Reader's Story: From Mini-Bike to Maxi-Life Print
Written by Cris "Enforcer" Baldwin   


chris baldwin W.O.W presidentI grew up, sandwiched between two brothers, on a dairy farm that my parents owned in Wisconsin. It was very hard work, but it definitely had its advantages.

There were several acres upon which I could ride the small orange mini-bike I would "borrow" from my older brother. I was seven at the time of my first ride. I was fearless—except for the wrath I knew I was would face for "stealing" his wheels when that all-too-short ride was over. The ride had lasted no more than two minutes, perhaps, but I was hooked! As we grew older, the bikes became bigger; the rides longer. A Honda Trail 90 seemed incredibly large back then. Oh, the places it could take me—when I was lucky enough to sneak it out of the garage, unnoticed.

I guess I was destined to be a ‘tom boy.’ Making a living on a farm required everyone to do his or her share of work. It was the perfect childhood for me. I loved the outdoors. So much so, that I would always choose lawn mowing over cooking, or being in the field driving tractors with my dad over house cleaning. My mom often joked that she was raising three sons.

chris and momIt probably didn’t seem like it, but that environment was instrumental in teaching me that girls could do anything boys could do. My parents raised me to be an independent thinker, and as a result, I am the strong and capable woman I am today. I’ve never once considered that my gender was a reason not to try something.

I wasn’t the only female riding a motorcycle around the farm in those days. My mom had acquired a love for it when I was in high school. I’m not sure how many years she rode, all I know is that it was much too short.

"No other women to ride with," she would often say.

Although it’s been some thirty years since I last saw her happily heading down the road, I swear I can still see the passion for it in her eyes.

After years of borrowing motorcycles from my brothers, and then my boyfriend/husband, I don’t think Thomas had any clue what a beast he had unleashed when we went to pick up my very own Sportster in 1994. For the first several thousand miles, I was having the time of my life, but it wasn’t long before I started to have those same longings for a road trip with women—those same adventures my mom had always wanted.

As a result, I joined Women On Wheels® in 1997. As I moved up through the ranks as director (Heartland Chapter, St. Louis, MO) to state offices and finally on to the Board of Trustees (2006-2011), I am constantly reminded that I do it all in honor of my motorcycling mentor—my mom. I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding it is to be the president of an organization devoted to women who ride! As my circle of friends grows, so, too, does my admiration for all women motorcycle enthusiasts.

The 220,000+ miles on the odometer of my current bike—a 1996 Harley-Davidson Softail Custom—each have a story to tell. Many of them have been accumulated on the commute to and from my "real job". I am the assistant dean & registrar in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Every now and then, an unsuspecting student will catch a glimpse of me in full riding gear.

"You ride?" they ask.


"Awesome! I have the most "bad a%%" advisor on campus."

(There are certainly worse things in life than to be seen as an "older person with attitude" by the younger crowd.)

wow vestsWhile it isn’t intentional, sometimes the motorcycle magnets, calendar and helmet will turn an advising appointment about art and life, into a lesson about stress management. My advisees know that I can talk for hours (and I probably have) about why I ride. But through those conversations, we eventually arrive at the point--the value of finding something you enjoy; a passion to help you through the difficult times.

My life has certainly changed from that first ride on that little mini-bike, but there is definitely one thing that has not. The whir of the vacuum cleaner still takes the backseat to the rumble of a motorcycle. When given the choice, I will always choose the open road and a drive-thru window over a clean house and a home-cooked meal.

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