Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sexism on Two Tires

I ride a motorcycle.

A Yamaha R6.

600 cubic centimeters of engine, wrapped in bright yellow, it weighs in at a very light (for a motorcycle) 350 pounds and has a top speed of nearly 160 miles per hour.

I’ve never gotten it that fast. Or anywhere near that fast. I am not one of those jack-ass, death-courting, over-aggressive idiots that zips in and out of traffic and does stupid, deadly shit. I, quite frankly, am a little too cowardly.

But I love it. Quick acceleration, sheer power, speed, handling, and agility. What’s not to love? There’s something intensely satisfying about powering through a corner, using the bike’s weight and speed to slingshot around a tight curve before rising up from that leaning turn.


It’s odd, though, being a woman on a motorcycle, particularly a little yellow sport bike like the one I ride.

Yesterday I was riding my motorcycle home from my parents’ house and I stopped to fill up at a local gas station. There were a couple of guys at the pump in front of mine, also topping off their tanks. I swung a leg over my bike and popped off my helmet and got to enjoy that momentary look of blankness on their faces when they realized I was a woman. My gear (full leathers, gloves, and a full helmet) obscured any signs of femininity, and, given the fact I was riding alone on a sport bike, the assumption was (and always is) that I’m a guy.

See, motorcycling is still a sexist hobby.

Women nearly always ride behind men. They perch on the pillion seat (the “bitch” seat), clasping the driver around the waist, forced to cling with no control.

Those of you who’ve met me realize that’s not really a position I can stand to be in for long. Even with all the trust I have in my husband, the absolute belief I have that he will never take unnecessary risks with me on the motorcycle and my complete faith in his ability to outride or outdrive anyone else on the road, I just hate not having my turn at being in control.

There are women that ride, of course, but so many of them are my mother’s age, not mine, and they ride larger, cruiser style bikes. The faster, more agile bikes are reserved almost exclusively for young men.

And you rarely spot a lone woman out for a ride. More often than not, she is riding with a group.

But I am often surprised by the kindness of other riders. Though there is often a moment of awkwardness as they have to realign their expectations with reality, they are often unfailingly polite and friendly.

When I drive the mister’s pick-up, I occasionally get comments about it being an awfully big truck for a girl.

Not so when it comes to the motorcycle. In fact, I’ve never once received a snide, condescending, or rude comment from another rider. I’ve never even gotten that intruder-into-the-good-old-boys'-club feeling.

I've received respect and the good-natured ribbing that Harley riders and sport bike riders exchange; queries and conversations about engine size, local shops, and nice places to ride; envy of my shiny, speedy bike by riders less blessed.

So, while the hobby is sexist, I can't help but wonder if it's the women that are making it so? Do most women find motorcycling unappealing? Do most women choose to be a passenger or follower because they like it that way or are they too uncertain of their own skills to take the lead? Am I odd for wanting to be the one with her hands on the controls? Am I even more odd for being perfectly content to go for a ride on my own without a man along?

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