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in conversation with Jocelin Snow

Here’s a story about a rider who went from zero to hero, then near-death, but has come back stronger and is making a bigger impact today – at nearly 50 – than ever. Only this rider stands just 5’1-1/2” and is female. A more intense ball of moto-energy you’d be hard pressed to find.
JOCELIN SNOW IN HER OWN WORDS
Interview: JB
Images: BMW Motorrad (Markus Jahn /Vanessa Blankenagel), JB

Jocelin Snow, an International GS Trophy finalist in 2018, riding in Mongolia with Team Ausamerica, will be joint-hosting BMW Motorrad’s tele-broadcasts from the 2020 Oceania edition in February. Settled in California, although originally from Maine on the USA’s North East coast, the 48-year-old five-feet-one-and-a-half (the half is important) moto-phenomenon has become – not for the first time – an inspiration to others in motorcycling.

Being short – and female – has meant Jocelin has faced physical and prejudicial barriers throughout her motorcycling career. She’s overcome not only these but serious injuries too. She ascended to a professional road racer career in the US before a crash at Daytona left her needing major reconstructive surgery to her left hand. This did not stop her. Sadly running into a concrete wall (at Willow Springs Raceway) did, but even months in a wheelchair did not quench her thirst for motorcycling. And now, having only comparatively recently discovered adventure motorcycling, she’s again blazing a trail, not on the race tracks but on the trails into the backcountry and wild lands around the world.

Only this is no solo mission. For these days Jocelin’s riding is about sharing and encouraging others to discover the joy and the freedom in adventure motorcycling. So we caught up with Jocelin at the recent International Female Team Qualifier in Spain – where she was mentoring the next wave of top-performing female GS riders. We wanted to know more about how she got here.

I started riding pretty young, about 12 years old. I had my first little dirt bike that I’d bought myself with my $10/week paper round money – my folks weren’t motorcyclists – and did a lot of off-road, and yeah, really found my freedom with that. As I got older that grew into a sport bikes and I was riding on the street. And then a few more years on again I eventually worked my way into some off-road racing. I did some hare scrambles and enduros. Then came drag racing which developed into road racing and that I was even doing professionally for a little while. And yeah, when I was younger I really enjoyed the competition.

I have a younger sister who is equally daredevil. She’s takes helicopters to the top of mountains and skis down, she’s that kind of a girl. But my older brother, he’s an accountant! He took the safe life – he’s the opposite to us! I think it’s the female genes in the family where we went a little crazy.

Anyway, after all that racing, I started really reaching for new challenges and got pretty heavy into technical single track riding, going for difficult tight woods riding. But I wanted an even deeper challenge and so wanted to try this adventure motorcycle stuff. But these bikes are so huge and heavy. I’ve been told so many times, you can’t ride those bikes they’re too big for you.

So a while back I went to a show and they had a big old GS adventure bike there with all the boxes on and it looked so beautiful. I was thinking, wow, that’s my next thing, for sure that’s what I want to do. So I went over and sat on it and my feet were dangling in the air, miles from the floor. And I couldn’t get it off the kickstand. The guy running that booth said to me, ‘it’s a little big for you’. I walked away with my head hanging down. It felt like it was just something I was not gonna be able to do. It’s too big for a little girl, me being only five foot one and a half.

 And so I went on, I don’t know for about a year or so just thinking maybe that’s something I simply couldn’t do. Then one night I was scrolling through social media on my phone, and I saw this video of a seven-year-old boy who had only one arm but was golfing at pro level. This boy was golfing like a pro. And it just it struck me, he has only one arm but he’s got the lick not just on the other kids, but the adults. He’s amazing. And as I scrolled through to some more stories, I came across this lady violinist with a prosthetic arm and she was playing a violin to concert level.

So I got to thinking, what’s my excuse? I mean, what’s wrong with me? They’re finding their way to chase their passion and not letting anything get in the way. I went to sleep with that. I woke up the next morning and decided, yeah – remembering a year before when I saw that bike – I don’t have any excuses.

FINDING PREJUDICE

So I went walking into a showroom. I had never, other than that day at that show, sat on a 1200 GS Adventure. I hadn’t ridden one, not even started one. At this time I’d had, I think, 39 motorcycles in my life. Yeah. And so I go into this dealership – and this was 2016 – and I found the bike. It was a 1200 GS Adventure and I pushed it forward on the showroom floor. I’m like, okay, this is what I want. And so the owner and the sales manager were there and I said

– I’d like to buy this bike. Can we make this happen? I’ve got my truck, my ramp, my tie downs and my cheque book. Let’s just make this happen.

And they laughed. Like that. The owner walked me over to a small Triumph or something, around the other side of the showroom floor. I didn’t need to stop and tell him my resume, that I’ve been writing for 30 years and this will be my 40th motorcycle – why should I? So I went over to them again after a few minutes and I showed them my cheque book and I said

– Let me just explain something, if you look through the doors, that’s my truck, this is my cheque book, I’m gonna write you a cheque, I want the bike. I would like to add the BMW boxes, I want this whole thing. Everything that I can get for this bike, let’s do this.

