Two years later, Allen had learned to ride, bought a Kawasaki 454 of their own and was back on Broadway, this time riding in the parade on their own two wheels.
Thirty-seven years after that, on a recent Friday, Allen, rider name “Uptown,” is the newly patched vice president of the first official Seattle chapter of the Dykes on Bikes Women’s Motorcycle Contingent, standing with 16 other shes and theys gathered at Rough and Tumble Pub in Ballard for the club’s inaugural meeting.
The Dykes on Bikes Seattle chapter, including club Membership Liaison Mimi Lopez (left) and President Wen Cruz, held their first meeting at Rough & Tumble Pub in Ballard on Friday, June 16, 2022. Though the club has existed for 47 years, this is the first time Seattle has had an official chapter. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)
As those gathered took turns introducing themselves and telling the group why they love to ride, words like freedom, strength, camaraderie and family came up again and again.
Next, they each shared why they wanted to be a patched member of the international club’s newest charter, a long-held desire for many in the room:
“Dykes on Bikes has been a dream of mine since I was 15.”
“When I first saw the Dykes on Bikes, I thought who are these people and how can I be one of them?”
“Motorcycles saved my life.”
Though the Dykes on Bikes motorcycle club has been around for 47 years, this was the first year an official local chapter rode in the Seattle Pride parade. In recent decades, at least four applications for club charter approval from the San Francisco mother chapter had been turned down, according to club members. Mosé Barrera, who owns Mose Auto repair shop, reached out to the group about 10 years ago seeking to start a Seattle club, but was told at the time that they were not opening any new chapters. The San Francisco chapter did not respond to Crosscut’s request for an interview.
But this year, new club president Wen Cruz was able to secure official membership in the organization.
The Dykes on Bikes tradition was born in 1976, when a small group of lesbians decided to ride in the San Francisco Pride march. In the years since, they have helped break down barriers for queer people and redefined cultural expectations of how women are allowed to dress, act and take up space in society.
The Seattle Dykes on Bikes became the 23rd patched chapter this year, with sister chapters in cities across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia.
Like the Band-Aid and the Hula Hoop, Dykes on Bikes is a brand name that has over the years been used colloquially to describe anyone riding motorcycles in Pride parades. Though there hasn’t been an official chapter here until now, those who have been to previous Seattle Pride parades know that women on motorcycles have been (unofficially) donning leather and riding at the front of the march since at least 1978.
Vik Livingston, 66, led those Seattle riders for over two decades – chosen to lead because, “I was the biggest, meanest one, I guess? Even though everybody knows I’m just a leather-coated marshmallow.”
Back then, Livingston said, the marches were more political, less celebratory. Angry about Stonewall and societal ostracism, “The dykes were screaming for attention and power … I was in it for the fun.”
Seattle Dykes on Bikes and other clubs ride in Sunday's Pride parade. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)
In those early years, Livingston compares organizing the annual ride to “herding cats.”
“I’m yelling at a bunch of people who are looking for their next girlfriend or trying to look cool. Somebody would break down, [someone‘s bike] would get overheated and someone would get sunburned.”
But Livingston also reminisced about the excitement of the ride and feeling of being a “big deal” to the cheering crowds.
Livingston, who passed off the leadership role after coming out as a transman and transitioning in the 1990s, knows how important visibility and protection still is for the marginalized. “I’m worried about trans kids,” he said before referencing high suicide rates within the queer and trans communities. The new Dykes on Bikes chapter has several trans and non-binary members, something that in decades past wasn’t always accepted by the group.
Wen Cruz found her way to the Dykes on Bikes in a different way. Cruz was living in California in the late 2000s when she arrived at a bar early for an event and stumbled upon a party thrown by the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes chapter. She found herself deep in conversation with a “tiny little old lady” who gave her some advice: “Fuck what everyone thinks, live your truth, fight for what you believe in.”
Although she didn’t learn the lady’s name, Cruz left changed by the pep talk and the women she saw with vests bearing the club patch. “That conversation might have been one of the pivotal moments of my life.”
Seattle chapter President Wen Cruz wipes away a tear during an emotional moment as members of the new club gather to ride in the 2023 Seattle Pride parade. Cruz recently completed a months-long process to secure approval for the new chapter from the San Francisco mother chapter. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)
Years later, after buying her first motorcycle, she learned that the woman she had spoken to was Soni Wolf, the revered founding member of the original San Francisco chapter, who fought and won two U.S. Supreme Court cases to secure the club’s right to trademark the “Dykes on Bikes” name and logo (at the time deemed “derogatory” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office).
Cruz, a paralegal by day, credits that chance encounter with Wolf for the position she now finds herself in as the fledgling Seattle club’s new president. “I just thought, oh, I just wish I could do something like that. Create a space where some person can wander into a club or a bar, have a conversation that could change their life.”
The road to the patch was not easy. Cruz’s petition for a club charter involved many interviews and conversations with SF leadership about her vision and goals, ethics and values and plans for maintaining a diverse membership – now a requirement of new chapter applicants. Next came the paperwork and 28 pages of club rules and bylaws to learn – requirements for patched members include agreed-upon hours of philanthropic or community service and regular attendance at club meetings.
After months of back-and-forth, club membership was officially granted in late April, leaving Cruz with two months to select a board and begin accepting members before their first official Pride ride
Cruz is not quite sure why, after so many failed attempts over the years, her application was the one finally green-lit by the often-opaque ruling San Francisco board. She credits her emphasis on diversity and community-building, but also thinks Soni Wolf, who died in 2018, may be still looking out for her. “I just wonder if Soni's spirit was like, ‘Get that girl the damn club.’ You know? It's the dream that I have.”
At the group’s first meeting, both President Cruz and Vice President Allen impressed upon the new members the significance and gravitas of the logo they would now be wearing together.
“It’s not just a patch in a fun club. It really represents so much, the mission and the history of the organization,” said Cruz. But as much as culture has changed since those early days, Cruz reminds them that wearing it is still a risk and a radical act. “When we ride with this vest on, I mean, some people will be offended just by our existence … It's a proclamation of our refusal to be silenced.”
Allen, too, feels that wearing the patch is an honor. “To me, it represents the strength and the personal power of individuals to withstand all of that hatred and downright abuse and assault and horrible, horrible things.”
On Friday, new members rode together for the first time, acting as security for the Trans Pride event at Volunteer Park. Cruz is the mother of a trans child and, like Livingston, she intimately understands the threats currently facing the trans community. “I really do feel like we have a long way to go.”
She hopes her daughter can be inspired by the women in the group, like she was when she was young.
On Sunday, amid a group of over 50 riders from around the region, the Seattle Dykes on Bikes made slow loops down the Fourth Avenue parade route, gray and red patches proudly affixed to the the backs of their black leather vests for all to see.
“Seattle has been waiting for us,” said Cruz.