Women Teaching Women To Ride Motorcycles
It’s Independence Day, a Saturday, and students are in school. But the four students attending summer school were not lackluster performers or behavior problems, nor are they being forced to attend against their will.
Quite the opposite. They paid to come here, some traveling thousands of miles to attend. Even more unusual, the curriculum at this school involves clutch control, lofting the front wheel and monkey lifts. All of them, including the instructor and her support staff, are female.
Welcome to Skool of Moto.
Saturday school never looked so inviting.
Skool of Moto operates at the foot of North Cascades National Park in Mazama, Washington, home to painfully pretty landscapes of brutal alpine peaks hiding pockets of snow into this July weekend. Listen closely and you’ll hear the echo of dirt bikes parading though this alpine wonderland followed by cheers, smiles and shouted encouragement from instructor and students.
Breaking the stereotype of the male dominated world of off-road motorcycling, this camp is run by females, for females. It is serious off-roading in mountainous terrain and it’s origins began in the passionate heart of it’s owner and operator, Donni Reddington.
Yes, Donni Reddington is like this. All the time.
“I got the passion for power early. I grew up riding motorcycles at my grandpas’ with my sisters. I started riding when my feet could touch,” Donni says. “We took a lawnmower and built a go-kart. I learned how to drift it when I was six years old. But when I was 9 or 10 I was tall enough to ride a Honda moped. When I could finally touch on my uncle’s Honda 250 dirtbike, I was hooked and my life changed forever.”
In the spring of 2019, Donni decided it was time to mutate the lives of others and she started Skool of Moto, offering classes that range from “Pre-Skool” for girls who have never been on a motorcycle before to “High Skool” for experienced riders focusing on single track and individual skill development.
Donni’s relationship with Beta means she has a fleet of motorcycles the students can train with, and every bike gets named. Participants can choose from the stable of Betas or bring their own ride.
“They can show up with nothing and I will provide it,” says Donni. “That is a big reason why I wanted to start this camp. I have run into so many women who say ‘I would love to try it. I might like it, but there is no place to try it.’ “
Donni not only gives them that chance but her humble demeanor and expert class dirt skills strike the magic equilibrium between transparency and expertise. When I arrive at class, Donni is demonstrating clutch control by stopping her dirt bike on an incline, then getting it moving again by slipping the clutch.
“I was demonstrating it and got a little hot,” she admits, giggling. “I was afraid I was going to loop the bike.”
Donni’s backyard is an obstacle course, Skool of Moto’s playground for skill development.
After her demonstration, she stands nearby as one of the camp’s four participants, Faith Miller, attempts the maneuver on her Royal Enfield Himalayan. At first, the Himalayan begins to roll back. Then, after a few more attempts and some coaching from Donni, the rear tire of the Faith’s Royal Enfield finds traction and climbs the hill. The crowd goes wild.
“Its a totally different vibe to be around women only,” says Paige Figi, an off-road moto camper who came from Colorado Springs to attend. “It’s not competitive. We are competitive, but in a supportive kind of way. There’s less ego.”
As other students attempt the maneuver, Paige’s point is clear. Everyone is pushing themselves in a technical sport in front of complete strangers yet completely transparent about it all. A successfully completed drill is cause for group celebration. A dropped bike, well, that’s also part of class.
Crashing is part of trying and learning how to pick up the bike on your own is standard Skool of Moto curriculum.
“We do our safety talk on how to pick up a fallen bike,” says Donni. “I always want them to learn how to pick it up on their own, but if they are with someone else, get help because we only have one spine. But in case they are on their own, I want them to know how to do it by themselves. At this school, crashing is a positive learning opportunity. Not encouraged per se, but if you’re not crashing, are you really trying?”
Despite Donni’s expert skills on the bike, she models the honesty and humbleness she desires from her students. These qualities are exactly what the students need and why they try so hard. There is no machismo, no chest beating, no one-upmanship leading to painful get-offs, just hungry riders pushing to improve themselves.
From left to right: Paige Figi, Christie Calhoun, Linnea Evans and Faith Miller find plenty of seating at Skool of Moto’s cafeteria.
“Donni is a talented instructor,” says Paige. “Anyone can have skill and know how to ride, but to teach it is rare. She relates. How does she remember what it’s like to be where I am? It’s something intrinsic.”
Linnea Evans from nearby Snohomish, agrees. “She can spot people’s strengths and weaknesses and teach to them.”
Christie Calhoun came from Canton, Georgia to attend. “You went down (on the bike),” she says, “but you learned something from it.”
What they accomplish varies: Linnea learns to go over a log, Faith learns how to turn around on a hill without dropping the bike, Paige learns to wheelie and do a track stand (while drinking a beer of course) and Christie learns how to spin donuts in the dirt. This is Donni’s path to happy campers, expert instruction in small groups, even individual lessons that allow her to personalize her instruction.
I sense a hidden curriculum.
But Skool of Moto students are also learning something else. Beyond the obvious curriculum of double-blipping the throttle, lofting the front wheel and retrieving fallen machinery, I sense a hidden curriculum. Intermeshed into the fabric of clutch and throttle control is woven a joy of the sport, pride of accomplishment and self-confidence, all of which carry over into life. During dinner as I attempt to feed the girls with my sub-par barbecue skills (doesn’t everybody light charcoal briquettes with a MAP torch?) I could hear the hidden curriculum rise to the surface.
North Cascades snowmelt provides picturesque water crossing opportunities.
“When I have a hard thing to do in life, I turn to either climbing or motorcycle riding,” says Christie. “Because if you don’t do either of them well, you will die. You have to let go of whatever you are ruminating about. It shuts everything else off. When I do something hard (in life) like going into a meeting, I know what it’s like to feel scared and do it anyway. To be scared, have the tools, have a plan, and do it anyway.”
“I’m more self-sufficient when I go do a multi-week thing alone,” says Paige. “I can get myself out of anything.”
Linnea chimes in, “I just want to check out all of the parts of the United States on a bike.”
These are true bikers.
Donni takes care of her students in every realm. A hard day’s riding ends with a yoga session in the rustic barn at the Mazama Ranch House.
And so Donni Reddington and her Skool of Moto, in the tiny hamlet of Mazama, are changing the face of motorcycling the way it has always been done, the way it should be done, not by politics or lobbying or sweeping legislative reform from above, but personally, at the grassroots level, one face at a time, a face that is increasingly female.
“For me,” says Donni, “it is about giving women the opportunity if they have never had the opportunity to try it, to experience it.”
Linnea puts it succinctly. “There’s no regrets for doing it. You’ll only regret it if you don’t do it.”
“Motorcycling allows you to be in the moment,” says Linnea Evans from Snohomish, Washington. “I love to backpack, so dual-sport riding is my thing.”
“I’m a whole new person when I go for a ride,” says Christie Calhoun who came from Georgia to attend. “I think it’s the only time when my head isn’t redlining. It makes you mindful.”
“I just wanted to get more comfortable on the bike,” says Faith Miller from Tacoma. “On my own bike.”
“I do it for me,” says Paige Figi from Colorado Springs. “I really enjoy riding with my husband, but I do this for me.”