Some motorcyclists stick to riding. Others push the envelope a little further and work hard to lower barriers for new people interested in the sport. California native Joanne Donn is one of the latter. Joanne rides a smoking hot bike – a black and gold Triumph Street Triple R – and she rides it fast. She is the founder of GearChic and co-founder of the Moterrific podcast. She has worked as an MSF instructor and now works in her dream job in the motorcycling industry for Revzilla, the US based motorcycle gear retail store. Global Women Who Ride talks to Joanne about her love for motorcycling and her drive for working on projects to make riding more accessible to women riders. [Rashmi Tambe – Editor]
Please introduce yourself. I am a Korean-American motorcyclist formerly from San Francisco, now living in Philadelphia. I ride a Triumph Street Triple R and work at Revzilla. I’m the founder of GearChic where I help women riders find well fitting motorcycle gear. I run a podcast with my dear friend Cristi Farrell on our show Moterrific, the first motorcycle podcast hosted by women. I love talking about motorcycles, riding in California, riding in general, and everything to do with motorcycles! (smiles)
Describe your path into motorcycling. It all started with a 50 cc scooter back in 2003. Learning to ride was an unplanned, unexpected event for me. It took me completely by surprise and I had no idea that I could become this passionate about something like motorcycling! Pretty soon I started riding my husband’s Ninja and he had to get another one. I greatly enjoyed the time I spent on it, riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles more than a few times.
I enrolled in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s training course to become a certified Rider Coach to teach the Basic Riding Course. I was an instructor for almost eight years before I left California.
I upgraded to a Kawasaki Z750S because I wanted a bigger bike that would be more comfortable on the highway and for longer rides. Unfortunately, the bike crushed my confidence. It was set up for a heavier person and ergonomically not the best for someone of my stature. With barely 7,000 miles on it, I finally sold it and purchased an almost new Suzuki SV650S.
What a world of difference the right bike makes when your confidence is at rock bottom! The minute I took it for a first ride I knew we were going to have so much fun. Within a few months I had over 5,000 miles on the SV. I gained much more confidence in corners. I realized that I wasn’t horrible at riding, I just needed the right bike! Over the next five years I fell in love with sport touring and spent more time riding around California and parts of Nevada and Oregon.
I now own a Triumph Street Triple R whom I affectionately named Goldie. I have a feeling that Goldie and I will be together for quite some time. It is everything I wanted in a sportbike – lightweight, smooth suspension and handling, generous low end power, and the ability to effortlessly take corners and ride long distances.
I have made so many new friends and had some incredible opportunities via motorcycling. I’ve traveled with the US-based International Motorcycle Shows, attended EICMA, the largest European motorcycle show, and met other women riders who have accomplished so much. I also found a job that pays me to do what I love. What more could I ask for?
Tell us more about GearChic. I started GearChic (pronounced Gear-Chick but spelled without the ‘k’) because there were no resources solely dedicated to the topic of women’s motorcycle gear. I was trying to shop for gear for myself and I couldn’t find something as simple as a list of companies that manufactured women’s motorcycle gear. So I made a list, and GearChic was born.
After that I decided that we needed more women’s gear reviews so I started doing my own, adding a crucial element of all apparel reviews that was severely lacking: proper fit. Everyone told you where to shop and how much to spend but no one was telling you how to shop. It’s such a different experience when you’re going from buying t-shirts and jeans to Protective Motorcycle Safety Gear. A rider needs to be educated and informed before making such a large investment that can directly affect her safety.
One of the great things about running GearChic is that I’ve been able to meet women from all over the world, help them find proper gear, and hopefully motivate a few of them to ride the bikes of their dreams without fear or hesitation.
You also co-run the Moterrific podcast. How did that begin and what drives you to keep it going? I run Moterrific with my friend Cristi. We had met online via Twitter about five years ago. It just so happened that she came to the International Motorcycle Show at Long Beach and we were finally able to meet in person.
Through emailing and chatting offline we came up with the idea of doing a podcast which would enable us to talk endlessly about the one topic that we both have a passion for – two wheels! It sort of evolved from there, even after I left her to work in Pennsylvania. I think our friendship and love of motorcycling keeps it going. I’ve learned a lot from her and look forward to more episodes and a lifetime of friendship.
