While listening to a recent Adventure Rider Radio podcast, Jim Martin was interviewing a 20 year old female named Zenith Irfan (pictured above) from Pakistan who was riding her motorcycle on a weeklong solo journey. Here in North America that would be pretty normal for a guy or girl. But as we know all too well; progress stands still on many equality issues in much of the East.
I am not trying to stir up a heated cultural or religious debate by any means. We Westerners have a tendency to project our views onto the rest of the world, but inequality of any kind bears no cultural or religious significance, that is simply a false wall for misogynists to hide behind. The interview shines a light on women’s issues in Pakistan for listeners, and as a motorcyclist, you will likely cringe when you listen to parts of the interview. Jim tries to keep the conversation as light as possible while still revealing the true issues, which is a difficult task. There is no real law against women riding motorcycles in Pakistan, but there is a strong social stigma. Socially imposed rules dictate a women’s interaction with bikes, and it goes something like this: Women don’t belong on bikes, if they have to be on one it will be as a passenger with a male rider, and the women shall sit side saddle, not to spread her legs open. Well that pisses me off.
The good news is that Zenith is breaking through the social barriers and doing what she loves, riding.
Imagine you decided to go sidesaddle, goofing off a bit here in Canada or the USA. What would happen? Well it’s really dangerous, so you would get pulled over, and depending on what state or province you were in, and what kind of day the officer was having, you might just end up with a huge fine and your bike impounded for “stunting”.
Here in North America none of the hurdles Zenith is facing are present for female riders. Sure there may be a select few people who think women should not ride, but there will always be a few shitheads here and there and those people do not represent the general population. My wife doesn’t ride because it does not interest her. She thinks motorcycles are dangerous and I am crazy for loving them so much. It is not because of any cultural or otherwise public perception that is holding her back. It is her own choice not to be interested in motorcycles, and while I think she is the crazy one, I am happy that she alone makes that call.
Now you might say I am an idiot and that lots of women ride. That’s a fair comment (the idiot part), but even here in North America women are drastically underrepresented in the motorcycle world. Sure there are women riders, women motorcycle clubs, and lots of great women Adventure Riders who are traveling the world, writing and photographing places I dream of visiting. But the sad fact is that only 12% (as of 2012) of motorcycle owners in the States are female and that has skyrocket up 30% over the last decade. Roughly half the population is female, so 12% is not nearly enough.
Not too long ago you could say that the Motorcycle industry simply does not cater to women riders. But now there is loads of great gear that fit women of all shapes and sizes and can be had in designs made by women for women. Bike manufacturers have also taken the hint. Harley Davidson is strongly targeting women and young riders (but going about it all wrong IMO). In fact every major manufacturer has great options for women, who generally speaking are smaller than your typical male rider and therefore need bikes that are lighter with lower seat heights. If you want a GS but don’t think you would be able to ride a big 1200, you can get the F700GS. Still not low enough? Riders can get a low seat and a factory lowering option, pulling down the seat height to 30”, more than manageable for the average 5’-5” American female.
There are still some parts of the industry that are ignoring Women. For starters media largely ignores potential female customers. According to Women Riders Now, surveys have shown that readers of motorcycle magazines are 97% male, so editors of those media outlets are bound to target males only when producing content.
That’s a track girl, beautiful yes, but does she give a shit about bikes, probably not. Sex sells, so you can’t blame race organizers. Go to any race organization’s website and you will see a link to “track girls” or “paddock girls” or something along those lines, but you will be hard pressed to find anything of substance about a female rider. The NFL has its cheerleaders, and racing has its race queens. In fact, if there was an all-women race, it would be wise for them to have some male eye candy for the females in attendance as well. But the lack of female presences in professional racing is huge. MotoGP and AMA Pro Motocross need their own Danica Patrick and Ronda Rousey to break down barriers. MotoGP has Ana Carrasco who is racing in Moto3, but she has yet to podium and Moto3 is not the big leagues. The move to Moto2 and eventually MotoGP from a female is vital for the progression of the sport. Out of all the facets of the industry, big race organizations are possibly the guiltiest of all.
It was Zenith’s father’s unrealized dream to travel the world by motorcycle that inspired her journey. So what can you do as a male rider? Instead of asking your girlfriend to put on a bikini and pose with your bike for a facebook profile pic, take her for a ride and see if she likes it. Then encourage your spouse to ride, not just be a pillion. Help her choose the appropriate gear and a bike conducive to her needs and take the intimidation out of entering the bike world. Got a shit load of kids? Don’t just buy your son a minibike; get your daughter out riding. Already a female rider? Well I am sure that just like me you are constantly imposing your motorcycle passion on your non-riding friends, so just keep doing that.
It’s not all glim; more women are riding than ever. In fact the female market is one of the fastest growing in power-sports and I don’t mean to crap on the progress, but the devil’s advocate in me says surely we can do better?
Support female riders by checking out great Motorcycle Books by women riders and writers like Lois on the Loose and Breaking the Limit. Listen to the full ARR Zenith Irfan interview here. If you are a female interested in riding stop by Women Riders Now and take a look around.