Just six months before Marjorie White bought her first motorcycle, her 25-year-old son, Tom, was tragically killed on his bike by a driver making a U-turn.
Looking for a way to cope with her son’s death, White went out and bought a bright green Yamaha 100, a street and dirt bike. It was 2014, and she was 58.
“I needed something for me — some way to move past the pain that had me frozen in place,” White says. “I could not have known how valuable riding motorcycles would become for my mental health.”
Her son’s death on a motorcycle didn’t stop her. For White, getting on a bike was like rising from the ashes like a phoenix.
“Riding helped me feel alive, to find joy again. It’s meditative, confidence-building, and inspiring. I feel at one with the universe — in sync, if you will.”
White went on to ride across the country, in what she called Tom’s Mom’s Ride, traveling from Maryland to California to rediscover her joy for life. It was the release, and the rebirth, she needed.
With women shouldering more housework, elderly senior care, and childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, and both parents often working from home, finding “a room of one’s own” is harder than ever.
Motorcycle coach Queena Quý, who formerly worked in mental health, advocates for the nature therapy aspect of riding a motorcycle. “Motorcycle therapy is healing in itself, but to go on a deeper level with your scenery and be so vividly exposed to colors and nature helps take over whatever else was preoccupying your mind,” Quý says. “You may drive a car every day, but you’ve never seen the scenery come at you so much — it helps shift out the stagnation that you’re feeling.”
White, who just bought another motorcycle — a zippy dual-sport Yamaha XT250 to use on small local wooded roads and to act as a complement to her larger touring bike, a BMW F800GS — believes now is the ideal time for women to learn how to ride.
“Riding checks all the boxes for being socially distant,” White says. “Obviously, I am not touring or traveling somewhere to ride. In fact, all of my rallies and trips have been postponed or canceled. But I can still ride by myself, or with just a few friends, and stay safe.”
White isn’t alone in thinking now is the perfect time for women to learn how to ride. Motorcycle sales are up amid the pandemic — unsurprising, since they’re considered one of the safest modes of transportation right now, especially in urban areas, where the majority of the population cannot afford or does not want to park and own a private car.
“No other sport is so opportune for the pandemic in that it allows you to be so purely alone,” Quý says. “But it’s also great if you have orthopedic or muscular problems, [such as] bad hips that don’t allow you to do things like hike. It’ll be more challenging, but you can still do it.”
Quý is part of a community of female riders who drove cross-country for the Sisters’ Centennial Ride in 2016, commemorating 100 years since the first two women rode across the U.S. on their own motorcycles. She approximates that 70% of the bikers she’s met are introverts, though biking is great for both introverts and extroverts. Introverts, she says, can converse at whatever level they want and peel off from a group of riders as they please, while extroverts eager to socialize can cruise in happy camaraderie. Also, unlike sports such as baseball, you don’t need an open field and fellow players — all that’s required for riding is a road or path, a bike, and proper gear.
It’s been over a century since the first women rode cross-country, and yes, female riders — mostly millennials — are on the rise. But women still lag behind men in ridership, with surveys showing that only one in five riders is a woman.
White thinks that motorcycling is changing, bit by bit, partially due to women’s spending power. “The industry is realizing how valuable (women’s) dollars are and is starting to court us,” she says.
So, how can women get started in what may seem like an intimidating sport?
The first step, according to Quý and White, is to take a class with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The foundation provides the bikes, but before the class, you’ll need medical insurance, a helmet, a leather jacket, gloves, riding denim like Dyneema, and shoes with riding protection.
Quý says finding the right shoes can be tricky — if a woman wears a unique size, like a narrow size 6, for example, sometimes only one brand will have the right footwear. But she stresses that finding the proper fit will make a big difference. She also suggests reaching out to a local biker shop that carries women’s lines. Even if they’re not physically open for shopping right now, they can most likely help.
Above all, don’t lose your head and take riding seriously from the start, Quý says. She advises riders to get sufficient medical coverage. “I see women getting so caught up in the social media of it that they miss safety, technical aspects, and mechanics that can be life-saving.”
White agrees. “I would advise against having a spouse or significant other teach you,” she says.
Quý says that training one-on-one with a school or coach for the first year or two is vital. She also recommends practicing beyond freeway and canyon riding. “The freeway isn’t enough because you just dodge cars, but [going to] school and having advanced coaches can really help.”
White seconds that sentiment. “Invest in a training course to start — that way, you don’t learn bad habits,” she says.
White also encourages first-time riders to do their due diligence. “Do some research to find out what kind of riding you are interested in — dirt, road, track, touring, racing. Trust your gut when researching. If something resonates with you, trust that feeling.”
And if you’re ready to take the leap and buy the perfect first bike, Quý recommends a bike under 400 CCs (or cubic centimeters), which denotes the size of the engine chamber. “The number of female-friendly motorcycles on the market right now is great,” Quý says. “You don’t want to start off with a 1975 Pinto; you want something that looks edgy and has a little oomph. And you don’t have to start on a rickety, carbureted Kawasaki Ninja 250, either — you can [opt for] an ultralight bike under 400 CCs, which comes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), fuel gauge, and tons more safety features to learn safely and with minimal maintenance.”
“I need to keep riding to keep myself mentally healthy because of the pandemic,” Quý says. “People still say, ‘Oh, Queena’s such a badass,’ and I say, ‘No, I’m just riding around town, like you do in your car.’ Most people I know think of riding as such a relaxing thing — a lot of the time, I’m by the beach and so relaxed.”
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