Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

AustinMamas on a Roll
Is that a tank between your legs or are you just happy to see me?
by Anne Marie Turner

The LOW (Ladies on Wheels) Riders -- an all-women motorcycling club in Austin -- is preparing to take off for the Texas Hill Country on the group's inaugural ride, while just a few states over, a thousand women are converging on Bukhannon, West Virginia for the American Motorcyclists Association's third annual Women and Motorcycling Conference.  What these events and their participants have in common is representative of a fast-growing segment in the world of motorcycling -- a sport/hobby once dominated by men, but one that now occupies the leisure time of more and more women.

No longer content to ride pillion (a term for passenger), these women are now proud commanders of their own machines -- everything from sleek, little Italian Vespa scooters and dual-purpose trail-to-town bikes, right on up to big hog Harley-Davidson street bikes -- leaving those offensively-coined "bitch seats" twirling in the dust behind them.

It isn't about conquest or feminism. It's about freedom. It's about fun.

Therapist, AustinMama to three, and LOW Rider member Sarah Kyle started out small and worked her way up… fast. "The first bike I bought was a small frame, lemon yellow 1976 Vespa scooter. It is adorable, and I still have it, but I quickly learned that it did not have enough get up and go for me to feel safe riding it in traffic. Six weeks later, I was riding a black Honda Rebel, a great first motorcycle to learn on. Now, I ride a beautiful, sexy, suede green and black Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, a bike that could hold my interest for a lifetime."

"I have been fascinated with motorcycles and motorcycle culture for a long time," Sarah continues. "Before I had a bike, I always looked at riders and thought they seemed so free and sure of themselves. I used to be married . . . maybe on some level I thought of a Harley as my ticket out. Turns out, I got out of the relationship first, became free and sure of myself, THEN bought the Harley."

Every woman rider seems to have a story of how they came to love the excitement, camaraderie, and the little bit of danger that comes from being on - or even near - a bike. "I didn't grow up around them," says Tina Wood, an Austin graphic design consultant and new mom, "and it was something that my mother always said no to, which made it more appealing. A friend had a bike that was his only mode of transportation, and he had a female friend that had her own bike. They both enjoyed riding, so I thought, I am an adult now, Mom can't say no. I convinced my husband to take the rider safety course to see if we really wanted to get motorcycles. That cinched it. I was hooked."

"Motorcycling is empowering," Tina continues. "When I ride, I'm in control and in tune with the machine. In a recreation that is still male dominated it's my way of saying, 'hey, I can do this!' I feel the speed of the bike, the balance, the environment around me, and my thoughts focus on what is happening now, not in the past or future. It is a Zen moment."

Rider Kitsune Garcia, a student at the Texas College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, experienced a long-term intrigue with bikes. "Motorcycles have always fascinated me since childhood. Back then, there weren't a lot of TV role models for females, let alone racially mixed ones. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw an anime (Japanese animation) that featured a bi-racial lead female who had a kick ass yellow Harley-Davidson motorcycle! I was hooked! Years later, after high school, I got involved with a boy who was very much into riding motorcycles. I got my very first taste of pillion riding from him but I secretly longed for more. This is why I think motorcycle riding must be in my blood. I found out later that my mother had been keeping a secret from me for many years. She, too, was a motorcycle rider and didn't want to tell me out of fear of me taking after her. Too late now!"

Ask any of these women why they choose to ride and watch their engines ignite with accounts of the personal challenge, the joy and the solace found on a bike…

"Riding helps me keep a quiet mind," says Beth, an Austin Web developer. "[It's] not the only reason I ride, but it's a very desirable side effect." 

"Pure and simple: for enjoyment and it feels great." says new rider, local high-tech customer support analyst and mother of two, Glenora "Glen" Ruggles.

"Why do I ride?" Kitsune remarks with a laugh, "that's like asking why do I breathe."

"A car gets you from A to B and can be a lot of fun," says Beth, an Austin Web developer, "but it's so easy to just take everything for granted -- the road, the weather, the puddle of diesel in front of you. On a bike, you have to live in the moment and be totally aware of your surroundings or you might possibly fall off. You can't let your mind drift. Also, you come to the realization that you can only control certain things, such as your speed, lean angle, and the rest of what happens are things you can only predict, perceive, react to, and avoid or otherwise appropriately deal with. There's the wind, the sound of the bike, the sensation of flying, looking down and seeing the road rushing by your feet. There are times when I'm really locked into a good groove on a twisty road and I literally feel like I'm flying."

"I don't need to be sheltered from the world around me by a boxy car," says University of Texas graduate student and riding enthusiast, Cheryl Green. "If it's hot, I get hot. If it's raining, I get wet. I want to feel and see and hear and smell where I am. Being out in the open on a motorcycle allows me to really live in the space I'm driving through. The engine purring, gripping the tank between your knees when you lean in for a turn, waving to other bikers on the road, the look you get when you walk into a club, 5'3" with a helmet in your hand. Motorcycling is a whole world, a culture and a million subcultures. If you ride and you meet other riders, there's an instant connection. And women on bikes are hot. You can always be alone, even when someone's with you - you can't do that in a car."

Of course there are times when the solace and individual space the sport affords temporarily move to the shoulder of the road and the camaraderie, connection and group dynamics take the center lane: when the love of riding is shared by several, en masse, moving as one, or as in Bukhannon, West Virginia, when riders gather in celebration to share stories, support and love of the machine.

"Riding in a group makes you more visible, and somebody's watching for the road kill," interjects one from the LOW riders group, who are just about ready to leave. Taking the role of Road Captain for their first official ride, Sarah gives last minute directions and safety reminders about lane positions, turning and hand signals, as well as jovial admonitions about 'no curb jumping', then the group heads out into the Texas sun. No doubt they will return from their inaugural voyage full of new stories, new inspiration, new connections and new reasons to keep on riding.
Roll on, mamas.
Anne Marie Turner is a writer and AustinMama with serious love and respect for the sport of riding.  She is a regular contributor to AustinMama.com.

Related Links:

A+ Rider
Beginner, advanced, individual, and specialized rider training.

Austin Harley-Davidson/Buell 
Bikes, parts, service, clothing, accessories, Rider's Edge courses, links to local groups.

Central Texas Harley-Davidson/Buell 
Bikes, parts, service, clothing, accessories, Rider's Edge courses, links to local groups.

Creekside Custom Cycles 
Customizing/custom built street bikes, project pictures, and links

Eagle Rider 
Specializing in Harley rentals.

Lone Star BMW/Triumph
Bikes, parts, service, clothing, accessories, links to local groups.

Texas Department of Public Safety Motorcycle Unit

Total Rider Improvement Courses
Beginner, advanced, individual, and specialized rider training.

Zabor's  (listed at Go Cruiser)
Repairs and accessories, specializing in Japanese bikes.