Why Women Ride

Not long ago I was on the Internet doing a Google Search, can’t remember what I was looking for, but what I stumbled across gave me a moment of pause.  It was an article from a 1937 edition of the Washington Post about Sally Robinson who was the first female to get a motorcycle rider's permit in Washington, DC.  The specific date for the article was September 11, 1937.  I’ll not get into the specifics of the article to any great extent but suffice it to say it was an elongated battle for her to get her permit; not because of an inability to ride or handle the bike, but because of her gender.

As mentioned this got me to thinking and I decided to do a little research of my own.  As you read this please keep in mind the research was not a scientific study using hundreds of riders nor did it involve any mathematical equations or span months of interviews and study groups.  I just asked some ladies I know who ride and some who don’t.  I even asked the opinion of men who ride to get their perspective.  The information received is what you see here; take it for what it’s worth.

Upon completion of this extensive layman’s study I found there are a couple of very distinct differences between male riders and female riders.  Those will be listed later.  The initial inquiry sent to my friends and associates had basic questions.  Questions included but were not limited to, “Why do you ride”, “Do you change your own oil”, “Do you feel society looks at you differently as a rider” and “Do you feel men treat you differently because you ride.”

Over the past many years the number of female riders has increased exponentially. When I first started riding back in 1972 there were very few female riders compared to their counterpart.  A girl I was dating at the time said she rode, but subsequently wrecked my bike.  This had nothing to do with our ultimate breakup, but it may have been a contributing factor, subconsciously of course.  Some of mainstream society seems to think there are only two types of women who ride.  I’ll not get into the two types because I feel both are unfounded.  Not so very long ago mainstream society believed there was only one type male who rode.  There was nothing farther from the truth back then and I still believe there is nothing farther from the truth.  I know too many wonderful ladies who enjoy riding to believe any of them could be singularly categorized into any specific group.  Ladies of all walks of life ride.  Ladies from the ranks of the unemployed to the professional (whatever “professional” means) enjoy riding.  Personal beliefs, lifestyles, life experiences, and choices surely play a part, but the same can be said for the male rider.

A few men I talked to indicated there are far too many women riding who have no business riding due to inability, lack of sense, and/or are “an accident waiting to happen.”  Hate to bust your bubble here dude but I know far too many men who have no business riding due to inability, lack of sense, and/or are “an accident waiting to happen” so that analogy doesn’t wash.

When asked, “Why do you ride” I received this response from one lady, “…Love the adventures of riding. You just don’t go out to ride; you go out to get your senses going.  When you are riding, you can smell the country side, trees, things you can’t experience from a car.  I don’t even mind the rain, its part of the adventure.”  Sound familiar…?  The only difference between her analogy and mine is her spelling is better and she is actually capable of putting her thoughts into words.

I met a couple who both ride recently, Rusty and Judy of Minnesota fame; he rides a Yamaha and she rides a Harley.  When asked why she rides a Harley vs. riding a Yamaha like her Husband her response was, “Because I have a mind of my own”.  Classic response, gotta love it.  Her only regret was she (as was her Husband I’m sure) was getting tired of the Yamaha jokes from other Harley riders.  The fact remains, here is a couple who enjoy riding and they both have the ride they want and do not feel threatened by the disparity of make and model.  What should it matter to anyone what anyone rides.  Two wheels are two wheels regardless of make and model.  Some would disagree and that’s fine; part of what makes this country great is the ability to voice your own opinion… at least for now.

Many couples ride for not only the enjoyment of riding, but because it gives them something to do together.  One might add they like doing this together more so than other things because they can do this and not have to talk while doing it… but we’ll not go there.  More and more couples are riding.  Some get identical bikes, like matching shirts.  More and more family members are riding together; Mothers and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters, Fathers and Daughters…  Lindsay, a friend of mine has been riding all her life.  Her response to, “Why do you ride” was, “Why I started riding was because my dad has always ridden and I think, and have always thought, he is the coolest man alive. When I was young, about 5...he made me a mini bike with a Briggs and Stratton and I have never stopped riding. The bikes have progressively gotten bigger and faster, but the feeling is the same. Riding has always given my dad and I something to do together and talk about. Other than that, I just love the feeling of being independent from everything except the bike when I ride. My thoughts are completely in the moment and not overwhelmed by what is going on in the world or what work I need to get done.”  How perfect is that?

Riding dangers are not a factor for most women.  By that I do not mean they do not fall prey to the same dangers men do; they are victims just like male riders.  I just think they are more immune to the sensation of danger.  These are a species that dry their hair with an electric dryer next to a water source, paint the perimeter of their eyeballs with a sharp pointie thing, walk around in high heels that will snap the normal man’s ankle in a split second and allow hot wax to be poured in very close proximity to tender parts of the body; it’s obvious to me they laugh in the face of danger.

Sense of freedom, exhilaration, control are just a few of the adjectives used in many of the responses.  Many women start to ride after years of being on the back seat.  Some refer to this as “riding bitch.”  I’ve never much cared for that analogy for a number of reasons, but mainly because the term “bitch” makes reference to… well, you know what it makes reference to.  It’s very derogatory, insulting and really has no place in my vocabulary.  Fact is I would never have that type female on the back of my bike.  I have no problem having a lady on my bike and have had the pleasure of such company on numerous occasions.  Anyway, they got tired of the back seat so they shifted to the front.  The best explanation came from my Sister-In-Law, “I drive my own bike because the feel of the road is much different in the driver's seat vs. the passenger seat. The feel of leaning into a curve is about the best example I can give. I also drive because I can stop when I want.”  I had never thought about it before, but on the back seat you do not really feel the sensation of going into a curve.  On the back seat you are just along for the ride.  On the backseat, when a bike goes into a curve you are just part of the bike, like the fender or “sissy” bar.  In the front seat you are the force that makes the bike take that curve.  You are no longer a part of the bike; you are the controlling factor that directs the movement, direction and speed of the bike.

