There was a popular country western song in the late 70s titled ‘Mommas Don’t Let your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys.’ Sung by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, it bemoaned the dire outcome of boys who took up the cowboy life as opposed to growing up to be “doctors and lawyers and such.”
Today, there are mommas and daddies out there who probably might and still have applied that song to riding motorcycles – dirt, street or otherwise – rather than riding horses. Thank the god of two wheels Pat Jacques parents didn’t because the motorcycle world would have been a bit less interesting if they had.
This is a woman who as a teenager raced motocross professionally against guys and some very accomplished women, then later switched to ADV riding, and now uses her past and current experience to get mostly women to at least give riding a try. It started when she was 8.
“My dad gave me and my brother a mini bike for Christmas, and we rode that all over the place. Then when I was 11, I made the honor society and my dad was so proud of me, he asked what I wanted. Of course, I said a motorcycle.”
That motorcycle would be a candy apple red Honda SL100 that Pat said her brother ended up riding as much as she did.
“I made a big deal about telling him he could own half of it if he showed her how to maintain it. He agreed then got on it and rode off! I’d get home from school and just ride, ride, ride.”
It wasn’t long after that when Pat took up racing in powder puff competitions in South Carolina. She started winning and someone in the family realized she needed a different bike, so the SL made way for a Honda Elsinore 125. Pat said not only did she really take to racing, but so did her brother who became a top ranked East Coast rider.
When Pat was 14, she had the opportunity to train with world famous racer Rolf Tibblin who was giving at a clinic in Georgia. As Pat tells it, Rolf told her she was better than most of the boys.
A couple of years later, Pat’s dad surprised the family and took them out to California so Pat could race in the women’s nationals. It was a defining moment.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, so my dad had bought a used RV and that’s what we traveled in. I was now racing 250s, which put me in direct competition with Sue Fish (Hall of Fame inductee) who was one of the fastest women riders in motocross at the time. I was leading her in one race, my goggles were pulled down away from my eyes, and a spectator threw water in my face. I ended up going off the course, but now people realized who I was and I had a target on my back.”
Pat said the next few races showed her that most of the women racing on the west coast weren’t riding at the same skill level as the guys she’d been racing against back east. Even though they were professional riders, they weren’t riding like it.
“When I was riding with intermediate or pro male riders, I could read their line. But the women riders rode all over the place. I don’t have any hard feelings about how some of my races ended up as a result, but it showed me I had the ability to win.”
Pat went on to race throughout the southeast including the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia. The biggest race she was ever in was the 1977 AMA winter nationals in Gainesville where she finished a respectable 9th place overall.
Keep in mind this was when things weren’t nearly as progressive for women as they are now. Did she get any grief for being a “girl” racing with men? Not as much as you might think.
“When I was younger, it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe it was because my brother was out there. But I never really thought about it. When I got older, I started getting hassled. Some of the guys would work hard to bump me off the course, but I’m pretty competitive. I hung in there with them.”
Here’s an example. She was racing in a qualifying heat with her brother. She comes sees her brother cartwheel down a hill and comes up on him lying on the ground. For all she knows he could be dead. Her instinct is to stop – it is her brother. But she keeps going. All of a sudden she hears someone “hot on my ass. Blocking every single line. I was doing everything I could to stay ahead. Turned out it was my brother.”
He ended up in the last chance qualifier and Pat took ninth overall.
Pat’s performance, however, wasn’t the only thing that made her stand out. Seems her dad was a professional wrestling fan at the time and figured his daughter needed a name and a specific look. So he took the Suzuki RM250 she was racing, sanded the paint off the gas tank, repainted it a brilliant gold color and called her the Golden Girl with the Golden Curls on the Golden Bike!
Unfortunately, despite her ability, by the age of 18 Pat was forced to retire from motocross racing. The race schedule just got to be too much, as did the early wear and tear on her body.
Nine years later, she got back into motorcycles, only this time she was racing Speedway. Racing the no brakes, methanol alcohol powered bikes was fun, but she soon returned to racing motocross. That lasted until she was 32 when she demolished her knee and knew it was time to stop or probably not get on a bike again.
“During this second round of motocross racing was when I experienced some hassles from guys. But I soon got to be friends with some of the better riders, including Dave Newell, who was five time Colorado state champion. Travelling and racing with those caliber of guys got most of the others to back off.”
Eight knee surgeries and an eventual knee replacement forced Pat off of motorcycles and out of racing. She said she had to fight her naturally competitive instinct to race, but knew instinctively she had to stay away from it if she was going to stay healthy.
While you might be able to take the woman off the bike but you can’t take the bike out the woman – especially someone like Pat. Eight years after quitting riding entirely, she bought a Honda XR350 as a 40th birthday present, but rather than immediately locating the nearest track, she stayed with “puttering around on forest service roads.”
“Adventure riding has become a great way for me to unplug. Here you are seeing some great scenery, you’re outdoors meeting interesting people and having some great conversations.”
Bitten by the ADV bug and a desire to get back to riding more frequently, Pat bought a Kawasaki KLR 650, a bike she acknowledges most people like, but one she said she hated within three months of owning it. So she got rid of it and bought a BMW F800 GS.
“That was the best bike I ever owned in my life. I didn’t want the bigger 1200 because I wanted something that felt more like a dirt bike. I took the 800 to a Cycle World Adventure event and was doing some crazy, fun stuff on it, but I realized that the smaller bike was kind of typical for a woman and I wanted more power, so I got rid of the Beemer and bought a KTM 1190R.”
While Pat was off and on motorcycles as an adult, she taught people to ride horses and mountain bikes, and to cross-country and downhill ski. She also became an empowerment coach and an IT consultant with her own business called Double Diamond Technologies. But her real passion has become using ADV riding to help women gain confidence.
“When women can recognize their own physical strength, that they are self-reliant, and accomplish this (riding motorcycles) then that’s empowering.”
Not content to leave it at that, Pat is now making a forty-year old dream come to life with her first ever ADVWoman Rally to be held this July in Granby, Colorado. All of the instructors are women and they’ll be teaching courses on topics like dirt bike and adventure bike essentials, trailside repairs and fitness. It’s also a way for her to meld her coaching and motorcycle experience into a single event.
“There’s never been an adventure rally in which all instructors are women. I wanted this to be about women helping each other and women helping themselves. This rally is a vehicle for self-discovery, empowerment, and for women to feel self-directed, self-reliant and capable.”
But not everyone has parents who let their babies grow up to be cowboys…or dirt bike riders. Especially their girls. So what does Pat tell women who’ve either been told they shouldn’t or couldn’t ride, or who have told themselves the same?
“Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. Life’s too short. It’s not that hard if you have the right teacher. It’s safe and the payback is so incredible.”
Waylon and Willie couldn’t have sung it any better than that.