Seeing a woman ride a bike not only grabs eyeballs but also makes heads turn (with some muted comments, both positive and negative). Biking is often considered a male dominated sport. Women—mostly considered as better pillions—are often expected to take the back seat and not gear through. However, times are changing and we spoke to five women who think otherwise, who are breaking gender stereotypes, one ride at a time.
A doctor by profession, Neharika doesn’t consider biking a male dominated sport and believes it’s only a matter of opportunities. A track racer, Neharika is often expected to clock the same time as her male counterparts but her spirit doesn’t deter and she strives to cut close by a few seconds. When asked about managing racing with her round-the-clock profession, she said she frequents the Buddh International Circuit over the weekends and coordinates her cases on call in the middle of track practice sessions. Neharika has been felicitated for being the only female bike racer in a championship. So how receptive are her male counterparts to her presence in the sport? “They have all been extremely supportive and are always guiding and giving me tips to get better. I practice and race with some of the fastest and finest male racers in the country".
Shabnam has been riding since 1991 and hasn’t looked back ever. Her first bike ride when she was 14. Her most memorable trip was to Binsar and Mukhteshwar, she says. It taught her that one’s ability is greater than the model and make of the bike. She feels riders are always up for helping each other out and sisterhood/brotherhood comes foremost. Shabnam has had a long standing association with the biker group, Bikerni—one of the earliest female biker groups in India, who believe that biking is a source for nirvana. “I like mud for make-up and petrol for perfume,” is what they live by. Her tips for aspiring female bikers? Follow traffic rules, wear appropriate biking gear, know your vehicle better and be mindful of other people on the road.
Priyanka is a self taught biker who started riding at the age of 18 with a Yamaha bike and now owns a Harley Davidson. She enjoys her rides solo, and with her husband, Vinod. Her best best ride was the one from Belgaum in Karnataka to Goa where she was blown by the beauty of the Chorla Ghats. Her longest journey has been from Udaipur to Goa (1325kms) which she completed in a matter of three days. Next on her bucket list is the North Eastern terrain. She plans to ride from Udaipur, her current base, to Bhutan via New Jalpaiguri with her ‘All Ladies Gang’. Her advice for first-time riders: She suggests getting to know the machine closely, being a jerk free rider, and also laying down complete details of the trip, making sure to include short halts enroute.
Fondly known as the burqa rider, Aisha was 19 when she started riding and since then, she has been quashing patriarchal myths one ride at a time. Currently she has completed five trips with her favourite being the one with her brother to Nainital. She says riding is all about unity and passion, and recommends following senior riders if one is riding for the first time. On riding in a burqa, she says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, because passion doesn’t discriminate between gender or caste and doesn’t draw boundaries.” Despite the initial backlash from certain relatives, Aisha has always had the support of her parents.
With an igniting passion for biking, Piya rode her first geared bike in college. However, as years passed by, time caught up and she couldn’t continue with riding. She reignited her passion about five years ago, with a drive to Mekong covering six countries and 17,000 kms in over 56 days. An incident that has stayed with her from this trip? The first time she entered the Mekong basin via the Ruak, a tributary of the river, stripped her riding gear and jumped into the river at a beautiful bend. “The memory of those few hours playing in the river never fails to bring a smile on my face".
“We experienced shared warmth across boundaries of language and countries. At some places we would find the food a bit unfamiliar, with spices and oils we weren't used to. The women working in these places were very sensitive to us. Often they would try to make dishes that would suit us, that were not on the menu. There were many many instances of women pillion riders, sitting behind men, or walking along the roads doing their daily business. They would wave or show us a thumbs-up sign with a wide smile as we roared past on 400 cc motorcycles,” she added. You can read about her entire journey in her book, Road to Mekong.