And he laughed.

I left. I parked at a gas station and I had that dry throat you know, like oh my god, I’m gonna cry. So I got on my phone and I looked up the next closest dealership and I called them, I got through to the sales manager and I asked – and I was pretty choked up as you can imagine

– Do you have to 1200 GS Adventure on your floor?

– Yes M’am, I do.

– Okay, please can I come and buy it?

Anyway, it was too late that day so I went home and during the week we arranged the price and the next weekend, because I decided I was gonna ride the motorcycle home, I took a lift and walked into the store and they had the red carpet out as they knew that I’d had a bad experience. And they treated me like a queen. I rolled out of that showroom and headed home the scenic way.

And here’s the thing. I stopped at this little market on the way home for a sandwich. There were no bikes around. Kind of a quiet day. And all of a sudden, another 1200GS Adventure rolled up. And, and I was looking at this thing, thinking what a coincidence, when I realised it was a woman, a tall woman with beautiful long dark hair, who was getting off this bike. We talked and she told me the town she lives in. I said,

– Oh, wow. You have no idea. I just tried to buy a bike from the dealership there.

She said – I did too.

She lives just three blocks from that dealership and they wouldn’t sell her a motorcycle either! We ride together now.

0-12,000 IN 30 DAYS

So I’d bought the bike and I rode it for about a month or so – scared! I remember when I opened the garage door that next morning and I looked at that thing parked in the garage, I took like five steps back and put my face in my hands and was thinking, what the heck did I do? How am I gonna do this? But I remembered the story of the little boy and the lady and decided I was going to figure it out.

I went for my first trail ride about four months into it, then I went down to RawHyde Adventure and took a Next Step class. I had no idea how I compared as a rider. But at the end of the class, they asked me if I would be an instructor and I thought well, I must be okay!

That kind of inspired me and so I took off to Alaska! I rode 12,000 miles in 30 days. I did the Backcountry Discovery Routes up in Washington, Oregon, up through Idaho. Canada was amazing. And yeah, a month later I knew this had changed my life. I’d thrown myself into this adventure riding and camping off the bike, meeting strangers and just kind of putting myself out there. I had to think, where am I going to eat? Where am I going to sleep? And am I going to find gas? I was hooked.

And I had figured out the bike, and found some tricks to get it off the kickstand and balance it and that was it. I came home and I started telling all my friends about adventure bikes and the ultimate freedom where you can go down any road, you can go for long distance, you can go camping, you can take a dirt trail. There are no limits, and I just love a life without limits.

GS TROPHY

A year in, one of my new adventure friends said to me that if I liked adventure riding then I needed to go do the GS Trophy. I hadn’t heard of it.

– Explain, what is that?

So he explained, adding that the latest qualifiers were coming up in two months. My brain was ticking over real fast. Yeah, no, I’m not done with competition. I used to do all that racing stuff, but… And he went on

– Well, let me tell you something, last year was the first year they allowed women into the GS Trophy.

And that got my attention real fast.

It struck me, these are the times when women can do all kinds of things. I remembered being in high school and at graduation the Air Force came along to see if they could sign people up. Naturally, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so I got in line and when I got up to the front I said

– Okay, I’m gonna sign up. I want to be a fighter pilot.

The officer said – Women aren’t allowed to be fighter pilots.

And that was that. Of course they are now. And so hearing about the GS Trophy, I don’t know, it kind of took me back to that moment.

So I said to my buddy – Let me get this straight. This is only the second year?

And he says – Yep, the women are going to be equals, going head-to-head against the men, riding the same courses.

I said – I’m in.

I had five weeks to train and that was it for the qualifier. I borrowed a piece of property and we built some obstacles that were something like the obstacles I’d found online. And I trained every single night after work, and on the weekends, up before it was light I was on the track and after it was dark I was on the track. I ate my lunch, ate my dinner on the track, riding-training. And I tipped that motorcycle over, I mean it was laid on its side more than it was stood straight up, I mean, it was like all the time. And I got better and better and better and better.

So off I went to that qualifier. I was so scared. So, so, so scared! But I got lucky, I made it through. And that meant I got the plane ticket to South Africa to go compete in the International Female Qualifier. 23 women showed up at the qualifier and it was – these words sound so little when I say this – but it was the most amazing experience in my entire life, even more so than the GS Trophy itself.

Within an hour I had 23 amazing friends, enjoying the camaraderie that we shared, the bond we had, cheering each other on to the bitter end. Each day they made a cut and so less and less women were left competing. And I kept finding myself moving on, all the way to the finals. I couldn’t believe it.

