By Lauren Brown
Under a crust of mud and head-to-toe protective gear, dirt-bike riders can look similar as they negotiate the tight turns, jumps and ruts of an off-road race, distinguishable only by the numbers on their backs.
But for Amanda Knapp Ph.D. ’13, that number—334—carries a message of individuality, identifying her as a mother of three who became a competitive rider at age 34.
Knapp, an administrator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a rare female sponsored athlete on the East Coast Enduro Association’s Hare Scramble Series. She’s one of fewer than 10 women in a regular field of 200-plus men who compete in a dozen trail races during the season, which ended Sunday in Delaware.
Amid a blitz of attention this fall, including stories in Rec Rider magazine, The Baltimore Sun and American Motorcyclist magazine—which featured her on the cover— she’s trying to squash stereotypes about motorcycling in general, and women riders in particular.
“I ride because it’s a passion of mine,” she says. “But it’s also about being a positive representative of the sport for young girls or women out there, or men, who are inspired to get introduced to it.”
Knapp has had this passion since she was a little girl growing up in rural West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Her father would put her on bikes so big that her feet couldn’t touch the ground, which forced her to keep her little feet on the pegs.
“He never let me take it easy,” she says. “If I couldn’t keep up with him, I could plan on being in the woods by myself.
“I can remember times I would get stuck in a mud hole as high as the handlebars, and he would not help me. He said I could get out, and he wouldn’t let me give up,” she says. “The lessons he taught me—not being afraid of a challenge, working hard—serve me well today.”
An only child, she fondly remembers times that she and her dad joined groups of people getting together in the woods on bikes, ATVs and four-wheelers. She was the only girl riding a dirt bike, and the men sometimes groaned thinking that Knapp would hold them up. Her bike was sometimes larger than the men’s, and she loved hitting the gas and buzzing right by them all.
“It was fun to change their perception by the end of the day,” she says.
In what she calls the major “plot point” of her life, she decided at the end of 10th grade to move to Long Island, N.Y., to live with her mother and improve her educational opportunities. Knapp stopped riding seriously for nearly 15 years as she went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University at Buffalo, get married and have three children, and pursue a career in higher education. She spent nearly 10 years at the University of Maryland, University College, and at UMBC she serves as assistant vice provost for academic standards and policy administration.
When she completed her doctorate at UMD in education policy, her husband Ryan, mother Priscilla and stepfather Pete presented her with a KTM 300 XC-W dirt bike. “It was the best surprise ever,” she says.
They knew she had wanted to ride again, and now she could afford to do what she couldn’t earlier: She could race.
Besides the bike itself, she explains, “you need a lot of gear: boots, neck brace, chest protector, a good helmet, goggles—all those things add up. Then you incur the expenses of traveling to races. You need a truck and a trailer, and a place to store the trailer. It can be challenging, and that may keep some people out of the sport.”
Each of the Knapp kids, ages 11, 8 and 5, were introduced to riding at a young age when Knapp’s father welded training wheels onto a dirt bike. They now have their own dirt bikes, and the family is spending nearly every weekend riding or competing.
“I enjoy that we’re spending time together as a family,” she says. “We often spend many hours preparing for race day, collecting gear or cleaning bikes, but it is our time traveling together that has been one of the greatest rewards.”
She hopes that by putting herself out there as a mom with a doctorate in a dress suit living in buttoned-up Columbia, Md., she can help change perceptions of who motorcyclists are, and ultimately help relax state laws that can make it difficult to find a good place to ride within a reasonable distance and at a fair price.
“At the last race I was at, I had a couple of women come up to me and say they saw me in the magazine and wanted to ask me a few questions,” Knapp says. “It’s exciting to see people, women in particular, take an interest.”
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