Ever since 2006, every first Saturday of May has been known as the International Female Ride Day. This is a day set aside for female motorcyclists across the world to ride ‘in synchrony’.
Vicki Gray, director and founder of Motoress online motorcycle magazine, introduced the campaign to grow the number of women motorcyclists.
In Kenya, a group of female motorcyclists called Inked Sisters have decided to take up that mantle by riding out to on May 5.
The group named themselves after the InkedBiker Rider Training organisation, which hosts riders at Ligi Ndogo grounds on Ngong Road.
Twenty three riders have signed up for this year’s ride. Among them are Nyambura wa Mwangi, a structural engineer; Bettina Bogonko, a nutritionist; Sylvia Thiong’o, a microbiologist, and June Walker, a pilot. Their ages range from 21 to 52.
The women have known each other for some time, but the group just started this year.
They felt their needs are not necessarily the same needs male riders have. Having been trained and mentored by a man, they feel the female approach to riding is more cautious and needs a bit more time.
They felt some of the guys made them feel pressured to get things right on the go even if they had not.
“As women, we needed to be walked along the path rather than made to run. Even though some are ready to go from the start, this doesn’t mean we are less capable riders,” says Edith Githachuri, who rides a Yamaha Virago 535.
They don’t want to be treated differently from male riders because when they are on the road, the focus shifts to their safety and that of other riders, motorists and pedestrians. When motorists realise that it’s a woman on a bike they tend to drift towards the riders to try and get their attention and compliment them. This is the scariest thing to a rider since their lives are in danger from proximity with the vehicles.
The discussions that pick up during their interactions include stuff male riders would never go through. During this rainy season, for example, they have been talking about what to do when one is out riding in the rain and they are on their monthly period, as well as woman-friendly gear.
“We normally handle periods, but when you get wet then everything gets soaked. So we had a good discussion about what the options are to handling it. I had the same discussion with my super pillion (passenger), my daughter Makena. Someone also said she had bought a jacket that was too tight around her breasts and whether she had to wear a sports bra while riding,” says Professor Koi Tirima, who rides a BMW GS.
“We are still feminine. We had a conversation around riding and make up, how to ensure it stays on even as you ride, so that when you take off your helmet at your destination you are still recognised as a woman,” they continue.
Just so you know, they have decided to try milk of magnesia as a primer.
“We also talk about how to keep fresh when dong long distances in the jackets.” They also have workshops on bike maintenance issues.
One misconception female riders get from the general society is that they are rebellious and very promiscuous.
A video by a public figure promoting a recent biking event had alluded that pillions going to that event should consider themselves sexual gratification for the male motorcyclists who carry them, and not cry rape at the event.
The event had been advertised as a family event and the female riders took offence because some of them are mothers (of daughters), wives, fiancées and girlfriends and it was sending the wrong message about them.
Professor Tirima said some of her female friends thought something was wrong with her when she started riding.
When men would go to check out her bike when she rode in, some approached her aggressively wondering why she wanted so much attention from their husbands. Their message is that women should not allow themselves to be looked at and talked to derogatively while keeping quiet.
“I think the tension lies in having women who are independent enough to ride their own bikes that society does not know how to deal with it. I don’t have to be rebelling against anything or going through a midlife crisis to ride a bike,” says Naya, a musician who was inspired to ride by her biker father.
The group also raises funds for each other outside of motoring activities.
They visited Sylvia when she had an accident, raised money and donated blood for a member whose mother had cancer, supported Naya’s concert,
and conducted a ‘bikers social responsibility’ drive for Kijiji Southlands fire victims.