Then at the end, oh gosh, they called the team of three going to Mongolia. I’d finished fourth by just a couple of points. I was cheering for the winners, so happy for them while devastated for myself – a lot of emotion. Then came the announcement that they’d decided there was gonna be two teams, for the first time ever. I as good as collapsed, I was so elated, shocked, so mixed up with emotion! I can’t even talk about how awesome it was. And we weren’t even home for 48 hours before I had an email from BMW saying they were sending straight us back to South Africa to train with our team! And that was beautiful, too. It was such an experience. And then came the GS Trophy in Mongolia, of course.

INSPIRING WOMEN

Since then it has become my mission to inspire women, to show them how beautiful adventure riding can be and how they can find their freedom. You want to talk about #make life a ride? What that is to me: it’s freedom and passion, and scenery, and taking yourself out of your comfort zone, and discovering the unknown, and making friends and helping each other along the way… and smelling the roses, you know?

When I was road racing professionally I was really young. And there weren’t a lot of women riding motorcycles back then. And so I became kind of a celebrity, I guess. I’d be on the six o’clock news, there’s be articles in the newspapers and autograph sessions. And I was so young, I didn’t know how to handle it. And I feel I was selfish. I feel like it went to my head. And I was like, me, me, me, me, me! But time passes and that little bit of fame goes away, and people forget who you are. And I grew older, and when I looked back on those days I was kind of embarrassed. Like: wow, that was my moment. I was selfish and I didn’t handle it right.

So, even before all this, I said to myself, if I ever get the chance to do something like that again, I’m going to be so different. I promised myself that I would do it differently, I wanted to do it in a way where I would be proud. And that’s when it became my mission to make sure that I inspire other women. So when the hype and the rush came in this time, especially from social media and such, I took that energy and used it in a positive way, pushing it back out there.

I’ve always believed if opportunity doesn’t knock then build a door! I’ve guess I’ve been building doors ever since the GS Trophy as people have been knocking, offering me so many opportunities. Would I like to lead a tour in Columbia? And do I want to come back to South Africa and lead a tour? Oh, can I come to the IMS shows and and talk to people and do a presentation on the Backcountry Discovery Routes? The BDR guys grabbed me and said, would I like to be an ambassador and inspire people to come and ride? Are you kidding me?!

This is what’s happening, with all these people, with all these great things. I’ve been given these tools to feed my fire and reach more women. I’m up on stage at a show and I’m telling my story. I’m at a rally and I’m showing photos about the GS Trophy. And word’s getting around and more women are coming to me saying – I want to ride a bike like that. I want to go do this GS Trophy.

It’s all kind of led to here (the latest Female Team Qualifier in Spain). When it was coming up I thought I need to be at this woman’s qualifier because when I went to my qualifier, the ladies from the previous GS Trophy were there as supporters and they were so inspirational, so important to me. They knew what I was going through, they understood what I was feeling. And so I wrote to BMW Motorrad and offered to pay my way here, I’d take care of everything, I just needed to be here for these women. They came back to me, they said – we think that’s a perfect example of the spirit of GS. So please come! And you don’t have to pay!

After this I’m off to the BMW Motorrad international instructors academy. I’m not being too vocal about that because, to be honest with you, I’m not so sure how I’ll get on. I’m lacking a bit of the confidence that I think I should have. I don’t know if I’m ready and I don’t know if I have the skills to be an instructor. So why do I want to do it? I want to do it because of these women – and not just women, sometimes it’s men, sometimes it’s short men, sometimes tall men – these people are coming to me asking how do we do this? They’re interested in getting an adventure bike. What can I tell them? And so I want to be able to show them the right way. The BMW way.

TO NEW ZEALAND!

And now I’m going to the next GS Trophy in New Zealand! I remember I was sitting in an airport when I found out. I was about to get on a plane to go to New York. I was going to talk at a dealer presentation about adventure bikes. I was sitting there waiting for my plane when an email came through on my laptop and I looked down and it was from BMW. It said – So, Jocelyn, we were wondering if you might be interested in being the video co-host to the GS Trophy in New Zealand for 2020?

I don’t know if you’ve ever sat at an airport terminal where everybody’s pretty quiet. Their faces are in their phones or they’re sleeping or whatever they’re doing. And I just jumped up: oh my gosh, oh my gosh! That entire flight my face was frozen in this perma-smile.

What an opportunity to be able to go back! I don’t really think there could be a better job for me over there! I’m so, so grateful, so fortunate. And I am excited now to see how the new women’s teams develop and watch them climb this ladder. It’ll be so neat to see to someone else enjoy these opportunities. Then they too will inspire more women and then those women will inspire more and, you know, we can we can grow this!

 

Jocelin will be presenting the International GS Trophy 2020 broadcasts with fellow American Shawn Thomas (who also rode the 2018 GS Trophy, as journalist to Team USA). The broadcasts will be accessible through BMW Motorrad’s social media channels including YouTube and Facebook as well as through the dedicated website www.gstrophy.com

 

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