Last Saturday was International Female Ride Day (IFRD). Started by motorcycle instructor and road racer Vicky Gray in Toronto back in 2007, the synchronized ride day for women motorcycle riders is now being observed in over 120 counties around the world. Normally taking place on the first Saturday of May, this year’s event was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like most things. The rules are simple: “Just Ride!”
As I am not a female, nor do I identify as such, I have not participated in this event directly. This year however, I offered my support in the best way I could think of – by helping a lady friend purchase her very first motorcycle. Leaving a toxic relationship behind earlier this year to start a new chapter, she hit the reset button and has been evaluating what she wants the next phase of her life to look like. Always wanting her motorcycle license, but never feeling like it was the right time for one reason or another, she never pursued it. Going for a ride on the back of the Kawasaki Z H2 last month sparked her interest and reignited the flame. She wrote her M1 and has been voraciously researching the best bikes to buy for her budget, stature and lack of experience.
Reading plenty of reviews right here on CMG, she made a short list before settling on the Honda Rebel. She evaluated the pros and cons of each model available for sale on our sibling site, autoTRADER.ca and asked a multitude of questions on everything from maintenance to insurance to gear. Things most of us who have been riding for a long time take for granted, her questions were all valid and insightful. I did my best to answer them in manner that was helpful but not overwhelming. My long, storied and mostly unsuccessful dating history can attest to the fact that I haven’t the faintest idea of what women want. I do however know one thing for sure – there’s no faster way to have a female glaze over or be filled with rage than to “man-splain” something to her. Providing counsel and support in a manner that doesn’t come off to the recipient as condescension is sometimes easier than others, but in my experience the difference is often whether someone actually wants your advice versus unsolicited chest thumping.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that motorcycle manufacturers even considered females as potential buyers rather than simply passengers. Imagine completely disregarding half of the population in marketing your products? Harley-Davidson hosted ladies-only Garage Party events at their dealerships as a way of welcoming women into the community and empowering them to ride. It was a small but important step. Teaching sessions ranged from how to change your own oil, to tips on how to safely pick up a motorcycle that’s been tipped over.
Grassroots riding groups like The Litas and events like Babes Ride Out prove that there is no shortage of women who want to ride. I’m sure many of them would have their own stories about when the motorcycle bug bit them. In my experience, when a woman has succeeded in breaking through the glass ceiling in any capacity, the motivation can often be traced back to someone telling her that she can, or conversely cannot do something. The easiest way to be proven wrong by a woman is to tell her she can’t do it. You may succeed in holding her back for a time, but if she wants it bad enough, she’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen. There are many female pioneers who have made history and helped changed the face of the hobby over the years. Racer and Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee Toni Sharpless has redefined the stereotype of what it means to ‘Ride Like a Girl.’ She’s now looking to pass that experience on to the next generation through the upcoming Super Sonic Road Racing School.
Playing a small role in the raising of my oldest niece, I tried my best to remove the word “can’t” from her vocabulary early on. To this day, each of our visits include an activity which I playfully refer to as ‘Life Lessons with Uncle Dusty.’ Teachings have ranged from learning how to fish, dive, climb a tree, ride a bike and navigate public transit. Now that she’s 16, I’ve even started teaching her how to drive, although she hasn’t expressed an interest in motorcycles.
She has often surprised herself by her own abilities. By building her confidence and showing her what she is capable of, my hope is that she will continue to determine what she can do instead of letting someone else decide for her. Helping to create a society of confident women makes us all better off. As the saying goes, “Here’s to Strong Women, May We Know Them, May We Be Them, May We Raise Them.”