Amanda Marie Knapp

Changing Perceptions

Many people have grown up surrounded by motorcycles, and their family members are the ones who encourage them to learn to ride. When Amanda Marie Knapp was growing up, her dad challenged her to face her fear of riding head on and never let her use as an excuse the fact that she was a girl.

Knapp believes that learning to ride and keep up with the guys taught her lifelong lessons that have helped her to become successful in both her professional and personal lives.

Today, Knapp is an assistant vice provost for academic standards and policy administration at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She has been riding nearly 30 years. Her first bike was a Honda 70, and today she rides a KTM 300 XCW.

American Motorcyclist: What got you started riding motorcycles?

Amanda Marie Knapp: From the time I can remember, I was surrounded by motorcycles and four-wheelers. When I was about 6 years old, my dad bought me a Honda 70, and I remember spending hours making figure eights in a big field behind our house. As the years quickly passed, I moved up to a YZ125, then a CR250. In middle school and high school, I would spend every free hour getting lost in the woods, slugging through thick coalmine mud, climbing hills, battling rocks and holding on for dear life to keep up with my dad and his buddies.

I was an only child growing up, and my dad never took it easy on me, especially when it came to riding—he always challenged me to face fear head on and never let me use the fact that I was a girl as an excuse, even though I was usually the only girl out there. Learning to ride and keep up with the guys taught me lifelong lessons that I still value today and truly believe have helped me to become successful in both my professional and personal life.

AM: What is your favorite ride?

AK: In many ways, I was very fortunate to grow up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in a rural town called Mount Storm, W.Va.—population less than 900. Just up the road a bit in Davis, off State Route 93, is where the Grand National Cross Country Series got its start—home of the Blackwater 100. This is where I grew up riding and without question was one of my favorite places to ride—a dirt bike rider’s dream. While laws prevent us from riding there now, I will never forget the experience I had riding some of the toughest terrain nestled within the most breathtaking landscapes you can imagine.

AM: What is the best memory you associate with motorcycling?

AK: The incredible thing about motorcycling is that it can bring communities of people together. Some of my best memories began early on a Sunday morning, not at church, but gathering down at the “holler” with anywhere between 10 and 50 locals, all revved up and ready to hit the dirt. We would head out with no real plan or destination in mind, but, wherever we went, it would take all day until the sun went down. Other than having some good old-fashioned fun, the only certainty was that we would come back covered in mud from head-to-toe, exhausted but happy. The greatest thing about these ventures was that everyone helped each other out and many good friendships were forged.

AM: What is the image of motorcyclists among the general public?

AK: In my opinion, this is a very difficult question to answer, because it really depends on the region or area where you live. As I mentioned before, I grew up in a rural town where the motorcycle and four-wheeler population just might have outnumbered the people. However, where I live now, in Howard County, Md., “frequently cited for its affluence, quality of life, and excellent schools,” the perception of motorcyclists is not positive. While I agree that Howard County is “One of the Best Places to Live,” according to CNN/Money Magazine, it is lacking in motorcycle friendliness. Sadly, the image of motorcyclists in places like Howard County has been tainted by things like unsanctioned and illegal street racing that readily gain news media coverage, painting an unbalanced picture of the motorcycling culture.

AM: How can motorcyclists improve their image?

AK: As a dirt bike rider, we tend to tell our wildest and craziest stories with little thought about the image that we might be portraying—I know I am guilty of this myself. However, one of the things that I think we could do a better job at is talking more about the positive aspects such as the time and effort we invested in being a responsible rider, making sure we had the right equipment and safest gear.

What made me think of this is that I recently read an outstanding article on the Rocky Mountain ATV Blog that described 33 Reasons Your Kids Should Do Motocross. Topping the list of reasons are things like providing non-violent entertainment, reinforcing good health and positive relationships, teaching the value of a strong work ethic, playing fair, working as a team, obeying the rules and taking personal responsibility. While the article was geared for why kids should ride, the information was applicable to all ages. These are the kinds of stories that we should be sharing if we truly want to impact the motorcycling image in a positive way.

