Biker Lifestyle Versus Biker Experience

“Augusta and Adeline Van Buren (related to President van Buren) grew up as Society Girls who eventually married, raise families, and held jobs. But that’s not the whole story. Raised in New York City, they sound like stereotypes of their time. Except that on July 4, 1916 they left from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and trekked west on two Power Plus Indian motorcycles equipped with gas headlights.

They crossed the Rockies and the western desert near the great salt lake, reaching Los Angeles on September 8. On their motorcycling journey across the American continent they reached Pike’s Peak Colorado just a year after the first rough, dangerous trail had been cut to it’s 14,109 foot summit. Taking on the challenge, they became the first women to ride that trail on any kind of motorized vehicle. On this epic journey they crashed, fought fatigue, ruts, and mud. And as Bikers, they experienced police harassment, in small towns they passed through along the way, for dressing in men’s leather riding suits. Obviously, this marathon motorcycle experience from any perspective qualifies them as Bikers. After all, even before the Depression they undertook a true Motorcycle Gypsy Experience. So, the question is,
had Augusta and Adeline lived the motorcycle lifestyle? Or had they lived the motorcycling experience?

What we have here is a contradiction in terms: “Lifestyle” versus “Life Experience.”
Doing the arithmetic you get “Style” versus “Experience”. Words mean something or at least they’re supposed to. It’s basically very simple. Webster defines the word “style” as Designation or Title, a manner of expression. And lifestyle is defined by, 1- getting a Designation (recognition as a Biker), 2- getting a Title (call a Biker), 3- expressing a manner (acts like a Biker). Experience is very simply “the act of doing.” Hence “living the motorcycle experience” is basically doing it, as the Van Buren sisters did. Perhaps a more concise term would be “Biker Experience. Lets face it, someone who has “Biker Experience” is far more interesting to talk to than someone who simply expresses “Biker Style.” Wouldn’t it have been great to talk with Augusta and Adeline Van Buren?” Story By Nicker

21 Responses to “Biker Lifestyle Versus Biker Experience”

  1. 1 Dave B. Jan 5th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Is there more detailed information on this story available, perhaps a magazine article or a book on the subject… I’m sure a lot of women that ride would enjoy this story.
    Hell, I’m a guy and I dig the story!

  2. 2 Lyle Jan 5th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    If they were living the lifestyle they would have trailered and then dressed up in leather halter tops or string bikinis. But they were experiencing the ride and actually rode so they dressed accordingly.
    Their trip was pretty monumental at the time considering the machines they were on and the stigma against women riders who I don’t think could even vote in 1916. That’d even be a hell of a ride on modern machines. You know those girls knew how to wrench too!

  3. 3 Nicker Jan 5th, 2009 at 10:08 pm


    I found several references while tracking down some stuff on bikers in the depression. As i recall these Gals have made the AMA hall of fame. Ya might try that our first.

    Glad ya liked it, i certainly enjoyed writing it……. 🙂


  4. 4 BadMonkeyMW Jan 6th, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Just plain cool. True heroes of the motorcycle world.

  5. 5 Dave Mann Jan 6th, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Here are links to two more articles about Augusta and Adeline Van Buren:

  6. 6 rodent Jan 6th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    They were real Springfield Indians not imposters from Gilroy or North Carolina.

  7. 7 Mike Kiwi Tomas, Kiwi Indian M/C Jan 6th, 2009 at 11:40 am

    One has to enjoy this cool history and story. I would think calling them a biker would be a derogatory term back then as they would have most likely been motorcyclists or motocyclists.
    They would have been real riders to ride an old Indian Power Plus. While the Power Plus was the best and most reliable bike in its era it still was quite a handful to ride. Manual spark advance and retard, choke, manual carb adjustment for different alititudes, total loss oiling (auxiliary hand oil pump), acetelyne lighting, minimal suspension and seating, no paved roads, mud, lack of bridges, challenging to say the least. There was a lot going on plus it only had rear breaks (no front brakes). To say it was a handful would be an estimating their riding abilities. They would not have been 2 queens just plonked on a bike for a publicity stunt. I tip my hat to these wonderful ladies.
    Another interesting character is Cannonball Baker who used to do speed runs upon Indian Power Plus’ from coast to coast. A few people have tried to redo his original tracks upon Power Plus’ upon todays roads and still can’t beat his time from the teens when there were dirt/mud roads, no bridges (had to meet barges) etc. Outstanding and tough riders.

  8. 8 Pepper Jan 6th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Effie & Avis Hotchkiss did the trip in 1915, with daughter Effie riding a Harley and her mother Avis in a sidecar. I’m not certain of Team Hotchkiss’ motivation, but the Van Buren sisters were compelled to make the ride in 1916 partially because women did not have the right to vote.
    The argument used against women voting was our delicate minds could not handle the politics of the day.
    The sisters wanted the government to consider enlisting women as motorcycle couriers during WWI. This would not only free up more men to fight, it would also help dispute the myth of our delicate nature and inability to understand politics/war.
    The government chose not to accept the accomplishment as proof of women’s abilities and women were not utilized as couriers.
    Interestingly enough, even the motorcycle magazines of the day diminished the incredibly difficult yet triumphant adventure as fluff, mocking the journey in editorial pieces during and after the ride. Still the sister’s remarkable adventure, their stamina and fearlessness, proved women were capable and contributing members of society, and made it much easier for all of the women who came after them to throw a leg over and ride! Glass ceiling take that!
    Women were emancipated in 1920 and went on to ride as motorcycle couriers in WWII.

