Motorbiking — to date seen as a testosterone-fueled manly pursuit, is getting a much-wanted makeover. A leather-clad, high-speed, gender revolution on wheels — India’s all-women biker clubs — is rapidly gaining popularity in India. Scores of women in India are breaking gender stereotypes and taking on the open road, crushing social barriers as they hop on to their bikes and strap on their helmets for the journey ahead.
The modern-day Indian woman breaks social barriers and challenges gender stereotypes on a daily basis, so why should motorbiking be any different? From changing tyres to repairing faulty clutch wires, from trick stunting to racing, these daredevil women moonlight as hardcore machine heads, and stand proud as equals with their male counterparts.
“Women riding together is like a family, without prejudice and judgment,” Says Urvashi Patole, co-founder of the pan-India female biker association, the Bikerni, “You leave all stress and worry behind, and enjoy bonding with women who love motorcycles equally. We encourage each other to go on long trips as a group, or solo, and train other women to ride and to race or to stunt. It’s a great revolution!”
Women and Wheels
India is home to over 4,000 female bikers, and a number of motorbike clubs and associations that encourage women to venture beyond their comfort zones and experience the thrill of being on the back of a motorbike, all while surrounded by the security of like-minded individuals with a passion for wheels.
From the REgals of Mumbai, who are passionate Royal Enfield loyalists, to the Lady Riders of India, a group exclusively for those who like to ride motorbikes above 650cc, India’s host of motorcycling associations and clubs have something on offer for every type of rider.
For the average Indian woman who is bogged down by societal expectations and the responsibilities of the matriarchal position, biking can be an unexpected outlet and a blessing.
“A lot of women who are homemakers consider themselves lucky to head out on long road trips, while a lot of working women are purchasing motorcycles and planning expeditions as well.” Says Urvashi Patole of the Bikerni, “Just being here among women who have had it tough, and to have them think of the Bikerni as their safe space in which to be natural, and live comfortably in their identity, just as it should be outside this space as well- To see these women ride and be a family to each other- that makes me really happy.”
Rebels with a Cause
Clubs and associations the likes of the Bikerni, the Biking Queens of Surat, the Lady Riders of India and the REgals, amongst countless others, present great opportunities for female riders, who are using these platforms to cultivate careers as racers, trainers, and gear and accessories makers to name a few. However, it’s not all high-speed races and gasoline for these thrill-seeking women. A medium for empowerment, these clubs, and associations strive to uplift the voiceless and the destitute, by using their platform as a means of highlighting such issues in the public eye.
“I started Biking Queens to show the world that women can also do the things that were only expected to be done by males,” says Dr. Sarika Mehta, founder of the Biking Queens, a Surat-based motorbike club that aims to serve society by redefining gender stereotypes and roles, “We transformed the motorbike into a medium through which to spread awareness on issues like education of female children, and health and hygiene in rural Indian areas.”
Founded in the year 2016, the Surat-based biker club led by Sarika Mehta has 40 members and over 80,000 followers on Facebook, making it one of India’s largest motorist groups. Their rides, including the All India All Women Bike Ride— the 10 Nation Bike Ride from India to Singapore, and the 3 Continent Bike Ride from India to London, have been spreading the message of equality, education, and women empowerment by promoting initiatives such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Swachh Bharat, and Sashkta Nari Sashkta Bharat.
Handling projects both nationally and internationally, the Biking Queens pride themselves on their genuine efforts to better the society that they live in by uplifting the female child. India has one of the worst cases of widespread female infanticide and general neglect in rural areas as compared to most other places in the world. Through their initiatives, these powerful female gearheads do their best to care for the young girls that face the worst of the brunt. “We take care of these girl children because, being women, we know the struggles a girl has to go through without parental care,” explains Sarika.
With organisations such as the UN and the local and international governing bodies behind them, these women are on their way to actualizing major change amongst the disadvantaged, and in Indian society overall.
Cat-calling, Criticism, and Courage
Stereotypes surrounding gender roles and capabilities are being challenged across the globe. Old and outdated ideas are challenged every day, and the unwritten rules and restrictions that bind those who dream of breaking free are bending under the pressure of the unstoppable force of change. As we converse with these pioneers and game-changing women, we began to notice a pattern emerge.
For Urvashi Patole, the Bikerni herself, the journey began just like every other casual walk down the street for an Indian woman— with catcalling.
“When I got into motorcycle riding years ago, around 2007, there was a dearth of women who loved riding, especially in Pune. The few that I did know all had the same experience, of getting cat-called by the boys and receiving sardonic remarks for practicing riding and stunting. We were not welcomed with open arms, and felt pretty much alone.” Urvashi explains. “In 2010, I had the opportunity to work on assignment for Mahindra 2 Wheelers, where I met another woman rider, a racer from Chennai. She told me of her struggles in the racing scene, and how she to work twice as hard to earn a name in the racing circuit. That’s it I thought, enough of trying to make place- let’s create our own”
The rest, as they say, was history. Today, the Bikerni stands at more than 2000 members strong, across 17 chapters, and are known across the world for sparking the female motorcycling movement in India, as the first and largest all-women motorcycle association of India. As Sarika Mehta of the Biking Queens tells it, it was the disapproval and criticism of those around her that drove her to pursue change.
“Someone once told me that women didn’t have it in them to be road junkies and brave the dusty miles.” Sarika remembers, “Rather than getting bogged down, I took the criticism positively and worked towards disproving it. Gathering like-minded, fiery women, I set up Biking Queens in 2015. I believe in surmounting obstacles in my path. Criticism made me what I am right now.”
While the movement is rapidly growing around the country, there is only more room to grow. Our country is witnessing a dynamic shift, with women at the forefront of the movement. While these badass biker babes may be spearheading the revolution, they are supported by a network of loyal fans and male bikers, who look to these women as the future of motorcycling in India.
Vijay Singh of Rajputana Custom Motorcycles, a detailing outfit based out of Jaipur that specializes in modification, revealed that of his scores of clients, only one has been a woman. However, he expressed a hope for the future.
“Female Biker clubs can be emancipating, in a way. When one person does it, others follow suit. It eliminates the fear of the unknown. To travel in groups, to go places, and meet people— It’s character building and helps people step out of their comfort zone,” he says, “I wish that more and more women get the chance to ride and to experience the open the road. I hope they have the opportunity to find a part of themselves- a strong part of themselves that is independent, and powerful.”
TheVibe celebrates the courage and power of these women, who are charting a new course for women all over the nation and taking on the open road together, as a family.
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