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For Kanani Koster, motorcycles evoke nostalgia. The Portland-based film director grew up riding dirt bikes with her dad, a former motocross and motortrials (also known as mototrials) rider. That’s a unique subset of motorcycle competition that involves riders getting through obstacles on an off-road course without touching the ground. Family movie nights at Koster’s home often included replays of her dad’s favorite documentary, the 1971 ode to motorcycle sport, On Any Sunday, produced by Bruce Brown and Steve McQueen.
Call it kismet that her first idea veered to motorcycles when brainstorming for an action-themed film with art director Janie Faison for the Oregon Made Creative Foundation grant, in partnership with Travel Oregon. Koster recalled that sunny 1970s documentary she knew by heart and saw the opportunity to give it a modern spin. “We thought we could build a fun homage to an older classic,” says Koster, “but make it more relatable and accessible for people who didn’t see themselves in it before.”
Building Community and Connection
Next Koster met Portland-based producer and rider Tiffany Lindquist, a friend of Faison’s who works for Gearhead Grip & Electric and is a founding member of the local women’s motorcycle-riding club Torque Wenches. After discussing their joint vision for the project, the trio outlined a concept for the documentary: women riders and a women-led production crew.
“Our bigger goal for the documentary is to normalize women riding motorcycles,” says Koster, which is why the riders in the film focus on what riding adds to their life versus being female motorcyclists. The documentary also illuminates the conviviality found in motorsports, a culture Koster grew up with and describes as surprisingly accessible and fully welcoming.
“I think people who don’t ride motorcycles have a lot of preconceived notions about what that community is like,” says Koster. The motorcycle community in Oregon is over 150,000-strong. “When you really dive into the community, you see all the different types of riders out there and the many ways that people got into it,” Koster says. “It’s a friends-and-family sort of environment. For many it’s all about hanging out with your pals.”
The Joy of the Open Road
The documentary stars three women riders, and though each specializes in a different style of riding, all revel in the grit and joy found on two wheels while immersed in the beauty of Oregon. Dirt bike enthusiast Jada Noriyuki found her way to riding because both her father and grandfather had a passion for exploring trails. She still remembers when they set her atop a Honda XL185 and pointed her in the opposite direction for an inaugural family ride. “My working and riding community are like my family,” she says.
A rider by nature, Noriyuki is also an avid collector — in the last 10 years, she’s bought and sold 15 bikes, leading to adventures throughout the west coast of North America. “I just want to ride all of them,” she says. “Both street and dirt riding offer the opportunity to connect to nature.” As a Bend resident, Noriyuki is surrounded by natural beauty and endless trails. “You get twisty roads to the mountains, to the desert, to the ocean,” she says. “Oregon is the perfect place to enjoy motorcycles.”
Rising to the Challenge
When the film introduces international trials competitor Kylee Sweeten, she’s defying gravity — skillfully balancing herself over massive boulders and logs rising from cathedral-like forested trails near Oregon City. For the past nine years, Sweeten has tackled one of the most challenging sports on two wheels, steadily ascending to become one of the top riders in the world. (Mototrials is most popular in the U.K. and Spain, although there are participants around the globe.)
“Trials is a very unique technical sport that is not based on speed or time,” she explains. “The goal of the sport is to get through a designated course without taking your feet off the pegs and touching the ground.”
For six years, she’s competed nationally, riding her motorcycle through courses that typically include various obstacles like logs, large rocks and steep grades — all while mastering exceptional technique, control and foresight. “Riding has made me become tougher as a person both mentally and physically,” she says.
Strong family roots in motorsports led Sweeten to start riding at a young age. Her parents met while riding mototrials, and in the ’90s her dad was one of the top pro trials riders in the nation. She rode her first dirt bike at age 5 and advanced to a trial bike two years later. Following her dad’s footsteps into the competitive circuit, the duo often practice together.
Sweeten has found mototrials empowering on many levels and still rides for the love of the sport. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and I’ve made lifelong friends,” she says. “It’s really taught me that the most important things in life are the things that bring you joy, because that’s what keeps you going.”
Racing to Goals
Longtime dunes rider Ashley Volner, the third rider featured in the film, decided to pursue the challenge of MX racing for the athleticism and the thrill of the sport. Initially she didn’t tell anyone she was going to do it. “I set clear goals and told myself I was just going to go for it,” she says.
She trained for three years on tracks and trails at Albany Motor Sports Park. In her first year of racing on her Yamaha YZ250F, she competed in the Salem Arenacross series and the Oregon State Championship series, securing first place in both. “I got hooked on the feeling of winning races,” she says. “I met a lot of people along the way who helped me train and gave advice, and just welcomed me into the moto community. It was really cool.”
Lindquist, the film’s producer, rode across the state on her Triumph Bonneville to meet with the three featured riders during production. For her the film was an adventure dream come true. Since moving to Portland in 2014, she’s established a wide network of street bike, dirt bike and quad-riding compatriots.
Lindquist is still fairly new to riding off-road, so she frequents Brown’s Camp and Lyda Hill trail in the Tillamook State Forest — both of which offer a mix of beginner loops and more advanced trails. “Riding has given me so much confidence on and off the bike,” she says. “I’ve met so many incredible people and seen amazing places that you just can’t get to in a car.” The film, she says, was an opportunity to capture and share that. “And of course, the adrenaline rush always keeps me coming back.”
If You Go:
One of the best ways to explore different styles of biking is with a group ride, which are held across the state and open to all skill levels. The riders and racers of Dirtastic offer pop-up dirt bike clinics, skills sessions and retreats throughout the year around the Western U.S., led by an all-female team of 15 USMCA-certified coaches. You can also opt for private or small-group training with their tailored Learn 2 Ride sessions often held in Hood River, bikes provided.
Meet up with Torque Wenches, a Portland-based riding club that encourages women of all skill levels to connect and build each other up through riding. In addition to monthly rides, the group rallies around worldwide events like the International Female Ride Day held every year in May.
Join the festive crowds for Thursday Night Motocross, the nation’s longest-running racing series held under the lights, celebrating its 55th year in 2021. More than 200 riders from grassroots pee-wee to national-level pros race on the soft dirt and steep hills of this legendary track at Portland International Raceway.