It is time for women bikers to shatter social stereotypes

It is time for women bikers to shatter social stereotypes

By Bulbul Sharma | | 24 June, 2017
Participants at Himalayan Odyssey: Women 2016.
Himalayan Odyssey, a community motorbiking initiative, gives equal space and opportunities to women riders with a view to challenge the male monopoly on biking culture.

With the “second sex” taking centre stage in the day-to-day life functions, it is not unusual to spot a woman revving up a bike in her leather jacket and gloves. Taking on the roads are the women motorcyclists, who are breaking every taboo as they claim and own up to their love for two-wheeler riding.

Roshni Misbah, a 22-year-old New Delhi-based motorcyclist has been following her passion of bike riding ever since she was in ninth standard. Speaking about her tryst with motorcycling, Roshni told Guardian 20, “I am a very simple girl who cooks, studies, finds her happiness in family and friends and loves riding bikes. Love for riding was ever since. I am born to love bikes. My father is a super biker himself. So it was very obvious for me to love motorcycles. However, he had all the big bikes. So I never got to try them first.I tried my hands on a friend’s motorcycle and that is when I sensed ‘this is it’…”

“I always knew I wanted to ride and own a motorcycle. But when? The question remained unanswered for years. Meanwhile, I would ride motorcycles borrowed from friends and finally, the day came. I asked dad for a motorcycle. He asked me ‘if I am sure’. I immediately replied ‘Yes’. He was supportive, mom was supportive too, Alhamdulillah,” she cheerfully added.

Roshni Misbah.

The “Hijabi Rider,” as Roshni is famously known, given the trademark hijab she is always seen donning even while riding, thinks of motorcycling as a “sign of women empowerment” and is hardly pulled down by the criticism that comes her way. “People do criticise, it’s their favourite time pass I believe. I have noticed that the people who have been criticising have not understood the concept...  There is no big deal in riding a motorcycle. But then, they are the one who are stereotyping. Sadly, still, women are conditioned to get married, have children, cook and stay back at home. Even when we have women excelling in all fields today,” says Roshni.

Enraged by people often questioning her hijab, the Arab Islamic Culture student at Jamia Millia Islamia pronounces, “I come from a supportive family, not a conservative one. Being a Muslim, I am following my faith (by wearing hijab) and I am following my passion (by motorcycling).”

Pankhuri Grover, another young woman motorcyclist learned riding at the age of 14.Coming from a small town, near Haridwar, the 25-year-old reminisces her experience of first riding a bike and recounts, “It was a Bajaj Discover. The memory is quite close actually, because I fell in the middle of the road and I remember people coming up to me and asking me to go home and that they will bring my bike back. But I was very adamant and stood right up and rode the bike back home anyways.”

Stressing that the major barriers are those judgemental glares, Pankhuri adds, “The biggest challenge were the neighbours, always questioning with their judgmental eyes, but my parents supported me. Sexism is in the eyes of the people... I was never the one to listen and stop my passion.”

Yet to own her first bike, she iterates that “it was never about the bike, it was always about the ride.”

Pankhuri Grover.

“As a kid when dad would leave the shop on me, sometimes I would sneak out and borrow bikes for one round from nearby vendors and often ended up getting a solid scolding. But that did not stop me. The need to ride became just more and more intense,” Pankhuri added.

While there is a huge difference in the number of female and male motorcyclists as she admits, Pankhuri also believes “If I can follow my heart, so can others. The whole community will come out in support.”

Celebrating this undying and untamed spirit, Royal Enfield, one of the oldest motorcycle brands in the country, organised a workshop led by female motorcyclists on Sunday in Khan Market, Delhi.

A precursor to the brand’s Himalayan Odyssey : Women (HO-W) second edition, the workshop in association with DRER (Delhi Royal Enfield Riders) had over 30 women bike riders and enthusiasts who had come together for their shared love of motorcycling. With a mix of both experienced and amateur women riders, the event brimmed with high spirits as they narrated their personal rendezvous with motorbikes.

Speaking about HO and the growing bike riding community in general, Rudratej Singh, President, Royal Enfield, told Guardian 20, “The community for us is our true brand manager. Community and Royal Enfield are inextricably linked. We are not really building any community, the community exists and it’s growing bigger and bigger on its own account. We do a few things of course but the whole approach is to support and encourage rather than sponsor…  As the income level improves, the consciousness towards spending time not just with people you care about but with self is increasing.”

“Younger people are more and more expressive about that the fact that they will not put their lives on hold. All of this is intersecting for more leisure activities… Therefore what we see is that not just long distance community rides are increasing, but short rides, weekend rides, few hours rides are also increasing… The community is also an interesting concept because we do a lot of our own rides, which we encourage people to join, the purpose of that is to give them the confidence to do it on their own. These people also join clubs... Eventually, they branch off from their communities and create their own groups also… Our concept is about support...” he added.

Rudratej Singh.

Singh who is helming the second chapter of HO:W doesn’t intend to have too many editions. For him “it (HO:W-) is just a way to say that women are riding long and equal to anybody else. That is why we are calling it out differently right now but over period of time I don’t want to…  They will be riding together with the community that is the end objective… the barrier to women riding is not women themselves but the society.”

He further states, “The heights to which a woman can reach to me personally is already established, it is higher than the men. But they often don’t get a level playing field to be able to do it… The big difference is that the community is encouraging women to ride and I know a lot of men are saying ‘hey take my bike, it is very easy and enjoyable to ride.’ They are equal heroes as the women who are choosing to do it. And they are making a very strong statement to society at large and smashing stereotypes…  and that’s the most significant part of the second edition that more and more people are coming up.”

Committed to integrating women with the bike riding community at large, Singh believes that breaking barriers and stereotypes still needs to be worked out. “Women who are riding have got the unequivocal support of the family; women who are not riding don’t have the support of the society and the family. The same trigger is also the barrier,” he points out.

Underlining that the change at the society level will happen centre-outwards i.e. from the middle-class ,Singh emphasises that the women motorcyclists “are making a statement not just to the other women but it’s actually smashing stereotypes in society and that’s why it is so exciting… These are the real women who are doing it,” as he signs off.

HO, this year will comprise of 50 participants, out of which 20 have registered for its women edition. The 18-day expedition will witness camaraderie of fans and participants after being flagged off on Saturday, 8 July from India Gate in New Delhi. Both contingents— HO and HO:W will kick-start their adventure from Delhi together and will ride on different routes before finally converging at Leh on their eight day.

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