Women motorcyclists aren’t the rare unicorns they once used to be: according to the USA Motorcycle Industry Council statistics, 25% of American riders are women, and this number is constantly growing. The UK statistics on bikes and motorcycle license holders says there is now over half a million women who hold full motorcycle licenses in Great Britain; in Australia, the number of women riders is a little less — somewhere around the 14% mark — but there, too, it’s growing exponentially. Women riders tend to be younger than male riders (according to the USA Moto Industry Council numbers, the median age for female motorcyclists is 39 and 48 for males), and half of them do their own maintenance on motorcycles.
Despite all of this, stereotypes linger: “Ride like a girl” still isn’t a compliment, and many women riders still meet raised eyebrows when they take their helmets off. But instead of keeping their heads down, women are taking up space and getting louder: combining travel and outdoors with motorcycles, women are setting out into the world on two wheels and redefining adventure.
We sat down five female daredevils to find out how motorcycles have changed their lives, their careers, and their attitudes.
Owning the Power
Pat Jacques, a former motocross racer turned off-road instructor and all-female ADV Woman Rally organizer, says women are finally getting their power back.
“Not so long ago, women predominately stood on the sidelines while men had adventures. It was typical to see a family on vacation with dad and the kids having fun, while mom prepared meals and sandwiches and cleaned the kids up. But now, women have given themselves permission to pursue whatever activity and adventure they choose. And we do so with a lot of heart: we often combine charitable work with our adventures. Some women prefer the solitude of solo adventures, while others enjoy team-based activities like the Gazelle Race. It wasn't so long ago that women would ask permission to do something. Now, we own our power and simply go out and do it," says Pat.
Yoga in On the Road
Alexandra Trzaskowska, formerly a lawyer, now full-time motorcycle rider and tour guide, explores the most remote corners of the Earth on her two wheels: She’s ridden in Afghanistan, Central Asia, Bhutan, Cuba, South America, and the highest Himalayan regions. Not only that — she does most of it off-road. “I need a challenge when I travel," says Alexandra. “It’s not quite about being the most extreme or hardcore rider out there, or trying to compete with anyone — it’s about pushing my own limits. If I can impress myself, I’m happy."
Alexandra also runs a successful motorcycle tours company, ADV Factory, which offers extreme motorcycle trips in unique locations. For two years now, Alexandra has been leading women-only tours in the Himalayas as well as Kyrgyzstan, a small mountainous country in Central Asia. The result? “I love riding with women! With some all-female groups, we’ll do a little morning yoga, with others, we’ll push on and pick a tougher route. I think on a motorcycle, the only limits are your own, and that’s what drives me," says Alexandra.
Empowering Women And Saving Lives
Claire Elsdon, an ex-stock broker from London, left for a motorcycle trip to South Africa — and decided to stay. “The journey gave me much-needed time to reflect on what it was that I really wanted to do with my life. Simply making money and living in a city just didn’t cut it. After much thought, improvisation, and changes, I created 'Pikilily' in Tanzania. Pikilily helps local women gain valuable skills: in our workshops, we train women to ride, fix and maintain motorcycles. I never knew that there was such a profession as motorcycle maintenance consultant – so, I kind of created one," laughs Claire.
Her work in Tanzania is enabling local women to train towards a profession themselves; working together with the Red Cross, Claire is also helping to establish an ambulance network in the Sengerema region, where no emergency services are available and many women die in childbirth as a result. “Our nimble little motorcycle ambulances, driven by women, will help save lives — so many women in Tanzania die giving birth from preventable causes," says Claire.
Lessons About Empathy
Lea Rieck has spent a whole year riding around the world, solo. She says she wishes there were more female adventurers on two wheels, but that traveling all seven continents on her own, she learned some unexpected lessons. “The motorcycle community is still very male-dominated, and during the first five months of my round the world journey, no other solo female rider crossed my path. So I think, every woman rider counts – and the more visible she is, the better!” says Lea. According to her, although she didn’t set out on her journey with a mission to find herself, the road has offered some unexpected lessons.
“When I was planning this trip, I expected it would make me tougher. Instead, I think, it made me softer… I learned a lot about empathy on the way.”
For the Love of Freedom
Aldona Juozaityte is an arts teacher and a writer; in her spare time, though, she transforms into a fierce enduro rider and rally organizer. “Lots of people assume that women who ride are somehow eccentric, or oddball. But it’s not capriciousness! It’s character," says Aldona.
This summer, she organized a motorcycle ride for the blind and the visually impaired: Across the country, a hundred and fifty motorcyclists gave free rides to those who cannot see. “Why? Mostly, because we can! Riding a motorcycle gives you such an exhilarating sense of liberty. People who can’t see, can’t ride a motorcycle on their own, so I thought, what if we simply gift them that sense of freedom? So many people turned up, and I think it was good for both the riders and their passengers. A 48-year old woman, who has been afraid of motorcycles all her life and assumed that all bikers were hooligans and speed maniacs, told me afterwards, “Wow, I never knew that motorcyclists can be such friendly, caring, giving people." So in the end, the event turned out to be a gift to everyone," smiles Aldona.
Photos courtesy the respective biker; top photo courtesy Alexandra Trzaskowska
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Egle Gerulaityte is a vagabond journalist, adventurer, and motorcyclist. Riding around the world on two wheels, she loves bringing conversations, ideas and stories of extraordinary women together. Self-confessed kombucha addict and literature geek, Egle loves storytelling, every day discoveries and exploring the world off-road. Follow her on www.womenadvriders.com.