WHEN Harley-Davidson unveiled their Ultra Low street cruisers designed for women with a penchant for speed and power, they knew exactly whom to target. The specially built all-black cruisers were chic, sported less chrome, yet plenty of style, and were built closer to the ground with a shorter reach to the handlebars, and narrower grips. The strategy proved reasonably successful as Bangalore topped the charts with the highest number of female bikers in the country. We speak to the trail blazing lady HOGS (Harley-Davidson Owners Group) from grand mothers and HR executives to restaurateurs and IT professionals.
Thirty-seven-year-old lawyer with Cisco, Chellappa enjoys ‘the independence and thrill of riding a bike’. Considered a mentor in the biking community, as she has been riding since she was 17, now she even shares the coveted Fat Bob with her husband. “While my mother is cool, my father cannot understand why I ride,” she reveals. The spunky lawyer enjoys the attention she gets out on the road too. “Just the other day, at a signal, a bunch of young men in an auto pulled up and said, ‘Your bike really suits you!’,” recalls Chellappa, adding that it is mostly encouragement, rather than cat calls. Apart from enjoyment, long haul trips on highways have helped her add a broader perspective to her work. “You need quick reflexes and awareness to apply to all aspects of your life,” she says, and riding hones exactly that.
Saying that she owns two-and-a-half bikes (a Bullet Classic called Azura because it is blue, the sporty Kawasaki Ninja 250, plus half of the Harley), Chellappa believes that bikers are born, not made. And while riding lifts her spirits, there is a downside. “And it is not having a few minor mishaps but having to eventually sell a bike; like my first Honda Dio. The Ninja too will soon go,” she explains, elaborating that it is worse because they are hardy bikes and usually undamaged. “Each bike has a personality, with memories attached. Letting go is hard. So is finding time for luxurious long rides!”
A long trip through New Zealand or across Europe is on her bucket list and Chellappa advises that you start on a bike that is comfortable and easy to handle. “Then even if you have a few accidents, it won’t be as bad as crashing a Harley,” she says, pointing out that more women are becoming riders since the rise of skinny lycra jeans! “Women have the best of stretchy skinny jeans now. They are so comfortable. For men however…hard luck,” she shrugs, teasingly.
Even at six-months, I would apparently bawl till I sat on my neighbour’s YEZDI,” says Shirley George, a HOG veteran who can ride up to 740 kilometres with ease. From Goa and Mahabalipuram to Nasik and Ooty, George has been biking across the country, since she was 15. “I started ‘borrowing’ my Dad’s Hero Honda 100cc, having progressed from a cycle, to a 50cc, hand-geared, Silver Plus Royal Enfield to a 100cc Hero Honda, Yamaha, Ind-Suzuki and my brother’s Bullet,” she smiles. Since her first Yamaha in 1993, George is used to turning heads as a lady rider. She also owns a BMW R 1200 Cruiser, is part of the Ladies of Harley (LOH), and HOG India, and is even an officer of the HOG in town. “They are fantastic platforms to meet other riders, especially women. We have fun and check out what’s new with bikes,” she says, adding that Bangalore currently has the largest group of women riders in the country. “It becomes a social gathering with our families. I sometimes take my 73-year-old father, after we battle out who gets to ride,” she laughs, straddling her handsome 1600cc red Fat Bob.
Her road trip to Kodaikanal ‘was most challenging’ and cruising through Sydney’s Blue Mountains, was most exciting. “I hope to enjoy a peaceful ride through New Zealand. And I might give up bungee and trekking, but never biking,” she vows, advising riders to arm themselves with passion, courage, strength, quick reflexes and plenty of water. “Plus a helmet, jacket, gloves, boots and a pack for essentials,” she signs off.
