By Abigail D’Souza
For decades, motorcycling has been primarily associated with men, but in recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of women taking up the sport.
Fabienne Phillips is a longtime rider of 16 years, as well as the founder and instructor of Girl Torque; a female-focused training program for developing riders.
Despite her early exposure riding a 49.9cc Mobylette in her driveway, and ‘paddock-bashing’ as a young teenager in the country, Phillips didn’t touch the handlebars of a motorcycle again until almost 30 years later.
“If I hadn’t met this fellow [her then boyfriend], I probably wouldn’t have ridden. I was pillion for a year, and I wanted to stay pillion…he said no you should get your own license,” she said.
However, she encountered some difficulties with this.
“The learning period with him,” Phillips said. “It was horrible. Males don’t really have the patience and the empathy sometimes. They just want you to do it without any explanation.”
Prompted by this experience and her observations of women around her struggling to handle their motorcycles, she established her business, Girl Torque.cc.
While motorcycle riding is synonymous with speed and daredevilry, it can actually be therapeutic.
TAFE student and recent P-plater Kaixin Chen has been riding since September 2021 and considers herself “a rookie.” But since mounting the bike, she’s come to enjoy the road-riding scene.
“Riding really released my pressure,” Chen said. “I love riding. I love seeing different, beautiful things on the road…enjoying the wind and the smell.”
Phillips also enjoys this aspect and cautions against hasty riding.
“Getting on the bike in the right state of mind is really important…it’s about being in the moment. How can it be therapy if you’re angry or in a hurry?” she said.
Both women have noticed a positive shift in the gender demographic on the road.
“In Sydney I saw more and more females joining the motorcycling area,” said Chen.
“The scene is very much positive, current and increasing…when I first started out, I would never see another female on the road. Now I see two a day,” said Fabienne Phillips.
Joining a riding group can provide a sense of community and security for some riders but choose your group wisely and be aware of its dynamics. Phillips likened it to “your first day at school.”
“You’ve got to be careful that you’re not getting into a group where they’re very experienced riders and you’re not as experienced- that’s where accidents happen. You’re trying to keep up with the group, your skills are not at that level.”
But of course, being a woman in leather, handling a speedy and powerful engine does draw extra attention, wanted or not.
“It’s a man dominated area, so women somehow control the behaviour of men,” said Chen. “Once a woman shows up, everybody surrounds the woman and they’re really curious…like in a zoo and you are the animal.”
There are, however, some benefits. Women are generally more likely to receive help if they end up in a pickle.
“He [stranded group member] asked for help in the group chat and nobody listened to him, they just kept chatting. A girl in his apartment, she fell from her bike… just needs somebody to lift it up. A man showed up with a full toolkit,” Chen said.
While there are women that have set up female only clothing companies, finding suitable, well-fitted gear has proven a significant struggle for many women.
“I think, what comes first, are you going to wait until you get enough female customers to change the gear or is the gear going to come first?” said Phillips. “Women’s anatomy isn’t the same, we’ve got wider hips.”
The two riders offer encouragement to endeavouring motorcyclists.
“Be brave and build some confidence for yourself,” said Chen. “You’ll finally overcome it and you’ll just enjoy it.”
“You’ve got to allow time for muscle memory and you’ve got to put in the time…sort out the operational skills first, without that you can’t manage a risk,” said Phillips. “There’s nothing better than a one-on-one instruction. I think it really fills in a lot of the gaps that YouTube can’t provide.”
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Featured image: GirlTorque.CC/Bike Deadline