The OFS museum hosts exhibitions of motorcyclists


When I think of pre-COVID airports, I think of facilities crowded with people, security, airplanes, and long queues. What I don’t think about is stumbling upon a museum with interesting exhibits on motorcyclists in the terminals of the establishment. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

OFS Museum

The OFS has been hosting a museum since 1980. Its Office for Exhibitions and Cultural Training uses the airport’s public spaces to “humanize the airport environment” and “enhance the unique cultural life of the region of the Bay”.

And as the Bureau evolved and grew, its exhibits were placed in the four buildings of the SFO Terminal. Recognizing the exhibits as important information and history, the organization changed its name to become the San Franciso Airport Museums. And in 2010, its name was again changed to the SFO Museum.

Over time, the OFS museum has gained a worldwide reputation for a wide range of subjects. As an organization exclusively based on loans and without fundraising, the OFS museum hosts a wide variety of subjects. Exhibits include design, crafts, folk art, ethnography, science, technology, history, cuisine, costume, and popular culture.

The first American motorcyclists

And now the museum hosts exhibits that showcase the motorcycle. Both early American motorcycles and early motorcyclists are exhibited.

Charles Henshaw and Oscar Hedstrom on a Hedstrom Motor-Pacer circa 1901. Photo credit: Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History

The Early America Motorcycle exhibit recounts a “bygone era of mechanical innovation and daring industrial design.” It shows how motorcycle technology progressed rapidly in the early 1900s. By the 1910s, the number of American motorcycle manufacturers rose to over 100. According to the SFO Museum:

By 1910, motorcycles had sturdier frames and more powerful single- and twin-cylinder engines. Power was transferred to the rear wheel by a direct drive belt or chain with a single speed gear. While the elasticity of the drive belts dampened engine vibration, they were prone to wear and breakage, and roller chains were found to be much more durable. In the 1910s, transmissions increased the speed, climbing ability, and overall utility of motorcycles. Self-generating magnetos replaced battery-powered ignitions and required less maintenance. Engines became more refined with pressurized lubrication systems and double-actuated push-button overhead valves. Even complex in-line four-cylinder engines were offered to the most demanding pilots.

Special skills

During this period, motorcycle technology continues to develop. However, motorcycles are still far from today’s modern standards. In addition, the condition of the roads was generally poor. This meant that the primitive chassis and rigid suspension suspensions could eject a rider from the machine.

first American motorcycles

A 1912 Flying Merkel twin-cylinder racing car. Photo credit: Dave Scoffone

For this reason, early motorcyclists usually had special skills that allowed them to keep riding. According to the OFS museum:

“Athletic ability was required to start and operate these machines, and motorcyclists had to be mechanically willing to manually adjust the ignition timing, maintain oil levels, and repair minor problems.”

The Early American Motorcycle exhibit features fourteen examples of “exceptional” motorcycles made before 1916. It also includes a collection of rare engines and photos from the early motorcycle era.

You can visit the Early American Motorcycle exhibit in the SFO International Departure Terminal on Level 3 until September 19, 2021. If you cannot visit the exhibits, you can download the official program of the exhibition (link).

The first female motorcyclists

The exhibition of the first female motorcyclists of the OFS Museum is a photo exhibition. The exhibit features many women who paved the way for other motorcyclists and continue to do so.

Inside you’ll find information about Effie Hotchkiss and her mother Avis, who leave New York for San Francisco in a Harley-Davidson equipped with a sidecar to become the first women to cross the United States on a motorcycle.

the first female motorcyclists

(Right to left) Effie and Avis Hotchkiss. Photo credit:

Also featured are sisters Van Buren, Augusta and Adeline. They took a journey similar to the Hotchkisses to become the first women to cross the United States solo.

The first female motorcyclists

The Van Buren sisters. Photo credit: The SFO Museum

Then there is Dorothy “Dot” Robinson. His regular challenges to male competitors in endurance and sidecar races are well known. She also worked as a military dispatch rider during WWII with a group of “select” women.

The first female motorcyclists

“Motorcycle First Lady” Dorothy “Dot” Robinson sits on her 1937 Harley.
Davidson ’45. Photo credit: Betty Robinson Fauls.

Perhaps better known as the “First Lady of Motorcycling,” Dot’s commitment to motorcyclists is evident in her role as the first president of Motor Maids, the premier and prestigious motorcycle club for women riders.

More “modern” women

Another more “modern” rider, Cristine Sommers Simmons (Cris), also appears in the exhibition. The OFS museum qualifies her as a modern champion of women in motorcycling. Cris is the co-founder of Harley Women, the first magazine for women riders. She is also a freelance writer whose work appears in the United States, Japan, Spain, and Australia.

The first female motorcyclists

Cris Simmons on his 1915 Harley-Davidson “Effie” Photo credit: Michael Lichter

Cris is the author of the award-winning children’s book Patrick wants to ride and The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900 to 1950 – A Photographic History of the First Female Motorcyclists.

Another of his accomplishments includes entering and arriving at the first 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball in Kitty Hawk, NC in Santa Monica on a 1915 Harley-Davidson named Effie in honor of Effie and Ava Hotchkiss.

In later versions of Motorcycle Cannonball, Cris drove Effie from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Carlsbad, Calif. In 2016, and once again in 2018, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. These are awesome achievements for anyone, male or female. Especially considering Cris’ mount of choice.

You can find the Early Women Motorcyclists exhibit in the Level 2 departure terminal until October 3, 2021.


About Todd Wurtsbach

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