Kris “TigerLady” Slawinski’s first love was horses. But when she was 12 a family friend gave her a ride on his motorcycle, and horses took a backseat.

“Guys are always rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Girls and horses–it’s a sexual thing,'” she says. “To me horses were independence and power. But I knew I could never keep one in the city. With the motorcycle I knew immediately, ‘This is it.'”

“It’s the most freedom you can have,” says Slawinski’s business partner, Gina Woods. For the past two years the pair has produced and hosted Open Road Radio, a two-hour motorcycle talk show that airs Thursday nights at 8 on Elgin’s WJKL (94.3 FM). Woods also got interested in motorcycles at an early age. “My uncle would come by the house and pick my mother up and take her away on his hog. When I was eight he started to take me around the block with him.”

But Woods didn’t get her first motorcycle until she was well into adulthood. “I thought that girls didn’t do those things.” Instead she worked at a Harley dealership and dated men who rode. She got her first bike eight years ago, a “basket case” 1968 Harley-Davidson XLCH that she bought for a song and nursed back to health. Today she rides a 1949 kick-start Panhead.

Slawinski bought her first bike, a Honda 750 K2, over 20 years ago. “My neighbor, who had a Kawasaki, came over and said, ‘Let’s ride.’ I said I didn’t know how. He brought me into the alley and showed me the clutch, the brake, and the shifter pedal. I rode it up and down the alley for two weeks.”

She and Woods met four years ago through a mutual friend. At the time Slawinski wrote a column for a motorcycle magazine and Woods was station manager at the Highland Park time-brokered WVVX FM. They spent a year doing research–including handing out 1,000 questionnaires to fellow riders–before putting on their first show two years ago. Today the two work full-time on the program, which is a mix of tech tips, racing updates, news, club profiles, movie reviews, and features. They’ve covered such topics as free riding (in which riders jump sand dunes and do somersaults in the desert) and the grueling biennial Iron Butt Rally. A recent segment focused on motorcycles in advertising (“Of course the woman is on the back of the bike,” Slawinski complained). The show has attracted guests like Jay Leno, former senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and Evel Knievel and his son, Robbie.

“My favorite shows are the women’s shows,” says Woods, who will lead the city’s first all-women’s motorcycle ride with Slawinski in March. “Women have been riding motorcycles all along. They were doing cross-country trips back in 1913.”

Size–yours or the bike’s–doesn’t matter, she adds. “If people are thinking about riding and dreaming about it, they should just do it.”

Slawinski will host Tuesday’s “The Art of the Motorcycle: Wheels and Reels” screening of Evel Knievel at 6:30 at the Field Museum, Roosevelt at Lake Shore Drive. She’ll be joined by Northwestern film professor Chuck Kleinhans, who will discuss working-class film heroes. Admission is $8; call 312-222-8854. Slawinski and Woods will also host an Open Road Radio booth at next weekend’s Cycle World International Motorcycle Show at the Rosemont Convention Center. Open Road Radio can also be heard at Call 312-455-9889 for more about the show.

–Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Gina Woods, Kris Slawinski photo by Eugene Zakusilo.