  9. 9 Nicker Jan 6th, 2009 at 5:57 pm


    “… magazines of the day diminished the incredibly difficult difficult yet triumphant adventure…”

    Good call, seems the Media wasn’t to be trusted….. even back then….. 🙂

    Thanks for the Hotchkiss ref.


  10. 10 Dave B. Jan 6th, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for the added info guys. Makes for a cool read!

  11. 11 Gina Woods Jan 7th, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Nice recap Pepper 🙂
    Linda “Jo” Giovannoni is an influential motorcycle journalist and rider who co-founded Harley Women magazine, the first national motorcycling publication devoted to women motorcycle enthusiasts…Jo & former partner Cris Sommers did extensive stories of women pioneers including stories on the Van Buren sisters and the Hotchkiss’ duo. If ever you get a chance to catch up on good reading and can still find these magazines…it’s recommended… Jo is also in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame 1996 – …For that matter so is Cris – 2008 !! Congrats to both ladies for their extensive research and all the women pioneers of today & yesteryear !

  12. 12 gustian Jan 7th, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Nicker,

    always a pleasure reading your items.

    RE ; “Lifestyle” versus “Life Experience.”

    Back in time, my choice of the “biker lifestyle” , made me sometimes “feel” the “biker experience”.
    That’s my humble explication.

    RE; ” And as Bikers, they experienced police harassment, in small towns they passed through along the way, for dressing in men’s leather riding suits.”

    As I refere to my earlier post, even I did experience this. Back in the seventies, sixty years later (!)than your story , wearing leathersuits and grease pants were related to scum of the street. (as I said, it didn’t even mather I was already a police-officer at that time) But we didn’t care and believed in our passion!

    Now, too many so-called “bikers” are more “lifestyle-guys” who will never experience “the biker experience”…………..
    They should take humble lessons in reading your article ! !

    Keep up the good work , my friend

    peace, gustian

  13. 13 Nicker Jan 8th, 2009 at 2:55 am

    Thanks Gustian
    Ya, Style is overrated….. 🙂


  14. 14 Me.... Jan 8th, 2009 at 1:12 pm


    “If they were living the lifestyle they would have trailered and then dressed up in leather halter tops or string bikinis”.

    What a stupid thing to say. It was 1916. Sorry. The dumb comment just struck me wrong. Why is there always some jackass who has to ruin a great story??



  15. 15 Nicker Jan 8th, 2009 at 11:15 pm


    Your must-a missed Lyle’s point (and mine).

    Had these ladies been “Styling” they would-a hauled their bikes( by train in 1916).
    But they weren’t. The were the “Real McCoy” Not posers.

    Spot on Lyle.


  16. 16 Sasha Jan 9th, 2009 at 10:23 am

    The Van Buren sisters are surely favorites in women in motorcycle history. They are the definition of rockin’ and rollin’ along the countryside and forging their own path since roads were scarce back then.

  17. 17 Nicker Jan 9th, 2009 at 5:47 pm


    Ya that’s the point.

    “… forging their own path since roads were scarce …”

    Compare that to:
    Out for less than 2 weeks, hopping between KOAs with an all weather tent, GPS, Cell-phone, Road-service, 6″ Air mattress, Down-filled mummy bag, mostly paved roads, and world class suspension…..
    No to mention eating at restaurants every day.

    And i think i’m “Roughing” it…… 🙂


  18. 18 Cris Sommer-Simmons Jan 16th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Nice to see some mention of the Van Buren sisters. They were amazing to embark on such a journey back in 1916. Makes me want to fire up the old VL and take a putt.

    These early women motorcyclists ( and there were many more than most people realize) blazed the trail for the rest of us and we are proud of them.

    There’s no way they would have put their bikes on a trailer. The ride is what it’s all about, right?


  19. 19 Nicker Jan 16th, 2009 at 10:00 pm


    “… The ride is what it’s all about, right?…”

    Ya….. that and the “Integirty” of the rider.


  20. 20 raycwheeler Jan 17th, 2009 at 1:42 am


    well said , you have got to have class and integrity .


  21. 21 michelle May 6th, 2009 at 11:09 am

    What an inspiration! I currently live the life – have been on the road for 3 years now 2.5 of that on a motorcycle. I camp where I find it etc. It has been an exciting journey…

    But I have noticed lately a submission to fear, it has certainly slowed down my travels the past year. I have spent more time with family and friends and less on the road. Women like these show me the possibility of getting past the fear.

    Thanks for sharing this… I just found it today… This is just what I needed…

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Cyril Huze