They neatly tuck their hair into a heavy helmet; zip up a black jacket and kick-start their mean machines. The engine’s roar is music to their ears. Sharp corners, steep turns, throttle control and a need for speed are a part of their lives. They are trailblazers in more ways than one.
I feel good
An unkempt, foul-mouthed and tattoo-covered brat! Isn’t that how you typically picture a biker chic? Well, here’s some news for you. These are women who love lipsticks and heels as much as Davidsons and Ducatis. A large number of Indian women are taking to the open road on sport, cruiser, dirt or even touring bikes. “When I ride, I feel superior to men,” says 28-year-old Rutavi Mehta who learned riding, on a 1988 Royal Enfield, in 48 hours. But before she took to riding professionally, even Rutavi had to bite the bullet. Initially, her parents disapproved of girls riding bikes. Eventually, they gave in and Rutavi found herself riding across Qatar, Switzerland and of course, India.
Like Rutavi, several other women are driving change. Mumbai-based Sheetal Bidaye started riding 22 years ago, when bikes were still a boy’s toy. She is currently training for the Raid de Himalayas endurance ride in October, and will be the first Indian woman biker to participate in it. From a time when women bikers were scorned and stared at to one where men wave out to their female counterparts, Sheetal believes, times are changing. “I was the only woman to go up to the 18,654-foot Marsimek La mountain pass. Bad roads, sand, slush, snow and low oxygen levels were only a few of the hurdles my bike and I faced,” says Sheetal, whose feat got her listed in The Limca Book of Records 2011, as the First Woman on motorcycle to reach Marsimek La.
Mind over matter|
The growing number of women riders have one common sentiment—an empowering experience. For them, it’s all about a deep understanding of what you are and are not in control of. “Some people like to cook and paint; I like to ride. It gives me a sense of freedom,” says Delhi-based biker Ambika Sharma, who owns a 2013 GSX-R1000 1 Million Commemorative limited Edition super sport bike. Blood pressure issues, postponing nature’s calls, landslides, heavy rains and icy roads are challenges they deal with head on. Physical endurance, is not as tough as mental endurance, concur Ambika and Sheetal. Riding is about skill and balance, not chromosomes, they insist. Women bikers argue that most bikes are built based on a man’s height. “Besides the super sport bike, I also own and ride a Harley Davidson Road King. It is a 1700 cc engine and weighs 450 kg with fuel; I only wish I was taller so I could manage it better,” laughs Ambika. Be it choice or chance, riding in India is saddled with safety issues. Do they feel safe riding solo? “No,” echo Rutavi and Sheetal. But their resolve remains unfazed, especially, in a society where women are often pressured to take the backseat. They just make sure to keep their family and friends informed of their whereabouts.
Have bike, will ride
The number of women-only bike clubs is burgeoning in India. Riding has no age bar, according to Bangalore-based Bindu Reddy, founder of HopOnGurls. “We have successfully taught more than 70 women to ride and inspired hundreds.” Her first student was a 45-year-old woman.
In India, where most men consider women to be bad drivers, riding a Harley or an Enfield requires them to be fierce and fearless. Urvashi Patole and Firdaus Shaikh, who founded the first pan-India all-women biking association, The Bikerni, are admittedly, never perturbed when snubbed by men. “I know exactly who I am and what I am capable of,” says Urvashi. The Bikerni is the only women’s biking group in India officially recognised by the Women’s International Motorcycling Association.
For these women on wheels, every twist and turn on the road is tantamount to discovering the highs and lows of life. They are connected by threads of passion and perseverance. More power to them!