By Manoj Sharma Hindustan Times, New Delhi.
Considered an epitome of everything 'macho', one of the last bastions -- biker clubs -- have been breached.
Several women-only biking clubs and communities have come up in the past couple of years with names marrying the desi with the trendy such as Bikerni, Riderni, Hop on Gurls, The REgals, Bengal Lady Bikers.
And the machines they ride are as menacing as their passion for biking. For most of them it is a statement of their confidence and freedom.
If earlier they rode pillion wearing T-shirts with messages such as, 'Don't mess with me, my boyfriend rides a Bullet', now they are in the driver's seat and the message is loud and clear: 'I am trespassing, deal with it'.
Talk about bikes and Seema Sharma Dora, 42, a Delhi-based lawyer starts shifting gear in her head. At about 6am every Sunday, she puts on her biking gear -- helmet, padded jackets, gloves, trousers, and riding boots -- hops on to her bike -- a Yamaha FZ-1 1000cc -- and heads straight to either Greater Noida Expressway or GT Karnal Road for her weekly rides.
"When I ride my superbike, I feel I am on top of the world. It is quite an empowering and liberating experience," says Dora, a member of GODS, a group of Delhi superbikers.
"When I take off my helmet and people realise that a woman is riding the big bike, they gawp in shock and surprise. What everyone needs to understand is that gone are the days when girls rode scooters and boys the bikes," says Dora (pic on right).
Bikerni, which was formed in 2011 with 14 girls, now boasts over 515 members across the country with chapters in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, etc. The group has regular meet-ups and organises all-women biking expeditions across the country.
"The idea behind the association was to promote motorcycling among women and encourage them to fulfill their desire for adventure," says Urvashi Patola, who co-founded Bikerni. "We are not a group of unruly bikers. We believe in safe riding and promote safe riding."
But then how safe is it for an all women group to go on cross-country trips? Patola says women are advised to take some safety measures such as not stopping at isolated places and keeping a paper spray with them.
Most states in the country, except Harayna, are pretty good for women riders, she says. "Women bikers are alert and can anticipate risks. Biking has boosted my confidence, made me bold and independent," says Patola, who won the Female Biker of the Year Award in 2013.
This social media strategist started biking at the age of 14 and is now on the road for half of the year.
For many women, biking is about breaking free. Stuti Rastogi, 20, a Delhi University student started riding bikes to prove that the vehicles are not just 'boys' toys'.
"For me biking is not just about fun, it is also about freedom," says Rastogi who rides a CBR250 and is a part of the Free Souls Rider -- a Delhi-based group of bikers. "I ride a 250cc bike because I do not have money to buy a more powerful one. In fact, my parents who are in Kanpur do not know about my riding expeditions," says Rastogi who has just returned from a biking trip to Mana Pass, near the Indo-China border.
Not just biking communities, now there several motorcycle training institutes catering mostly to women. Delhi-based Vintage Rides Motor Cycling Training offers 'customized, one-on-one, motorcycling training sessions at Tughlakabad ground, to both rookies and advance riders. The training costs Rs. 10,500 for a 10-hour training split over a few days.
"As much as 90% of our trainees are women, mostly young executives and students. A lot of them are also expat women. We customize our training on the basis of their needs and skill level. Women are dedicated and fast learners," says V Srinivas, head of training programme.
Geraldine Rage, a French expatriate who learnt biking at the institute is quite impressed with India's biking scene. Rage not only commutes to her office in Okhla on her motorbike but also takes several European women on biking trips around the country.
"A lot of women from biking clubs in Europe are coming to India for biking trips. India has much more adventurous biking tracks than France," says Rage, who lives in Kalkaji.
Women's growing interest in biking is also reflected in the soaring sales of women biking gear and apparel. iRIDE, an online biking gear retailer, currently sells five times more to women than it did two years back. "A couple of years back there was hardly any demand for women biking gear. We used to sell about 60 biking T- shits for women in a year. Now, we sell about 600 in a year. Interestingly, these days we sell a lot of pink helmets," says Kaustubh Mishra, CEO of the company.