Don’t be fooled by the couture that i’ve got, I’m still the girl next door… on hot wheels.
The most frequent question I get whenever we travel on our bikes is: “where in God’s name do you put all of your clothes and accessories?” It is normally followed by: “why would you want to travel like that?”
The process (a messy one) of putting the luggage on
When people imagine motorbikes, they imagine Valentino Rossi or the professional biker of their choice, on an aggressive machine, no luggage at all, perhaps just a little backpack. Normally I wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. and I’ve had more than my fair share of double takes when I tell people I actually ride a bike and I’m not just my man’s arm candy perched on the back. (All of my solidarity goes to those women who ride behind their men on those super-uncomfortable monsters, perched so high it looks almost as if they were ready to give birth)
Who said bikerchicks aren’t stylish? Who dared? 😀
Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning. My first encounter with motorbikes was when I was a teenager in a post-war Yugoslavia, more precisely Montenegro, and in my town there was the local “bad boy”, handsome as few, who had a beautiful yellow bike and loved speed. I was too young to think about both boys and bikes, but I couldn’t help but notice the grace there was between the machine and the man: a sort of a symbiosis where the man trusts the machine not to betray him, dancing in a sensual but potentially deadly embrace.
The years went by and I never gave bikes a second thought until me and my husband went to Barcelona in 2010. There we rented an old Suzuki 250 Tux from a dodgy Neapolitan guy (I still laugh when I remember that): from the first moment I got up on it, I was completely, utterly hooked. You see, when you’ve considered cars to be your normal transportation for your whole adult life, nothing can prepare you for the feeling of absolute freedom a bike gives. Queues? Traffic? None of that: a bike always finds its way out. By the end of our vacation I knew time had come for my husband to buy a motorbike after a 10 year hiatus due to his work abroad. And we did just that – purchasing our first Suzuki 1250 Traveller upon return in Milan!
Here’s the beast – with all of its luggage!
While my husband was struggling with this beast (it’s a very heavy bike meant for long distance traveling, 100% reliability and comfort without breaking the bank) I was as far as it gets from the thought of driving myself. It was only 3 years after that I started toying with the idea, but just because my husband was convinced I could be good at it. (Considering that he thinks I am fantastic at anything, I wasn’t inclined to take such conviction seriously..)
Then he bought me my Suzuki Inazuma as a birthday gift, before I even got my license or took a single lesson. Just like that, Inazuma ( lightning bolt in Japanese) appeared under my name, husband with keys and a big smile.
I still have the video of me driving for the first time! I went to a big parking lot and I thought I had conquered Mount Everest when I first completed the turns and stops. The feeling of freedom was there, along with pride and wonder: was I really doing this?
I haven’t stopped driving since, I just added a bigger badass bike to the collection, a Yamaha XJ6 in bright blue – the bike many of you have seen on Instagram with me. It isn’t easy: sometimes I fear my own lack of experience, sometimes I fear other drivers and the lack of their abilities that could potentially hurt me – but most of the time I force myself to fear nothing and to ride as much as I can. After all, the faces of “fashion people” who see me in driving gear are priceless 😀
What did I tell you about tired faces?
So, why do I “travel like that”? Why would I want to take wind, rain, heat, and danger along?
The best explanation I can give is what I mentioned before: freedom. I am alone with my thoughts, dancing with the machine, seeing my husband on his own behind my back (he always has my back!) in the rear window, looking for the next destination.
But first, let me take a selfie…
The lightness of traveling without airport bureaucracy, crossing countries, seeing things you normally wouldn’t, meeting all sorts of people who will come up to you in wonder and curiosity over a woman driver. And last but not least, time: queues do not exist for bikes. You will always find an exit route on the road, leaving all those AC-d cars to wait for hours.
Of course, there have been comical situations too. When a biker gets off his/hers machine, the sight ain’t pretty: dust, sweat, tiredness, wind in your eyes – all of that leaves you looking less than glamorous. I still remember a winter in Tunisia, arriving at our 5 star destination two days before New Year, and the security guy asking me: “are you sure you have a reservation here?” I laughed it off and went straight for the reception, and two hours after emerged from my room in an evening gown for dinner. The poor guy didn’t even recognize me!
I have stopped counting the times when I opened my helmet just for people (usually men) to realize I was a woman, and do the surprised face: it does surprise me – we are in 2016 after all – but it never fails to amuse me!
The fleet: Yamaha XJ6, Suzuki Inazuma, Yamaha MT09, Suzuki 1250 Traveller
And finally – the luggage issue. What most do not understand is that bikers are quite well equipped for traveling, almost every bike carrying an average of 3 bags on it. Side soft or hard bags, back sacks, front magnetic bags, the possibilities are endless. When we travel, we usually have 7 pieces of luggage: despite their size that is less than a suitcase, it is still more space than the average airplane traveller has available. Of course, I am not a light packer and I always moan about having to leave something behind (bags are a very painful subject there) but at the end when the wind is embracing me while I ride, it is all worth it.
Is the packing easy? No, it isn’t. But it’s also a patience exercise: you must arm yourself with time, good will and willingness to undo it all if things aren’t placed to the best of the possibilities. It’s all about using space and adapting, always being careful not to put too much weight on the bike – and ultimately on yourself. (It’s all fun and games while you are actually moving, but the bikes stop too – at traffic lights, for example – and you have to be able to keep your balance and stay on your feet, you do not want something to knock you over!)
I know many have asked me to make videos of how I pack. I tried, I truly did! But at the end I suck at tutorials, and most of the time I improvise anyway, praying that the bags won’t explode… so all I can say is, be prepared to compromise and live lightly if necessary.
Would I recommend biker life to fellow women? Yes, I would. You will feel empowered, free, independent. You will be recognized inside the big bikers family. (One curious thing: the first time me and husband went out for a ride he kept saluting other bikers on the road with his left hand. I thought: he can’t possibly know them all! But then he explained it’s a bikers thing. Like an exclusive club, based on sense of brotherhood. Bikers help out each other, and look out for each other, and that is beautiful!) You will discover a world out there, made of mechanism, tires, roads and endless possibilities. You just need to get over the initial fear, and get your feet off the ground… and the wheels will do the rest. 🙂