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Women break into male world of motorcycling

Ripple Effect: The riders have fun together, and over time, have gained the respect of the hostile, all-male biking fraternity

Urvashi Patole, co-founder of women’s group Bikerni, began riding at the age of 14.
Urvashi Patole, co-founder of women’s group Bikerni, began riding at the age of 14.

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They still get a more-than-fair share of curious looks and children waving encouragingly at them as they zip past, but the members of all-women motorcycling group Bikerni have definitely started changing the macho motorcycling culture of India.

Urvashi Patole, co-founder of the group, began riding bikes at the age of 14 after she saw a cousin who came thundering on his bike to her home in Pune during a vacation. Patole (31) decided she wanted to ride a motorcycle. She had no formal training, no adult guiding her but successful transitioned from light scooter to a bike.

All was well until Patole broke her leg in Class XI, while stunting on a motorcycle. “Only then did my parents find out that I had been riding,” laughs Patole. “It was a small setback but nothing that could stop me from getting my own 125cc Bajaj XCD when I started college.”

Back then, a little over a decade ago, the motorcycling world in India was male-centric and confined to a few events. “We were not informed about events and male riders looked down on us. They did not want us in their fraternity,” says Patole. “Although it was frustrating, I believed it was a gap to be filled. I knew there were women who would have liked to ride more actively but backed down because of all the hostility. Solution: Start something on my own.”

Patole, along with fellow biker Firdaus Sheikh, started Bikerni on 15 January 2011 with 14 members.

The all-women motorcycle club decided to be a welcoming place for seasoned riders as well as beginners, a safe space for anyone who wanted to enjoy the simple thrill of riding a motorcycle.

Now, the group has over 2,000 members, ranging from the ages of 19 to 53 years, and 14 chapters across the country. Its members meet regularly for weekend rides, long tours, bi-annual meets and an international meet. The group was featured in the Limca Book of Records in 2013 as the “Largest All-Women Motorcycle Expedition to Khardung La”.

Motorcyclists are rarely strangers to speed breakers, bends and accidents. Patole suffered a serious head injury just a year after Bikerni’s launch. Even though she has been advised not to continue riding, Patole says that is not an option.

“There will always be something that gets in the way. For many of our members, there are personal challenges like marital abuse that they need to fight every single day. There is a transgender rider who is not ready to come out as yet. For them, there is a benefit to having a tight-knit fraternity that doesn’t judge. It is a massive physical and emotional support system, and above all, we have fun together,” says Patole.

The different chapters organize monthly rides around the country, including long tours. She says the genuine appreciation and interest from hoteliers, roadside dhaba owners and people they meet on the road is heartening.

“Even those at the events scene have dropped their intolerant attitude. We’ve moved from a time when we were not recognized to now having special women-only categories at national events. We’ve managed to carve out a legitimate space for ourselves,” she says. In an ideal world, they’d ride alongside men at such events.

Cultural exchange has been a large part of Bikerni’s existence. Apart from supporting fellow-countrywomen, Bikerni is also the go-to club for international riders who want to explore the country. There have been scores of women riders from across borders who have come on tours, or even stayed with members, who are enthusiastic to showcase India.

One Indian Bikerni, Candida Louis, rode from India to Australia over the course of eight months last year. Four members from Hyderabad will be setting off on a ride to Thailand soon.

The group is waiting for the next big thing on the calendar—the Women Riders’ World Relay, which will come to India in July.

The ride began in the UK in February, and is an international effort to promote motorcycling and connect women riders worldwide.

Bikerni’s riders will be taking the baton for the 12-day India leg at the Wagah-Attari border, and riding through cities in Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh before crossing into Nepal. They will return through Siliguri in West Bengal and ride to Assam before handing over the baton to riders in Bangladesh.

“We’re looking forward to being part of the 20,000 women riders to inspire the love of motorcycling,” signs off Patole.

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