precision metal fabrication and in the past I’ve made skid plates and hand guards for dirt bikes.

I suppose one of my favorite motorcycle related memories involves repairing my bike. I was riding in a river bed in Southern California and snapped my chain. The chain ended up getting locked up in the gearshift linkage. I didn’t have a lot of cash and decided to fix the bike myself. I had to crack the right side of the case and remove the linkage and clutch to get the whole thing unlocked and be able to access and replace the broken chain. When I got everything back together, I tightened the bolts and kicked the starter. She started on the first kick! I couldn’t believe it. I definitely came to an understanding as to why men in general are often the ones who are passionate for motors. When you put parts together and make an engine turn over and rev it, it’s almost like breathing life into something. I developed my own little theory that many men’s obsession with motors is part of their envy at their inability to make and birth babies. Making a motor come to life is kind of like bringing new life into the world. Kind of.

Do you have any motorcycling heroes?
I do and they’re all a lot younger than me. I think Ashley Fiolek, Jolene Van Vugt and Tarah Geiger are all wonderful role models in the world of motorcycling. They are among the top racers in the world of Women’s Motocross.

Ashley Fiolek is an incredible racer, and has been a tour de force since showing up on the racing circuit at the tender age of 7.  Now at age 23, she is a 4 time WMA Champion, and the youngest champion ever.  Oh, and did I mention she’s deaf??  Yup.  She’s completely deaf since birth.  She also happens to be the first female rider for the Honda Factory Racing Team. If she’s not a role model then I’m not sure who is!!

Jolene Van Vugt is a Canadian Moto racer.  She is probably best known as the only female rider on Travis Pastrana’s infamous “Nitro Circus” crew, and touring extreme sports, trick show, of the same name.  Jolene is a stand out, for doing many of the same big air tricks, as the boys she rides with.

Tarah Gieger could be considered somewhat of a veteran in the racing world.  She was one of the first champions of the Women’s Motocross Association, and is an X Games Moto champion.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into motorcycling?
Don’t be scared to ask someone who rides to take you out and teach you! People who ride are more than likely eager to get others to share in the incredible joy of motorcycles. Just reach out and I’m sure you’ll find yourself in the saddle pretty quickly!

RIDING IN ARIZONA

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If I were to visit you and we went riding for one short morning ride where would you take me?
Right up the street! I basically live in the middle of a desert riding playground. Our home is just a three minute ride from the local foothills where there are a huge variety of trails. These vary from flats and even some sandy dune areas to mountainous rock crops. I usually stick to a big loop that starts at the end of a housing track up the road. There are so many washes and trails to explore it’s basically just fun to zig zag through the web of trails and whoops. I try to stay within a certain boundary because I often ride alone.

Washes?
In the desert, when it rains we are subject to flash floods.  The water will collect in certain areas, ravines  etc. and will erode “tracks” in the dirt and sand. We call them “washes”.  They are basically like dry stream or river beds, a naturally formed gutter system carrying the water downhill.  They’re everywhere and they trace a mosaic of trails down from the foothills.  They can be a lot of fun to ride in if you find a nice sandy section.  But they can be hazardous, rutted out, and full of rocks as well.  So, riding in them, if you are unfamiliar, can be a gamble.  Washes will often crisscross graded dirt roads that go up in the hills.  These can result in some massive ruts like the one I slammed into while riding with the fellas.

What’s the best part about riding in Arizona?
The weather is fantastic nine months out of the year. It’s high desert so the climate is very arid but we do get a sizable monsoon season which creates amazing dirt riding conditions. Typically the dirt is hard pack so it can be a little bit of a rough ride. It is very rocky but there are some terrific trails. There is tons of local wildlife to appreciate on a regional ride from hawks and road runners to rattle snakes and coyotes. We have many of the varieties of cactus and low brush that one would expect in the desert.

Best of all about this part of the country is the general sense of freedom. You can just pick a direction and go. There aren’t a lot of Bureau of Land Management restrictions out here like there are in California so it’s not like trail riding is set to a specific area. There are trails everywhere!

What kind of food can riders expect to stop for on the way that is typical to your region?
There is an amazing little thai restaurant in town and several diners that are top-notch. I would say that you are most likely to find good modern American fare.

