Women on wheels in central Illinois
Tracie Cook, right, of Petersburg, Ill., and Tracy Cooley, of Springfield, Ill., head down Highway 36 on their motorcycles outside Niantic, Ill.
DECATUR — If you watch the TV show "Sons of Anarchy" on FX, you see women are never invited to meetings and don't wear the patch. They're relegated to the background at best. Granted, the show is about over-the-top outlaws, but basically, that part is accurate.
Yet women ride, too. In 1982, Arleen Ruby founded Women on Wheels in California to give the ladies their own club and in the hope that the industry would take notice of the growing number of female riders. Membership is open to women who ride their own machine, as well as women who ride as passengers and those who are just enthusiasts.
Tracie Cook of Petersburg and Tracy Cooley of Springfield work together and recently began riding their own machines after having ridden behind their husbands for some time. They're members of the international W.O.W. organization, but the nearest local chapter is in the Quad-Cities or Shawnee to the south, a long ride for a weeknight rendezvous when they both have to work the next morning. Most chapter events are Thursdays.
"We're looking at a 140 miles one-way ride," Cook said. "That's what we're hoping to change."
States are carved up into regions by the parent organization of W.O.W., and the Central Illinois region, from Quincy to Effingham, has no chapter. The women want to start one.
"Once you become a national member, you can participate in any chapter's events," Cook said. "They go on monthly dinner rides, they go on regular rides, they go on field trips, whatever."
What sort of social activities their chapter of W.O.W. plans will depend on what members want to do, she said. That will be decided at meetings. The group might help with charity events, be purely social, plan family outings that include their husbands and kids, it all depends.
"If we get enough members, we might volunteer to be the manpower for a (charitable) event," Cook said.
The women took the state's motorcycle safety course for beginning riders and are choosy about when and where they ride until they get enough miles under their belts to feel confident.
"Like during that stretch (in the summer) when it was in the high 90s," Cook said. "It's OK when you're going, but the engine is hot and the pavement, and everything, I don't like that so much."
Neither will ride after dark until they are more experienced, either.
Cooley jokes that when she's riding side by side with her husband, he uses every traffic light stop to critique her riding.
"He just wants to help," she said, laughing.
And both consider a ride on their motorcycles a chance to unwind, clear their heads and shake off stress.
"This is just an opportunity to unite with other women riders," Cook said.
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