Cristine Sommer-Simmons was co-founder of Harley Women, considered the first widely distributed magazine for women riders. Cris was active in promoting motorcycling through her roles as author, columnist, songwriter and motorcycle journalist.
Cris was born and raised in the Chicago area. She got her first taste of motorcycling as a passenger on the back of her stepfather’s Honda 750 when she was 9 years old. At 15, she got her own motorcycle. It was a street bike, but Cris learned by riding in the dirt. She was the only girl at the time in her area riding and racing with the boys.
"They used to call us tom boys. Now they call us athletic women," Cris said. "I had five brothers and people always assume my brothers got me into riding, but it was the exact opposite. I taught four of them how to ride."
She met her first husband through riding. They married young and Cris got her first Harley-Davidson, a 1977 Sportster, when she was 19. After being in a crash as a passenger, Cris decided she would rather be the one at the controls.
Cris met Jo Giovannoni, who worked at a local Harley-Davidson dealership, and the two became friends.
"Jo was a woman working in a Harley dealership," Cris recalls with admiration. "She was my hero and we got to be good friends and would go for rides."
In the early 1980s, Cris and Jo got to know Becky Brown, founder of Women in the Wind, an organization of women riders. In 1983, Cris and Jo helped to organize the second chapter of the organization. The two of them began doing a newsletter for their local chapter. The newsletter led to an idea to start a magazine that focused on women and riding. Harley-Davidson got behind the idea and Harley Women magazine was launched in 1985.
At first, Cris and Jo put the magazine together completely by themselves, shooting the photographs with a Canon Sure Shot, writing the articles on a borrowed typewriter in Cris’ kitchen, pasting it up and even stapling the pages together. Cris was a postal carrier at the time and she turned to a lot of the people on her route for help in launching the magazine.
"I had a printer on my route and a copyright attorney so we registered our name," Cris remembers. "I also had an accountant on my route. We formed a little publication company. The mail route really helped us get the magazine going."
Cris walked away from her good-paying job at the Post Office and went to work full-time on the magazine.
"We spent a lot of time traveling to places like Daytona and Sturgis to sell subscriptions," she said. "We sold T-shirts out of the back of our car. It was kind of dumb in a lot of ways, but we had a lot of fun. We rode with Malcolm Forbes and Elizabeth Taylor. I asked Malcolm some business advice and he told me to build up the magazine and sell it."
During this period, Cris’ life changed dramatically. She and her first husband divorced and she later met Pat Simmons, of the popular rock band, the Doobie Brothers. She moved to California and sold her interest in Harley Women. She began working as a freelance motorcycle journalist, writing extensively for several magazines in the United States, including American Iron, Motorcycle Collector, Iron Works, Easyriders and V-Twin, as well as magazines in Japan, Spain and Australia.
Cris had her own column for more than 12 years in the popular Japanese magazine Hot Bike Japan. She later joked that writing her column for Hot Bike Japan was one of the best jobs ever.
"I got paid well, no one I knew read it, I could write whatever I wanted to and I never got upset about the editing because I couldn’t read Japanese. It was a lot of fun and I made a lot of friends over there and went on a few trips to Japan, where we had some great rides."
In the late 80s, Cris appeared in national newspaper articles, radio and television talk shows as a representative and advocate of the growing number of women who rode their own motorcycles. In 1988, she was awarded an Honorary Lifetime membership to Women in The Wind and was a Sustaining Member of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) for many years. In 1990, she was honored as a pioneering woman motorcyclist in the American Motorcyclist Association's Women in Motorcycling exhibit in the AMA’s museum in Westerville, Ohio, the precursor to today's Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.
In 1994, Cris wrote and self-published the award winning children’s motorcycle book, "Patrick Wants to Ride," for which she was honored with the AMA’s Hazel Kolb Brighter Image Award. The book went into its third printing and sold over 12,000 copies.
In 1996, Cris was one of four women featured in an original documentary on women motorcyclists for Turner Broadcasting called "Biker Women." This show was well received and set viewing records for an original documentary for that year.
Combining her love of music and writing, Cris has found another new passion – penning over a dozen songs with her husband, Pat, that have appeared on such albums as Sibling Rivalry.
Into the 2000s, Cris continued to be an ambassador for motorcycling. She and Pat moved to Hawaii, but they still enjoy taking long-distance tours. Cris has toured by motorcycle all over the world and said what she loves most is touring the wide-open spaces of the American West. Now that her three children are grown, she keeps busy with various writing projects, including a screenplay and a book project focusing on women in motorcycling.