Name: Suzanne Jolly
Role: President, Squamish Motorcycle Festival
Suzanne, you are the first woman to be interviewed for this series, and as president of the Squamish Motorcycle Festival you definitely are one of the “Leading Ladies in the BC Motorcycle Industry”. What was your motivation for founding this event and when did you get started?
I started riding in 2012 and loved it so much that I planned a solo motorcycle trip in Nicaragua. Many people in my circle advised me to not go on this journey, because of the dangers of riding, travelling alone and the location. However, the Nicaraguans I talked to during my planning all encouraged me to go for it – and I did. In the spirit of creating more of a ‘Yes!’ world, I returned and right away dove into another project people were skeptic about: a motorcycle festival. Squamish is the perfect location, since it combines street and adventure riding as well as dirt biking trails. The more I talked about my idea of starting a festival, the more fellow riders and friends of friends got inspired by the idea and referred me to other enthusiasts and experts. I was so lucky to have Jamieson Murray, Julianne Knoll, Pete Auld, and Brian Coombs come on board to help me create the first festival. Through their connections, we got local stores, dealerships, and collectors on board, who supported the festival and helped us pull it all together. I don’t consider myself to be in the motorcycle industry, since it’s only something I do as a volunteer in my spare time, but I definitely promote it with this event. We are in the third year of the Squamish Motorcycle Festival now, and I cannot wait to further the role of this city as a place of unending adventure and amazing local businesses.
How did you initially get inspired to ride motorcycles, and what was your first bike?
I wanted to ride motorcycles ever since I was a child really, but my family and especially my parents were against it. When I had a boyfriend who rode, I mentioned that I had wanted to ride but hesitated to do so, because it was against my family’s wishes. His response really made me think: “At what age do you get to do what you want with your own life?” So I made the decision. I bought my first motorcycle, a 2007 Suzuki DRZ 400 S, just a couple of weeks after taking a riding course. It is probably for the better that I only started riding in my thirties and on a relatively small bike, because I make smarter decisions about safety and speed now than I would have in my twenties I think. I’m still always pushing the limits of my poor DRZ.
What do you ride now?
I still have “Suzi Blue” my DRZ, on which I’ve put over 40,000 adventurous kilometers on- and off-road by now. But I am on the lookout for a bigger dual sport bike, which is needed for my long commute to UBC from Britannia Beach and for some possible road trips to California or Montana.
What is your absolute dream motorcycle?
I love adventure bikes and dual sports, so a BMW GS 1200 would be perfect! Honda’s African Twin is a more realistic option for now though, as is a CB500X which I will test ride as soon as I’m fully healed up. I also really like the looks of the new Ducati Scrambler.
You have a very diverse professional background in higher education, recreational services, consulting and communications. How do these skills help you in organizing the Squamish Motorcycle Festival?
My experience in these areas definitely helps me with the event, since it is all about relationship-building. My current job at UBC focuses on creating access to physical activity for beginners, so it’s pretty similar to what I think of for the festival. It is designed for experienced riders, but I also intend to make it an entry-way into the motorcycle community by providing beginners with skills, resources and relationships to form their own riding family.
You are also passionate about holistic health and promote the benefits of for example physical and mental activity. How can this be connected to motorcycling?
I think that riding is an extension of everything else we can do for our well-being, it can be a treatment, a way to live life to the fullest and even a spiritual experience. Of course I think of holistic approaches to riding injuries and rehab, but I’m mostly interested in the ergonomics of riding, the design of motorcycles and roads, and how both could be more rider-friendly. I particularly think of this in terms of the way in which bikes are typically built for men’s bodies and how that puts women at an inherently inefficient riding positions or puts stress on their bodies. Many dual sport bikes also tend to be too tall for a lot of women, meaning there’s less women going to opt into dual sport riding because they won’t feel comfortable or confident. It continues from there, for example with the levers on my DRZ causing me to reach my hand out for them and how that led me to my first accident. These things are changing, but far too slow for my liking!
Do you have any health tips for our riding readers, e.g. necessities for longer journeys?
There are very practical things, such as drinking enough water and being well-rested, but I think getting your motorcycle’s ergonomic specs assessed for your build is very essential. Bikes are not made for every ’body’, so we need to adjust before their set-up breaks us. I also like to remind people that if you ride for an hour, it’s like holding your body in a yoga pose for an hour, it’s clearly a workout. I love that: every spring, back on my bike a lot means that I get my abs back!
An event like the Squamish Motorcycle Festival is all about coming together. What do you enjoy most about the motorcycle community?
The fact that motorcyclists are always up for a chat, and that riders are different than non-riders – in a good way. I enjoy how unique and interesting the individuals in the community are and how inclusive the community is as a whole. I think riding is an activity that attracts smart people who think outside the box and often break the stereotypical biker image. I have fun doing that myself!
How do you feel about the growing number of female riders? Are there fellow women you ride or work with in the local motorcycle world? Who inspires you? What advice would you give women who want to get on two wheels?
The statistics about more women with motorcycle licenses are really exciting! I think the more women are on two wheels, the better the industry will become. I hope that companies, brands and services catch up with this trend faster now, since they go by ‘the rule of numbers’. We also need to see more women wearing full gear on bikes, and normalize the looks of a full-face helmet, jacket, pants and boots, to promote safety as sexiness!
Before I began riding in 2012, I barely went to any motorcycle events. Since I organize the festival I only met few women in the industry, but I also noticed a growth in that regard. Ladies like Julianne Knoll, who until recently was on the executive of the Squamish Dirt Bike Association, inspire me and are great to connect with over the frustrations and the fun. She and other women in leadership roles help to make our festival not only a family-, but also female-friendly space: diverse, safe and free from sexualization. I do think us motorcycling women are still rare ‘unicorns’ and often have to overcome more levels of obstacles than the usual danger and safety concerns associated with riding.
My main advice to women who start riding is to take a motorcycle skills course and learn from professionals rather than buddies or boyfriends. They might be good riders and have good intentions, but are not necessarily good teachers. The courses I took in street and off-road riding taught me so much and prepared me for things I never even thought about before encountering them in the wilderness or at a suddenly appearing corner. They also give me confidence to take the risks I do: solo riding in backcountry areas for example.
What is your personal motorcycle hub in the area? Do you have a favourite road or destination in BC, in Canada, or the world?
I guess the festival is my personal motorcycle hub, it is where all my riding connections and riding knowledge come together and where I feel at home.
My most favourite places to ride in BC are mainly off-road routes, for example around Tulameen which is near Princeton, north of Lillooet and through the Chilcotins, or more close to home, the Elaho valley with its hidden waterfalls and turquoise green rivers. I love riding around ‘in the middle of nowhere’, explore new frontiers, and camping in the wilderness to get away from the city and crowds. The very isolated Bella Coola area is a special place for me too: once I rode there and an owl flew low over me as – it was like a blessing. I have never ridden in other provinces, but I’ve enjoyed my trips through the Cascades in Washington State. Outside of Canada, my favourite place to ride is through the rainforests and small rugged mountain communities of the Nicaraguan Highlands. My solo riding trip through Nicaragua changed me, my perspectives and it really was the place in which the festival was born in my mind. I also love challenging the locals’ worldview by being a gringa on a motorbike!
The Squamish Motorcycle Festival takes place on July 2nd and 3rd 2016 in Squamish, British Columbia. For details about the festival, visit squamishmotorcyclefestival.com
Stay tuned for more Leading Ladies interviews!