I have ridden many different motorbikes since I started in 1990; at that time in Switzerland you had to start on a 125ccm and have ridden it for a minimum of 2 years before being allowed to move up in engine size.
My first bike was a Honda Custom 125ccm; I actually started with riding a bike because my father – a former police officer – had forbidden it!
He had said that a motorbike would be far too dangerous and he wanted to prevent his youngest daughter from having a dangerous hobby.
After a couple of years he was really proud of me – there hadn’t been many women on the road in the 90’s.
After being able to ride a “big“ bike I had a couple of different bikes: Yamaha XJ 600, Suzuki GS750 Inazuma, Honda CB 750, BMW G650GS, BMW F650GS (798ccm).
All of them were great bikes and I had ridden many tens of thousands of kilometres with them for over 25 years.
I’ve spent my holidays traveling to countries like: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia (one of my favourites).
Then in 2012 a friend of mine ‘forced’ me to ride his off-road bike; he said “hey, try it, it will be fun and you will love it“. I fell into the dirt many times, but he was absolutely right, I loved it. I had to try something new and I had to try to go over my own barriers.
It was fun. Although I’m far too small for the classic off-road bikes and so I bought a KTM EXC250. I had it lowered a bit and bought the off-road clothes in the children section – because you could hardly find anything for women of 165cm and 55kg! I started my off-road ‘career’ a couple of weeks after my first try.
Together with my off-road friends – all men of course – we go twice a year for 1 week to Spain, France or Italy and hire a local guide there to show us all the fun off-road tracks of the regions.
The KTM was a little too aggressive for me and the maintenance was quite expensive. So I decided to sell it and buy something less aggressive and more reliable bike - that’s how I found my ‘Suzy Blue’.
For the past 2 years I’ve just used it for my off-road trips until in February 2014, on my 45th birthday, I decided to go on a trip to make my long-life dream come true: 6 months on a bike and because I had read Lois Pryce book ’Lois on the loose’ just some weeks before – along the Panamericana from Alaska to Chile, I decided this is what I wanted to do. There was a lot of planning; and of course the most important question: what bike should I take with me?
Traveling alone, I had some clear ideas of what I needed. I needed a bike I could lift up on my own (just in case); a bike that was not too maintenance complicated; a bike I could ride on any road condition and a bike I already knew I could handle. With this requirement profile it was absolutely clear to me: I would not take my street bike but instead my Suzuki DRZ400.
It was already lowered a bit with a lever and I easily found the luggage that suited me – it was the best choice I ever made and we were the perfect team!
I travelled all sorts of landscapes, street conditions and altitudes with no problems at all; she was the best companion I could have on such a trip. Suzy Blue was admired all around; although in North America they could hardly believe that such a trip was possible on such a small bike and in Central and South America they could hardly believe that a woman was travelling with such a big bike!
Many times over my motorcycling years I’ve been asked:
The first time I heard every question I really thought about it and could not find a sensible answer because there is only one possible and right answer - WHY NOT? In the 90’s there were not many women riding a bike and there had not been a huge choice of ‘good’ bikes for women: not too high, not too heavy, comfortable. But still the question why?
In many other things women have been set free from the ’norm’ however, not really so with dangerous sports. Maybe it’s this, along with its danger and being a typical male thing.
But what about the reaction of men about a woman on a bike?
I think that changed a lot within the last 25years. At the beginning they just smiled at me – women can’t ride like they can’t park a car. For me, the best way to overcome this is to show them the opposite. I still enjoy it when I see that a man just smiling with that look on his face ‘cute, a little woman on a motorbike’ and then knowing that when being overtaken by me he realises that ‘the little one’ is able to ride the bike at least as good as him and the most important point: she loves riding as much as he does his!
It may be that women have a certain lack of the speed thrill or the competition fever, but I don’t see that as a problem, I see it as respect. And that’s never a bad habit to have, moving on the streets with a vehicle that has almost no protection for the driver. And we may not be that interested in techniques. Of course it may be that we still have too much respect for engines and everything that has to do with it. But I also guess we women think more practically – women always had to manage their families, have a part time job, and and and….. It’s not the sound that is important nor the brand. Being in a group of bikers they often ask: what are you driving? And I know that they expect me to say: BMW or Triumph or Suzuki or…. or whatever brand I think is best. But I always say: I ride a motorcycle ! A bike to me is all about comfortability and whether I can handle it. I want to discover the world with it - even if it’s only the small world of my own country most of the time. Course it has to look good as well!
I need to be able to handle my own bike – to not be dependent on a man to help me with parking, manoeuvres or things like that – more than once I’ve helped other women turn their bikes around or get it out of tight parking spot. Coupled with that is the need to be able to reach the ground with both feet, even at least a little bit.
Since I started riding off-road I’ve learned a great deal more: my driving skills have improved; I’ve learned many new important maintenances tips from my friends; my self-confidence has improved a lot and that’s another reason why I went on my trip alone.
I was asked all the time on my trip ‘Why are you, as a woman, riding alone? I’d answer ‘Why not?’. It is not really more dangerous. You just have to consider some things a bit different traveling alone as a woman. Again: respect is the keyword. Respect of the circumstances, the situation, the habits of a country, and sometimes it is even easier being a woman: no police officer, no military control post treated me badly or rudely. On the contrary, no speed fees, no long proof of documents; they enjoyed talking to me; were more curious about where to, where from…
Nowadays there are more and more men that don’t care whether you are a woman or a man. I even think that sometimes they are a little proud having a woman in their group – concerning the off-road stuff anyway. It is still male dominated – and will probably always be, for me that’s ok. As a woman I just want to be accepted – because I’m riding a motorcycle and not because I’m a woman and that’s what I expect from the motorcycle industry too. There are still more women on earth than men, so it’s a huge market opening for the motorcycle industry. They just have to realise that!
And to all the women in this world. No matter what bike you ride, no matter where you ride it, whatever you love to do, just do it! There are no barriers - than the barriers in your head.