If a motorcyclist from another country visited your state what are the top rides you would recommend?
There is an awesome little area of dunes about 15 miles down the road. We call it “Mini-Pismo” after one of our favorite SoCal riding spots Pismo Beach. It’s a perfect natural track and runs with hill climbs of soft white sand. It’s a nice break from the hard pack! [Link to Route]

Living near a huge lake there are some trails that go right up to the water’s edge or you can go up into the foothills and look out over some gorgeous views.

How does the topography of the place you live affect the kind of motorcycling you choose to do?
We are in the high desert which provides virtually limitless opportunities for incredible riding. If I want to go for a putt, I can. If I want to be extremely challenged I can do that too. The landscape is varied and so is the riding. From slow sloping hills flats and wide trails to steep hill climbs and narrow cliff-side trails. You can keep it mellow or you can go crazy. It’s totally up to the rider but the sky’s the limit out here!

What is the traffic like and how does it affect motorcycle riding?
I hardly ever ride in the street. However, living in a small town makes traffic of relatively low concern to street riders in the area.

What are the best months for riding?
September to May. Basically anytime that’s not around summertime when temperatures average around 110 F (~ 43 C).

Is it safe to ride at night where you live?
If you have adequate lighting! I wouldn’t ever recommend riding trails at night without a good HID light kit installed. I personally don’t ride at night. Having three children ages 5 and under it’s hard to imagine ever having a reason or the opportunity to go for a night ride!

Is motorcycle theft a problem?
No not at all. In fact this is one of the safest communities in the state.

Are there any motorcycle specific laws?
The one thing I don’t particularly care for is the lack of a helmet law. Helmets are not required by law and a surprising number of people riding in the street do not wear them. I personally find this quite foolish.

I used to live in Southern California where it is legal to “ride the line.” That’s not the case in Arizona.  Motorcyclists must stay in their lane and conduct themselves like a car. I would say there is no discrimination towards riders at all. If anything it’s the opposite. People show courtesy and give the right of way to motorcycles out here.

How do the police treat motorcyclists? How about car drivers?
I haven’t ever noticed local police hassling riders. Motorcycles are extremely popular and common in this area so drivers are pretty aware of them. People are pretty respectful of riders.

Can you describe the motorcycle license test?
Ummm. No. I’ve never actually taken the test! I haven’t ever had the cause for a license since I ride almost exclusively off-road. I should probably go ahead and get my license though!

Do you have access to high quality motorcycling gear in your part of the world?
Absolutely tons!

Is there a local motorcycling event that you try and attend regularly?
I am pretty new to the immediate area but I plan to start looking for poker runs to attend and participate in. Now that I am no longer pregnant or nursing and my two older ones are in pre-K school I feel like I can start devoting more time to riding and riding specific activities. I’m aware of some of the bigger local events like the massive Laughlin River Run  but have yet to attend this event personally.

Are any motorcycle related sports popular where you live and do women actively participate in them?
There are some local motorcycle clubs and a local dirt track for racing but I’m not sure if any of these cater to women specifically or have any large number of women participants. Off road riding is extremely popular in this town and basically every other house has a dirt bike quad or rhino in the garage. That’s part of why we love it so much here! I have actually reached out to several local mom’s groups inquiring about any mamas who ride! I’d love to start a women’s motorcycle club in the area.

How are women motorcycle riders treated?
There are a lot of Harley enthusiasts out here as well as dirt bikers. I’d say that the motorcycling community in this area – though obviously susceptible to embracing the stereotypes that one would generally expect to find with regards to women and motorcycles – is pretty open and receptive to women riders and I definitely see plenty of women riding Harleys.

Do female and male motorcyclists have the same amount of freedom to pursue motorcycling activities?
Yes. Fortunately I live in a place where women and men have basically equal freedom and opportunity to pursue whatever interests them.

GABRIELLE RECOMMENDS

Movies: On Any Sunday
Magazines: Transworld Motocross; Dirt Rider; Motocross Action
Websites: www.globalwomenwhoride.com of course!
Professional Motorcyclist: Jeremy McGrath
Female Motorcyclist: Ashley Fiolek
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