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India’s biker women ride roughshod over prejudice
Tanushree Bhasin  14th Dec 2013

Members of Bikerni on their biking expedition to Khardung-La Pass.

n the long history of the popular reality television show Roadies — ostensibly about tough and adventurous boys and girls who ride bikes — there have only been a handful of women who actually rode them, instead of riding pillion. If the show is any reflection of how women fare on the road, then they seem to be happy taking the backseat. Except that this show has no idea what the real women roadies in the country are up to.

The concept is not new to the city, but it surely seems to have evolved, rather, becThe concept is not new to the city, but it surely seems to have evolved, rather, become a given for most bars, who are now experimenting with the offers.

It's not surprising to spot a woman riding a Royal Enfield on the roads of New Delhi these days. Complete with all the necessary gear — helmets, boots, jackets, glares, gloves —it's hard to tell whether the rider is actually a man or a woman at first glance, collapsing the prejudice that women can't ride because they are frail. The surprise sets in only when they pull their helmets off. "A woman on a bike? No way!"

Firdaus Sheikh, a Pune-based rider and founder of the all-women's biking group Bikerni, believes that the notion that women can't ride because they can't handle heavy machinery or have terrible road sense are nothing but sexist misconceptions. "Physicality has nothing to do with riding. No matter how thin, fat, small or petit you are, you can learn how to ride. Scrawny men ride too; how come their ability is never questioned?" she asks. Thin-me immediately begins to picture myself on a Harley-Davidson, racing down the Delhi Noida Direct Flyway.

Image 2ndSnapping out of that wonderful daydream, I wonder if Shaikh has ever faced gender-based discrimination in the biking world. "I come from a family of motorcyclists, but unfortunately my family didn't support my love for riding. I was denied access to my passion only because of my gender. My dad has only recently come to terms with what I do and how committed I am to biking," she reveals.

The lack of a support system is what inspired Shaikh and fellow biker Urvashi Patole to start Bikerni — a club dedicated to inspire women to ride without fear or inhibition. "When we started out a couple of years ago, there were only a bunch of female riders, and they were usually quite self-conscious. They feared that if they tried anything new or out of their comfort zone, people would laugh at them. That's when we began Bikerni, to create an all-woman platform where we could support one another," explains Shaikh.

What began with 20 members has grown to become a 250-strong group, spread across India. "Our youngest member is 18-years-old and the oldest is 65! Several above the age of 50 are mothers who had always wanted to do this, but never found the time or opportunity to," says Shaikh. A mark of how far they have come, several members of the group rode to the Khardung-La Pass — the highest motorable road from Delhi to Nubra Valley — which landed them a spot in the Limca Book of Records 2013 for the first and largest all-women motorcycle expedition on that route.

"For many women, being able to ride is an incredibly empowering experience. To be able to handle bikes and superbikes is an amazing accomplishment that has helped so many girls overcome their insecurities and doubts," Shaikh says, proudly. "At Bikerni, we believe the road has the answer to everything. If nothing else, taking off on your bike helps you clear your head, and give you clarity on what you need to do if that's what you're looking for. Riding is all about being happy!" she said. And that is something that everyone deserves a

fair shot at, irrespective of gender.

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