Blazing the road to independence

A new generation of female motorcyclists are shifting the balance of power in B.C.

By Kristi Alexandra
@kristialexandra

Imagine riding down BC’s Crow’s Nest Highway, the wind in your face, and the potent rumble of a v-twin engine between your legs. Your bike is the beast that’s yours for the taming. It takes you where you command, yet demands your submission. It’s both fearsome and confidence-inspiring. And, as rider Anita Mathias recounts, “your motorcycle will never wake up one day and tell you it doesn’t love you.”

It may be this simple idiom that’s inspiring more and more women to go down to their local DMV and get their Class Six license. Or it could be a lot more complex.

According to data gathered by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), female motorcycle ownership is at an all-time high. In 2014, women accounted for 14 per cent of all U.S. motorcycle owners, compared to the eight per cent reported in 1998.

Still, that number doesn’t account for all the women who are licenced to drive a motorcycle but don’t own a bike. Statistics reveal that nearly 23 per cent of all riders across Canada are female.

Whatever the numbers, Harley seller Laura Newman says she’s seeing a lot more women buying bikes at Langley’s Barnes-Harley Davidson and many of their stories seem to share a common thread.

 

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Anita Mathias (left) and Laura Newman (right) suited up for a ride at Langley’s Barnes-Harley Davidson. Photo by Miranda Victoria.

 

STORIES FROM THE ROAD TO FREEDOM

“The woman I’m talking about is either married or freshly divorced, has kids. She’s put up with a whole lifetime of her own journey and now she just wants to focus on herself. That’s the woman that’s on the market for getting her Class Six and wants to be in control of her own bike,” Newman reveals to Loose Lips Magazine, surrounded by rows of bikes at the Harley dealership where she works.

Some bikes mimic the vintage, matte black vehicles that can be recalled in Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels. Others have accents of purple, chrome sparkles, or leather hand-grips. The beauty of Harley Davidson bikes is that they’re all customizable.

“I find it’s about the 35 to 50 mark [in age]. The story [usually] is: the kids are in high school, they don’t have to be at home to make their lunches anymore, they don’t have to be on call. More times than not, in this day, these [women are] divorced or single moms and they’re the boss of their own life, and — in their own words — they’ll be damned if they’re going to sit on the back of someone else’s bike and get told where to go.”

This story isn’t necessarily the one that follows Mathias, who walked into the shop in October sporting dark denim and brown leathers. Her boot straps were adorned with silver buckles — the very definition of riding boots — and her belt buckle boasted a single, large chunk of Navajo turquoise. One can only wonder if it’s an heirloom from a riding trip to Arizona. The experienced motorcyclist is one of a few women who have fully adopted the biking culture in the past few years.

“Three years ago, my boyfriend at the time had a Harley and I was riding on the back of it — and I love riding on the back of a bike as much as I love having my own — but when I was on the back of that bike, I just thought, ‘Yep, I want this for myself.’”

While she’s only gone full-bore into biking in the past three years, Mathias admits she’s had a love affair with motorcycles since being introduced to Harleys by her older brother.

“I remember being a little girl and hearing that bike coming down the road, knowing it was him pulling up in-front of the house and I was always mesmerized. I always knew one day I would be on one, I just didn’t know when it would be. Three years ago I decided to go for it. No looking back. I’ve loved every single minute of it. I never knew my bike would give me as much as it does it just keeps on giving.”

Since getting her motorcycle licence, Mathias has taken solo trips, camping journeys, and rode in groups. She also equipped herself to work on her own bike, doing oil changes and road-side repairs.

“Most often I do go out on journeys on my own because it’s a beautiful space to be in. It’s very meditative,” she says.

“When I got my first bike, I knew I was going to want to learn to work on it. I started working at a bike shop and started to learn the mechanics of it and how to do my fluid changes and understand the bike. The reason for that was in case I ever found myself out on the road and something were to happen, and if I was alone, I needed to know ways that I could get myself back up and running.”

As much as Mathias and Newman maintain that women achieving their Class Six licence is all about reaching a new level of independence, women who do ride find a spontaneous kinship with each other.

Incidentally, such was the case for Mathias and Newman who met at the dealership years ago, and are now bosom biker buddies.

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She may be looking in the rear view, but there’s no looking back for Anita Mathias. It’s her and the road. Photo by Miranda Victoria.

SISTERHOOD OF THE BIKER BABES

“[We stick together], especially as women in this community, because there’s still currently a small percentage of women. It is building year after year, but as women we definitely just tend to gravitate and it’s great to be able to find your sisters,” Mathias says.

“I find mostly the women (in biking) are real. The guys are more caught up in the façade and most of them are insecure because they’re protected by that image, but once you peel off those leathers, you’re no different,” Newman adds. “These bikers that come, they seem all rough and tough, and then you find out they’re a dentist or a manager of a Save-On-Foods. They’re normal.”

And the most unlikely of cheerleaders? Their moms.

“I passed my road test no problem and then that weekend I went out to Harley and I bought myself my first bike. I didn’t even test drive it, I was just like ‘I like that one,’” Newman recalls. “It was a black 883 with mini apes; it was a bad ass bike.  I hopped on it, called my mom, and showed up to her place on the bike. She was like, ‘No way!’ She was very proud.”

And when two fellow female bikers find each other on the road, they go from perfect strangers to highway sisters.

“If I’m going for a coffee or wherever I end up, I always see other riders and there’s instant camaraderie. When you’re on two wheels, its instant friendship because you already have that commonality and it breaks the ice.”

Conversation sparked usually starts with, “How long have you had that Hog?”, “What do you like about it?” and “What have you done to it?”

There’s nothing stronger than the bond over wind therapy and freedom between two riders.

“It’s ultimate freedom,” Mathias says. “The bike itself gives you freedom but when you’re on your own, that gives you a whole other level of freedom. Often when I’m out on my own riding, I’ll meet up with other riders — people I don’t know — and we become fast friends. That’s the journey of the road.”

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Getting your motorcycle licence is a gift you should give to yourself, Anita Mathias and Laura Newman advise other women. Photo by Miranda Victoria.

LADIES DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES

As the growing number of female riders suggests, more and more women are giving themselves permission to invest in a bike and the freedom of their future.

For Newman and Mathias, it’s not a question of “Why?” but rather a question of “Why Not?”

“Once you have that number six beside your number five on your driver’s licence, it’s just a sense of satisfaction that you’ve done something big and you proved it yourself. You’ve got another ticket to do something that gives you more freedom. It’s very rewarding,” Newman says.

“It’s just liberating.”

“I would encourage women to get their licence give that to yourself,” Mathias advises. “It is a gift to yourself.”

That gift, they say, is broadening one’s own personal portfolio.

“It’s an investment,” Newman says. “What do you got? ‘Oh, I can drive a car.’ Okay, what else? ‘Well, I can swing a golf club.’ Well, it’s like I can drive a car, I can ride a bike, once you have a licence you can go dirt biking, you can go out on the road, you can travel somewhere and rent a bike. It’s just like, ‘Tell me why you wouldn’t want to.’”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Many aspiring riders are daunted by the idea of owning an expensive bike and investing in all the gear, but you don’t need all that right away.

Check out the Lower Mainland’s top four motorcycle training schools, most of which charge about $700 for a three-day course:

 

The courses include your Motorcycle Skills Assessment, also known as MSA, MST, and parking lot test. Motorcycle, Motorcycle Helmet, Jacket, Gloves, and rain gear if needed.

kristiprofileKristi Alexandra is an unabashed wino and wannabe musician. Her talents include drinking an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon, singing in the bathtub, and falling asleep.