They love to rev it up!

They love to rev it up!

Whether it is towing a broken down bike with their dupattas or riding past men who attempt to hurl them off their bikes, the Bikernis are game for just about anything the road coughs up, writes Surekha Kadapa-Bose.

Sitting outside a nondescript eatery in Central Mumbai, ordering a round of juice, fruit beer and coffee, these young women, clad in jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and boots, discuss biking gears and engine capacities. 

The riding helmets and bike gloves stacked in a corner are a testament to these ladies’ passion for bikes. “We are the Bikernis and we prefer mud to makeup and petrol to perfume,” they declare with pride.

This is a gang that comes from different cities across India, loves to go vroom-vroom and talk non-stop about their first love: motorbikes. They are an association of like-minded females, who are interested in touring, stunting and racing on geared motorcycles.

Bikerni, the first all-female Motorcycle Association of India, was formed in January 2011 by Pune’s Urvashi Patole and Firdaus Shaikh. While initially they were 11, now they have grown to become a 350-plus group. Members include students, professionals and homemakers from cities such as Rajkot, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hubli, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Guwahati. 

“Anyone who can ride a bike, doesn’t believe in taking pointless risks or showing off while riding and has a driver’s license can become a member,” says Sheetal Bidaye, coordinator of Bikerni’s West Zone association. All new members have to take three test rides - on sandy, cobbled and city roads - along with other Bikernis. Only after qualifying these tests do they get to become a part of this club. 

“The enrolment of a newcomer isn’t dependent on the amount of time she has spent riding a bike, but on how skilled she is,” explains Urvashi.  

A couple of months back, 12 Bikernis from Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Hubli had taken a trip to Dandeli in Karnataka. “That must have been the first time when one of our girl’s bike broke down late one evening and we got a bit worried,” recalls Shubhangi Manjrekar, a Mumbai-based advertising professional, who rides a Royal Enfield 350 cc Thunder Bird. Given that Dandeli has a dense forest cover, where wild elephants roam at night, the girls decided to tow the bike using their dupattas as rope to the nearest village, about 14 kilometres away.

 Leaving the bike at a villager’s house for the night, covering the remaining 20-odd kilometres in the dead of the night, the ladies joined the rest of their group, which had already reached the resort appointed for stay, . 

The Bikernis admit that though riding a bike is not dangerous, it is certainly challenging. “If you take care of the bike, get it serviced before leaving for a trip and make sure that the tyres and tubes are in top condition, you are unlikely to encounter any problems,” points out Ishita Lakotia, a banker who loves to zoom around Mumbai in her Yamaha Fazer.

Of course, they do encounter harassment from few men, who are yet to accept women bikers. On road, at times, men on bikes challenge them to race; those driving cars zoom past and suddenly open the door in an attempt to make the girls fall off. “We simply ignore such pranks. If they still persist and if we are in a group, then we haul them up or seek help from the public,” says Urvashi.

However, these women receive tremendous support from male biker clubs. “Bikers, irrespective of their gender, always help each other,” says Aniya Satam, who recently completed her Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery exams. Petite she may be, but she has learnt of ways to lift her heavy Yamaha FZ 16 on her own, in case it ever falls down.

The Bikernis are not just fun or adventurous; they support social causes as well. They have promoted the “Child Rights and You” campaign of CRY in addition to spreading awareness about women’s safety and violent crimes against women, after the gruesome December 16 rape case in Delhi. They want to talk about issues of women’s empowerment,including health and education, and meet up with women’s groups to take their message further.

For now, the next step for the Bikernis is to travel abroad on their bikes. They remark in unison: “Who needs a therapist when you have an open road and a bike!”