Motorcycle maintenance is another category I looked at.  It was 50/50 on doing services on their own bikes.  Some ladies said, “Yea, I do my own services but enjoy watching my boyfriend or husband do it too.”  I took that as they could if they had to or wanted to but usually don’t. No major infraction there. Without any proven statistics I would feel comfortable in saying the ratio of men who do their own service is 50/50. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, dependent on time available, other pressing requirements and the length of that ever present “honey-do” list.

My favorite responses came from the question, “Does society look at you differently?”  Most responses had a similar phrase; something like, “...and I don’t care what society thinks.”  Gotta love it and you would agree that opinion is not restricted to the female species of the riding community.

Female riding clubs are popping up all over and have been for many, many years.  I do not see this trend stopping anytime soon.  I gotta ask though, “how is it we can have an all female riding club but if we have an all male riding club we are accused of being…” ah, never mind, let’s move on.

Women are accused of making a purchase based on color or “how it looks” rather than functionality or an informed intellectual decision.  Perhaps there are those out there who purchased their ride based on an impulse reflex because they saw, “just the cutest little ride…” but be honest and ask yourself, what did you base your last purchase on?  Some of you will say you did the research; test rode a few and made an informed purchase.  Others, if truthful, would say you made a purchase based on the fact they saw, “the coolest ride you have ever seen…”  Come on, admit it.

Some men feel women should not ride for one reason and one reason only; they are women.  Granted this type is an endangered species, rare and is a dying breed and should be gone by the end of this quarter century; at least in this country.  My advice to those who feel that way is to go back to painting animal pictures on the stone wall and let life pass you by.  I know it was tough getting over that women’s suffrage thing but life goes on; deal with it.  I suspect the same thought process was prevalent in 1919 when women were given the right to vote and around the end of the Victorian period when women started to wear pants. A bit of history here, “bloomers” which is (or maybe was) a combination of a skirt and trousers were invented by activist Amelia Jenks Bloomer.  I know that has nothing to do with riding; just a little side trek to acquire a bit of useless trivia.  

Women ride for the same basic reasons men do.  They have a mind of their own, they are a bit more independent, a little more self assured, they are not cut from society’s “typical” cloth, looking to make their own way… this list could go on and on.  Each one of the aforementioned phrases or any phrase you care to spout could start with “She is…” but would equally apply if it started with “He is…”

However, there are few distinct differences that cannot be denied.  The main difference is women are usually better looking than men, on or off the bike.  Granted there may be acceptations to the rule but they are few and far between.  If you do not believe women are better looking than men then you might need to take a look in the mirror.  It shouldn’t take too long to figure out that we guys are really not that good looking.  Another difference, one which cannot be disputed at any level of intellect, women smell better than men do and don’t suffer from the need to emit odd body sounds or express themselves in somewhat gross mannerisms.

Another difference that I believe rings true.  Men, for whatever reason, believe because they are men they are born with the ability to ride a bike.  Not so.  I do not believe women suffer from this fallacy.  I started riding before the days of MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) and it has only been recently that I have taken a class from them.  Originally I thought the class was going to be a waste, but I was proved wrong.  Most women I know have taken the class.  Certainly a larger percentage of female riders have taken the safe rider’s course vs. the percentage of male riders; women don’t suffer from that, “I’m a man” attitude that will sometimes drown out the sounds of logical thought.  They do not suffer from the brain cell that believes motorcycle riding is a man’s God given talent from birth. Plus they don’t have to stop and think about how to fold a fitted sheet, of course that’s going on the misconception that men even try to fold a fitted sheet.

In 1937 Sally Robinson fought a battle with the local authorities in Washington DC and she won.  She was certainly not the first female to ride in the US, but I believe she must be given credit for standing up for what is right and she pushed the envelope until the door opened; it was not opened for her.

I think females riding motorcycles is a good thing and I enjoy the addition to our family….  The original version of this editorial ended with, “… and gives me something better to look at during Rallies and poker runs.”  I was politely informed by a good friend that this is the type of comment that could portray me by some as something less than I am capable of being. To insinuate that the addition of female riders boils down to, “giving me something nice to look at” is condescending.  Since I am a guy this fact did not come to light until after it was pointed out to me.  So let me end this article this way…

The ever increasing number of female riders is a good thing based on pretty much any measurement or metric you care to use.  I think they feel and enjoy what some male riders may have lost over time.  Since some males think riding is a God given capability maybe they will never understand what a lady feels while riding solo.  Personally I think women feel a sensation and a sense of freedom while riding that escapes most (if not all) men.  Ladies see it as not only freedom and a level of empowerment but as an open door; a door that was held shut not so many years ago.  They know that women before them fought a long battle and won.  All we ask of the female rider is this.  When we make those stupid comments that could be taken wrong just give that knowing smile to each other, give us a pat on the head and join us on the road less traveled.  With your applied patience I think we will eventually get it… maybe.  Ride Safe.