Can you tell us a good story from your riding experiences? Here’s one that happened just last month. Although it sounds like a bad story, it actually ended up being a very good experience in knowing that good people are everywhere. Last month I lowsided on a back country road and ended up totaling my motorcycle. My husband crashed right behind me and his bike became unsafe to ride home as well.
We were about 90 miles from home, so it became a challenge to find a way to get ourselves and our bikes home without costing a fortune. We were also having trouble finding a business that would help us get our bikes home. A very good samaritan who was driving by the accident opened up his home to us that afternoon. And his best friend graciously offered to drive and our motorcycles all the way home! They were complete strangers, but they wouldn’t let us compensate them for their time and generosity. They were simply kind, wonderful human beings who saw that we needed help and offered it without the expectation of anything in return. How truly amazing is that?
You’re a small-statured woman who rides a tall, slightly heavy bike. Can you speak more on that? I never imagined I would be riding a tall, heavy bike. Everyone always tells you that certain bikes are for short people and certain bikes are for tall people. I’m here to tell you that is simply not true, and if you really want something you can make it happen. It simply takes patience, persistence and practice. Learning to ride and becoming confident enough to ride exactly what I want took years of riding the right bike, wearing the right gear and making a lot of mistakes.
Instead of taking the obvious route of lowering a motorcycle that I wanted to ride, I figured out how I needed to ride that motorcycle, if that makes sense. Figuring out how to ride taller yet lighter bikes is the only way I’ve been able to get to the point where even though my inseam is just 28.5″, I can ride a 450 lb bike with a 33” seat height. If someone tells you that you have to flat foot your motorcycle, you can tell them they’re flat out wrong.
East Coast vs. West Coast riding scenes in the United States – what’s different and what do you miss? There is such a huge difference! I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to miss the roads I was so used to riding in California. I was spoiled by the fact that I lived ten minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, which led to one of the most beautiful mountain roads on Mount Tamalpais. I used to be able to go riding and be home in a couple hours. In Philadelphia, it takes at least an hour to leave the city to go find the kind of challenging, technical riding that I love so much. But now my riding has become an all day event, which I definitely enjoy as well but sometimes you just want a quick ride to clear your mind or have fun.
Back in the San Francisco Bay Area, the riding scene was dominated by sport touring, adventure riding, supermoto, road racing and cafe customs. Out here cruisers are much more popular. There is also a startling lack of a proper helmet law. It also seems that many riders are woefully uninformed about the risks of riding without proper gear.
Is there any other kind of motorcycling that you’d like to try your hand at? Dual sport riding! My next purchase will be a small 250-500 cc dual sport motorcycle – probably something along the lines of a Kawasaki KLX250 or Suzuki DR200SE – to explorer the beautiful trail riding that Pennsylvania has to offer. It’s something I’ve been wanting to pursue for awhile, but since my heart really belongs to sport touring at the moment I’m putting it off until I find the right time to make that investment.
Who are your motorcycling heroes? I would have to say that any woman who has ridden long distances solo is my hero. I think it takes a lot of determination and self-confidence to accomplish that level of riding, especially when she’s riding around the world! I’ve met so many women who have done this. Women like Alisa Clickenger aka MotoAdventureGal, Cristi Farrell aka ADVGoddess, Kate Johnston, and Alison’s Wanderland to name a few. They have my utmost respect and I yearn to accomplish a tenth of what those women have in such a short period of time.
If you could change one thing about the world of motorcycling what would it be? I guess it would have to be the perception that women riders are different. Yes, we are a different gender. But no, we do not need anything special when it comes to riding except when it comes to protective apparel because we do indeed require different fitting clothing. Otherwise we can ride the same bikes, accomplish the same goals and in many cases outperform men when it comes to riding. I will ride that corner as well as a man, if not a little faster and smoother in some cases!
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? That no matter what people told me and others like me, that I accomplished things that I wasn’t supposed to. Like riding tall motorcycles. Like taking risks. Like moving thousands of miles away from home to pursue my dreams. That riding motorcycles means prioritizing safety over worrying about what people thought about me.
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