Look around you – how many women do you see riding a motorcycle? If you’re anything like me, you probably started out trying to look for fellow women riders to get advice but didn’t know quite where to look…
Motorcycling, like most activities, has started out primarily as a male-dominated activity. This however has changed in recent years. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council’s last survey in 2018, the number of women getting into motorcycling in the United States has grown with 22 percent of Gen X motorcycle owners and 26 percent of Gen Y motorcycle owners being women. In the United Kingdom, over half a million women hold full motorcycle licences. While I couldn’t find the statistics for women motorcyclists in Asia, a quick look at FreeW and Women Riders World Relay shows that, while they might be more discreet on the internet, the number of female motorcyclists in Asia is growing rapidly with the rise of their economic independence.
Given this growth, it’s important for us to raise awareness that yes, being a female rider does come with its own set of challenges. But hey fret not, it does come with its perks too! Here are the top 3 challenges and top 3 benefits of being a female rider based on my own experience:
Challenge #1 : Finding gear that fits and looks good
Oh this is the most common gripe I’ve heard. Motorcycling gear is not only expensive for us out here in Asia (no thanks to the foreign exchange rate), the choices we get are also limited. As the number of female riders in the market is relatively small, most stores do not see the economic viability of bringing in women’s gear. Even if they do, the range of items for women is highly limited. Not to mention that the choice of designs sometimes appears to have been made by that poor dude in sales who has no idea what kind of look/design/features/sizes female riders would want (sorry mate)!
What’s more, most gear manufacturers use the average Caucasian female sizing as their reference point. This unfortunately doesn’t quite work for us Asian women where the average size is much smaller (we’re talking an average of 5” 2 in height, UK size 3 in shoes, slender hands and relatively smaller heads). Hence with the limited options and budget that are available to us, we often end up with ill-fitting bulky jackets (especially with armours that don’t sit where they’re supposed to), riding boots that are a tad too roomy (which we then try to pad up with extra thick socks), gloves that don’t fit snugly (making it difficult to properly feel the levers and throttle) and helmets that make you question your life choices. So yes ladies, I feel you – the struggle is real!
Challenge #2 : Finding your riding crew
Let’s face it – motorcycling club is a thing and it’s mostly testosterone- charged. But sometimes for us women, it’s not the kind of vibe we’re looking for. While some of us are quite happy to blend in, I think I can safely say that most of us aren’t entirely comfortable or at ease in that male-centric environment for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes it’s because you feel unsafe or intimidated; sometimes it can be as simple as them just not understanding your struggles/fears and all you want is to have a few motogirlfriends to hit the road with.
There are a few women-focused motorcycling clubs or groups out there, but these are often associated with particular motorcycle brands such as the Ladies of Harley or the DesmoDonnas or the BMW GS Riders. I mean no offence and it’s just an observation of mine – those groups tend to be quite clique-ish and the energy of the group largely reflects the brand they represent. So if you own a Japanese bike (which would likely be the case if you’re just starting out), you might struggle with the feeling that you don’t fit in those groups. On top of that, chances are it’s quite difficult for you to find a group of female riders who are not linked to a specific brand.
Challenge #3 : Safety on the road
As a motorcyclist, we are bound to get abuse from drivers on the road. While this happens to men as well, women tend to be an easier target. How many times have you heard remarks such as “That driver must be a woman, the driving/parking is so poor!” or “Hey lady, if you can’t drive then don’t bother trying”? Yup – the same sometimes applies to women riders too. Admittedly I am generalising here, but based on my own observations, the majority of women ride more conservatively and tend to hesitate a bit more (usually due to overthinking and being extra cautious) when on the road. This in turn translates to us being perceived as less skilled or incompetent on the road, which then results in a barrage of verbal and physical abuse from drivers.
One such example is from my own experience. I was out riding on some city roads with a friend who was just starting out on her motorcycling journey. We were approaching a traffic light when I saw a car about to make a sharp turn without its blinkers on, heading straight into my friend. I quickly sounded my horn to warn my friend and the driver. However, the car driver got infuriated and aggressively tailgated us, occasionally getting really close to overtake and then jamming his emergency brakes. He only stopped after I managed to explain via hand signals that I was merely keeping an eye out for my friend who had a learner’s plate. I was fuming and shaking under my helmet, concerned for both my and my friend’s safety. I thought back to a few times where cars would tailgate me rather aggressively despite the next lane being free and I haven’t heard similar stories from other male riders I know (which admittedly are just a few) – I couldn’t help but wonder, are women riders more at risk?
Safety is also an issue when we go on long distance rides. Is there a safe spot for us to stop and take a break when we need to? Are there toilets along the way? If yes, are they equipped with running water? This is especially crucial when women are on their period and even more so in the current pandemic. These worries increase tenfold when we’re riding alone.
It is not all doom and gloom though! There are definitely good bits to being a female rider. Find out about how being a female rider brings great benefits on a personal, social and societal level in our next article…