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Wheel life: Saratoga exhibit shows social, historic context of motorcycles and riders

Developed by internationally renowned curator and motorcycle journalist Ed Youngblood, whose background includes work on the Guggenheim's "The Art of the Motorcycle," the exhibit shares the stories behind two-dozen of these fascinating machines and the men and women who owned, rode, raced and loved them.

Youngblood, a past president of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), said he wanted to do something more than create "Guggenheim junior" at the Saratoga Automobile Museum, and has keyed into Potter's philosophy of combining the machines with their context.

"We wanted a fresh look at the social context of motorcycles," he said. "To look at the rider and the motorcycle together, and what it meant in society. We may be in Saratoga Springs, but we're doing something that no one in the world has done before."

The bikes on display run the gamut from Evel Knievel's Jump Bike to Peter Fonda's Captain America Chopper from Easy Rider, from Steve McQueen's Military Indian 741 to Cal Rayborn's land-speed-record Bonneville streamliner and Dot Robinson's pink Harley-Davidson.

Patron's looking at Robinson's motorcycle may not notice anything extraordinary, save the color. But this is where the museum's unique perspective comes into play, as it isn't the bike, but the rider, who is really on display. Robinson always rode Harley-Davidsons, custom-painted in pink. Over her career, she logged more than 1.5 million miles in the saddle, and paved the way for women in American national championship competition by entering the grueling two-day Jack Pine Enduro motorcycle race in 1934.

Some AMA officials tried to bar her from their "manly sport," but she persevered and won acceptance through her popularity with rank-and-file riders. She won the Jack Pine sidecar class in 1940 to become the first woman to earn an AMA National Championship title, then repeated the feat in 1946.

In 1941 she became a co-founder of the Motor Maids, an all-women's organization dedicated to improving the public perception of motorcycling, and she served as its president for many years. Robinson was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, under Youngblood. She died a year later at the age of 87. On display in Saratoga is the last motorcycle Robinson rode, complete with a sidecar that was added when she became too old to manage a large touring bike. The bike is owned by Robinson's daughter Betty Falk, who is also an active motorcyclist and a life-long Motor Maid. Falk will ride the Harley-Davidson from the Saratoga Automobile Museum to Utah this summer.

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