Inspired to Ride: Jets, Movies, and Dad

By Cinnamon Kernes
Vice president of market expansion and MIC events at the Motorcycle Industry Council

Cinnamon Kernes with her motorcycle.

At some point, I think every rider is asked by someone how they got into riding. Depending on how and when the question is asked, my answer lives somewhere between wanting (and not being able) to be a fighter jet pilot and being awestruck by the absolute coolness of the “motorcycles” in the movie “Tron – and I mean the original 80’s version. But if I stop for a minute and think about that “big bang” moment, I have to thank my dad. 

I only have one memory of actually being on a bike with him, and that ended up with an exhaust burn on my 4-year-old calf and disappointment that he decided my time on the back of his BSA was over before it even started. But I remember his love for his bike and the stories he would tell long after he stopped riding. When he talked about riding, there was a smile in his words and a happiness that ran far deeper than his voice. I grew up riding vicariously through his memories. 

They say the hardest part of anything is that first step of actually doing it. One of my dad’s favorite stories (and now mine) are his first days of learning to ride.

It was 1972 – the Motorcycle Safety Foundation didn’t yet exist. I actually don’t know how people learned to ride then – maybe the same way I did – start, shift, stall, tip-over – lather, rinse, repeat, until you got it down. It was not ideal. In any case, as my dad obsessed over his future BSA, he became good friends with the shop’s owner, Theresa Wallach, who taught him how to ride.

Not many people know her name, but Theresa is in the AMA Hall of Fame, she was key in forming and running the Women’s international Motorcycle Association (WIMA), and while she has quite a few notable accomplishments, I think most noteworthy is a 13,000 mile trek across Africa on a 600cc Panther with a friend in 1935 – 1935! Long, long before Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman went a Long Way Down.  So after teaching countless future riders how to ride, including my dad (and one failed attempt with my mom), Theresa sold her shop in 1973, moved to Phoenix, and opened the Easy Riding Academy. 

Cinnamon Kernes with her motorcycle.

While Theresa was a far cry from today’s MSF science-based riding curriculum and safety-based approach, teaching my dad to ride gave him and my mom one of the best gifts a person can give – the gift of freedom, confidence, and pure joy.  My dad had a small stature but when he rode, he was larger than life. While my mom ended up staying a passenger, her sense of adventure was never-ending (and instilled in me) and the two of them loved riding – so before “Tron” and “Top Gun,” there was Theresa, my dad, a BSA and the never-ending stories he shared.

So how did I end up here, working for the motorcycle industry? It started in Chicago. My first bike was a Kawasaki Ninja 250, red with purple wheels. I lived in an apartment and my bike lived in a storage unit about a mile away.  The spring of ’98 was great until it turned into the winter of ’98.  I was a solo rider. I spent most of my time at work and didn’t have much of a social life, which meant I rode on my own. As it was pre-internet and pre-AOL (Instagram and TikTok – inconceivable!!), I didn’t know about battery tenders, bump starting, and other such things – I just knew I had to dress really warm and ride my motorbike – snow or ice be damned – to keep the battery fresh and my ride ready for the return of warm weather.  Those winter miles were not my favorite and, after a particularly cold day in October, I decided it was time for a change.

Cinnamon Kernes with her motorcycle.

I left my family and a great job managing a medical association tradeshow in Chicago to drive a Penske truck across the country to California.

I was young and thought it would be easy to continue my career path on the West Coast.  I was so wrong. As I sat at the desk of a not-great-job, a supplier who knew that I loved motorcycles mentioned an opportunity to sell exhibit space for the International Motorcycle Shows, a national consumer show series. I couldn’t send my resume in fast enough. I didn’t know anything about sales, and I certainly didn’t know anyone in powersports to whom I could sell anything, but that didn’t stop me from showing up for the interview. It went awful.

Them: “Who’s in your black book?”

Me:  “What’s a black book?” I figured it was over before it even began, but it turned out that the day before, someone on their events team resigned. I turned out to be a pretty good fit and the rest is history. I worked with IMS and Dealer Expo for nearly 12 years. I had the privilege to work with a great team led by my mentor and now great friend, Mike Webster. At one point, Mike left IMS and eventually would reach out to ask if I would be interested in joining him and Larry Little to launch what would become AIMExpo.

In 2013, the American International Motorcycle Expo launched; the show’s road to success hasn’t been the easiest but it’s something I’m very proud to be a part of. In 2015, the Motorcycle Industry Council acquired AIMExpo and that was to be the start of the next chapter in my career. 

It’s not often you get to launch projects that have such meaningful and far-reaching impact. I have the privilege of not only working on AIMExpo – helping the business side of our industry grow through education and networking – but also launching and growing Ride With Us, the motorcycle industry’s market expansion initiative. Our team is responsible for the growth of our entire industry, and it’s incredibly fulfilling, humbling, and honestly a little terrifying all at the same time.

One of the best things about being part of the MIC is not only effecting change across nearly every facet of powersports, but being able to work with every segment of the industry – from the consumer who doesn’t know they’re a rider yet, to the dealers, the aftermarket and distributors, the CEOs of the biggest motorcycle/powersports manufacturers in the world, and the motorcycle safety and training community, the MSF. In a way, it comes full circle.

Cinnamon Kernes with her motorcycle.

As I lead the MIC’s market expansion program, Ride With Us, I get to work with many Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified coaches. These coaches help give people who have never ridden a motorcycle before their very first experience riding and controlling a motorcycle, using the clutch and throttle. (Believe me, I am still amazed at how effective the MSF’s methods are.) And seeing those huge smiles on the new riders’ faces is something that I will never tire of. Sometimes, it even makes me think of my dad and the big smiles on his face as he retells his favorite motorcycling stories.

Going back to my dad, I realize that in so many cases, a rider has made a rider. Theresa taught my dad; my dad instilled a passion in me; I get to be part of a team that inspires people to become riders and (I hope) reminds current riders why they ride.

Thank you Theresa, dad, and all the coaches and RiderCoaches out there, for helping me and millions of others become a motorcycle rider.