A Harley pioneer, Sheeja Mathews is quick to dismiss her label of being ‘India’s First HD Girl’. “It is no credit to me, but Harley-Davidson that you cannot ignore the name,” begins the HR executive, who ‘hires and fires’ people at Fidelity Investment. Married to a drag racer, Mathews is thrilled when her husband and son take her biking in their stride. “ I used to ride my father’s bike when I was 13. And more seriously in college, when I met my daredevil boyfriend, now husband.” Starting on the RD 350, the 38-year-old cruises on an impressive Sportster Iron 883, hoping to upgrade to a bigger bike by the time she hits 40. “As a present to myself!”
Inspired by women bikers before her, Mathews believes ‘women are drawn to biking because of the feeling of freedom, control and de-stressing’. “I leave early and get home only at 10 at night so the roads are free. Tension eases as I ride,” she beams, adding that she loves cars too as ‘riding can get hard’. “The engine heats up, you’re in heavy gear, and feel like a tandoori chicken, especially the thighs,” she says. Hoping to exceed her 20,000 kilometer count in Thailand this April, where she will hire a bike, you might also spot Mathews on a KTM 390, RD 350 or even her husband’s Kawasaki 1000cc (only in the basement of their home!). Passing along wisdom to those hesitant to take those first steps, Mathews advises riders to develop the right attitude, road sense and comfort levels. “You won’t always find leaders at the front of the pack, but you’ll certainly find they last the longest,” she concludes.
The fifth HD owner, Sanyukta Gupta is a lone ranger and prefers to keep to herself, but she advises bikers to ‘join diverse biking groups, get kitted out with full riding gear, a GPS system, tools, riding luggage and get going.’ And we have just the platform. Founded in 2011, The Bikerni is the first All-Female Motorcycle Association of India of like-minded women who enjoy touring, stunting and racing on geared motorcycles. City administrator and Bajaj Avenger 220 owner, Roshini S Miraskar says they also welcome women on non-geared bikes. “But we aim to adapt them to geared bikes since they are not allowed out on out of city rides. Not even to Nandi Hills,” she confirms, adding, “We take on women who want to be part of the group because really it is more fun than riding solo and how else can you get details on safe routes to take and places to stay at? Also the planning workload is lessened, and divided,” she says, emphasising that they take their rides very seriously. “We have at least one day ride each month and one overnighter once in three months. Once you’ve ridden during the day, you qualify for an overnighter. It’s only fair to the gang, as we can gauge how well a woman rides and how she gets along with the others,” Miraskar tells us. So if you have a valid license and you (like their tagline) prefer ‘Mud for make-up and petrol for perfume’, then make sure you sign up at facebook.com/TheBikerni.
This fiery 62-year-old took up riding as a dare when a friend teasingly said, “You’re a grandmother and you can’t ride bikes.” The feminist in her was unleashed and Suri dashed to the HD showroom and booked one. “I’d never ridden a bike before, let alone a Harley. So the folks at the showroom were concerned. But in the interim, I bought a TVS Victor, practiced every day, got my license and balance too.” Then, her Street 750 arrived which she refers to as her personal Sexy Beast. “Strong. Handsome. And stable. He is perfect for newbies!” She has since made two trips to Yelagiri, and is a regular at day rides in town, usually for a cause. Stylish in her leathers and biker jacket, she rode pillion at the recently concluded India Bike Week. “I usually ride pillion with Aarathi but hope to ride with the group to Goa next year, on my own without slowing them down. Why should boys have all the fun, ladies?” she quips.
Tech savvy ride
NH4 Motorheads, considered the top adventure and travel gear company in the country, retails everything from the essential tents, tool kits, balaclavas and bungee cords. But more importantly, they cater to the geeky rider with waterproof laptop and phone bags, mobile chargers and even Garmin cameras to document the ride. They also stock Cobra Pepper Spray. Details: nh4motorheads.com/
With a tagline reading ‘I ride therefore I am’, you can count on Cramster – Motorcycle and Travel Gear to sort out your lean look, ladies. From all-weather jackets and summer gloves, to spine protectors and
utility packs, you will be well equipped whether you’re riding through a sunny Goa or a snowy Leh. And give the lads a run for their money! At Westminster, Cunningham Road. Details: 41519713