AM: What practical benefits do you personally get from riding?

AK: Stress release, health and fitness, family time, sense of self.

As a mother of three, a busy professional who has a full-time and part-time career, [and one who] volunteers in the community, serves as a Girl Scout Leader and just finished a Ph.D. program, there is nothing more rewarding and stress-relieving than hitting the trails and/or a track. When I am riding, it is the only time that I can block out the chaos around me and focus on myself.

AM: Have you ever taught someone else how to ride? What did you learn from that experience?

AK: At 34, when I restarted my motocross career after a nearly 15-year break, I was presented with the challenge/opportunity of teaching my husband, who had never ridden motocross a day in his life, and my three children, Gracie, 10, Riley, 7, and Mason, 5. If I wanted to ride, it would have to be a family activity—it’s not like I could just leave them behind!

In any case, now that our garage is filled with two-wheeled, two-stroke machines, I find that teaching my family to ride brings back a lot of great memories from my dad teaching me. I also find that working as a family team (we call ourselves the KTM Knapps) has brought a great deal of joy and bonded us in ways that we didn’t anticipate. My father-in-law always jokes with us saying, “a family who races together, stays together,” but all joking aside there is something quite special about spending an entire weekend together on two wheels—not sitting in the house, not playing video games or watching TV—just having fun together!

AM: How can we get more people on motorcycles?

AK: Work with our local government to create more opportunities and manage costs.

This is an interesting question with lots of opportunities. As someone who has made a career out of working with policy, this is an area where we must focus our attention.

For instance, we must continue to push for legislation that is based on facts and not misperceptions. We must be advocates for our sport who demonstrate respect for the environment and take motorcycling safety seriously.

On a different note, I would like to see more girls and women in the sport. I recently went to an event and joined my mother, who is in her 50s and also a motocross rider. It was organized by Kelsey Green from Happy Ramblers called “Girls Just Wanna Ride” and I thought it was just exceptional! There were about 70 girls and women of all ages, all backgrounds and all skill levels who went from station to station learning everything from bike maintenance to starting gates to fitness drills to agility training. The format provided a great opportunity to get out and ride in an encouraging environment where building confidence and having fun was the first priority.

AM: Talk about a time when you encountered pre-conceived notions because you ride.

AK: One of my favorite stories is about an encounter I had with a neighbor a few blocks away. For years, I have passed the same set of houses on my way home, but one day after work I noticed that the neighbor had a dirt bike loaded in a trailer on the back of the car. I was in a bit of shock since I had never seen a dirt bike in the entire town of Columbia, Md., before, let alone one just up the street from me. So, I slowed down as I passed by the house, but didn’t see anyone outside. So I went to the end of the street, and, still in amazement, decided to turn around and drive by the house again.

I admittedly did this a few times, until I finally spotted someone. I stopped my car, and, in a full business suit and high heels, walked up to the neighbor, who I had never met before, and asked if that was his bike. He reluctantly answered me but seemed annoyed.

The conversation was a bit awkward in the beginning. But after I explained my interest in his dirt bike, and we talked for about 45 minutes he laughed and said, “Heck, I thought you were someone from the community association and were going to give me a ticket or something.”

Now that I know my neighbor, Jim, and we have joked about this day on many occasions, I realize that this was a situation based on a pre-conceived notion. Because of the way I dressed and the type of community we live in, Jim was surprised by my story to say the least!

Of course, that neighbor that I didn’t know for years is now someone I call my friend. Isn’t that what motocross is all about anyway?

Regarding my professional life, not many people knew about my outside hobby of racing until I came to work with a broken toe after clocking a tree with my foot on a tight turn during an ECEA hare scrambles.

Now that the story is out, I hear the same thing over and over each time that someone learns that I race: “No way. I can’t picture that!” When I ask them why, it almost always has something to do with the way that I dress or the position I am in, my title or that I have a Ph.D., as if these things define who I am or put me in a box of who I can be.

Amanda Marie Knapp is an AMA member from Columbia, Maryland, who was featured in the September 2014 street and also dirt/competition edition of American Motorcyclist.