Rules, part one. (of riding a motorcycle. a primer for women riders)

I was ranting tonight. Here are some of things I had to say.

Dear fellow women,
Dear fellow women bikers,

There is indeed a club.
There is a club made up of bikers. What some of you don’t realize, and what I’d like to make you aware of, is that you are, in fact, already a member of this club.

You are a biker. If you have begun riding a motorcycle in the past 10 years, perhaps no one made you aware of the membership responsibilities of this club, so I will try to outline some of them for you.

Stop for other bikers.
If you see a bike stopped at the side of the highway, looking distressed (not just stopped hiding from the rain or to make a phone call), STOP. You don’t know how, necessarily, but you might be able to help. Maybe you are just reassuring them that they are already on the right track. Maybe you are giving them a lift to the nearest gas station. Maybe you have the ratchet they need to tighten something. Maybe they are from out of town and you know the nearest mechanic. You may feel you have nothing to offer, but you never know. You should always stop.
Wave at other bikers.
You’ve possibly seen this and didn’t know what it meant: a sports bike passes you at an insane speed on the freeway. As he/she passes you, she sticks her foot out. This is her, waving at you. It doesn’t mean anything else. It’s acknowledgement that he or she has seen you and recognized that you too are a member of the club. If you were too late to have already stuck hand or foot out (you should have done this if you saw them in your mirror, about to pass), that’s ok. But try to remember to do this in the future. It’s ok to not always be noticing your fellow riders, but here’s the thing: One of the things about riding a motorcycle is that we MUST be more aware of our surroundings than car drivers. It is more than a fender bender that awaits us if we are not. A small accident can mean the loss of life or limb. So most of the time, yes, we are aware. We see those other bikers coming up behind us. We see the ones coming towards us in oncoming lanes. We see the ones waiting at intersection stoplights. And yes, we give everyone recognition. A nod (if our hands are busy with clutch, gas and brake), a wave, or a foot sticking out. Just do it. People will do it back.
Stop where other bikers are.
Remember how I said you don’t have to stop if people are just making a phone call or waiting out the rain. Well. Let’s say you’re driving down the highway and the weather gets crazy. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, don’t worry, it will. You NEED to stop (for all those safety reasons that they went over in your driving training and which I won’t go over now). Now, I know you think you are a biker partially because you are not a very social person. Yeah, me too. But. If you’ve got to stop anyway, stop where there are other bikers. Or at least don’t avoid them. This also goes for gas station stops, food stops, or any other kind of stop. You will find that we’re not a particularly talkative lot, but we will always welcome our own. You can pull up, nod at everyone (or just the ones that seem most comfortable), and park amidst them. You will almost always be accepted. And if you do, sometimes you will be rewarded with better information, maps, technical advice or even a lasting friendship.

This is my advice for the moment.
I’m tired of passing women riders on the road and seeing that they don’t know the basic etiquette of their club membership. I started riding quite some time ago, and there weren’t nearly so many women on the road. I’m happy to see more of us, but I wish more of them understood the etiquette. They get left out as a result.

Here are the perks:

When you have a problem, someone will always stop and help you. No really. I’ve had all number of troubles on my motorcycle over the years, and I have to say that the invention and profligation of the mobile phone has made people forget that they need other people. MOST of the time, we don’t need AAA or any official paid club to get our bikes on the road. Most of the time, we’ve flooded our engines, run out of gas, burst a valve, or just simply gotten lost. In those cases, a fellow rider is a better solution than a technical service. A fellow rider may reassure us that waiting 20-40 minutes will put our engine back to normal. A fellow rider may give us a lift to the nearest gas station and back. A fellow rider may be better able to direct us to a nearby mechanic (smart phones aren’t always handy if you’re out of your country anyway). A fellow rider may actually lead you to where you’re going. Being a member of the club, we offer these services to one another. Respect the people who stop for you, and stop for others when you can.
When you have had a bad riding experience (and seriously, there WILL be those days), you will have people who will understand. All clubs offer this. And we understand. We have all made mistakes. We have, nearly all of us, had near brushes with death. We have all ridden miles and miles in the freezing rain, only to be sent the other direction and retraced our path, with no idea where we’re staying. If you have a bad riding day, and you’re still on the road, look for other bikers. They know that feeling, whether you choose to tell them about it or not. Drink your coffee with them, huddled over steaming take-away cups under an overhang outside a gas station, and belong.
Sometimes, and I don’t mean to say this happens often, but sometimes, and it’s worth a lot indeed, another biker will do you a great favor for no other reason than that you are also a biker. They will spend a couple of hours helping you get a mechanic in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. They will arrange a place to stay for you for free, where you feel safe. They will let you join their group to escort you from somewhere you don’t feel safe. They will do this for no other reason than your humanity, but they will do it because you ask. And your method of asking will be by being part of the club. You are on a bike. They will see your need and they will come and help you. They might not even be on a bike at the time. You will know them anyway.

A word of caution on that front.
Go with your gut. If someone makes you nervous in their offer, don’t accept it. Ever. Not even if your nervousness makes no sense whatsoever. Just don’t. Maybe they’re fine. Maybe not. But I’m not about to understand all the vagaries of our reptilian, baser selves. I’ve followed my gut in any number of situations. I’ve accepted the offer of accommodation in a camper van with 2 men who were easily stronger than me. I’ve turned down the smaller offer of dinner at the home of someone else who was possibly my physical equal. I’ve taken rides from all sorts, and offered rides to similar. Remember: you are independent, on your bike. If you put yourself into someone else’s hands, be absolutely confident in that. If you are not, don’t do it. Just don’t.


  1. And the “club” isn’t a formal club. You don’t have to carry a card, wear a vest with club patches, or make sure it’s folks with the same marquee. We’re people with a common interest and a point of connection. We all know that bikes are waaay better than cars 😉

    1. yep, that’s a good point. 🙂 but it is still a club. with SOME, albeit loose, rules. which should really be rules that everyone applies to everyone else, not just bikers. but ok… i’ll try not to get too idealistic here!

      mostly, my post was prompted by yet another conversation with a woman rider who was uncertain of herself with regards to riding. she felt that she didn’t know enough to help others out. but i’ve noticed that women riders often don’t do any of the nice things that i learned to do years ago, and which men mostly do (as listed above). they don’t even wave. so no wonder they feel left out. maybe they aren’t aware that most riders do these things. in her case, she said she doesn’t know anything about mechanics, so why would she stop… but there are lots of reasons why stopping is helpful. and it’s not just about fixing the bike. and in the couple of cases where i’ve been treated condescendingly by the man i stopped to help, amazingly, it was in each case a technical thing that i DID know something about. through simple experience. that those particular men did NOT have.

      another thing that women riders should do, especially if they feel that this is a handicap, is learn something about the bike mechanics. you don’t have to work on your own bike to take a good look at the manual. but it does help. my first bike was incredibly helpful in that regard. i barely do anything at all myself to my bike now, but once upon a time i tried to learn a few things, and that still comes in handy. oh, and yes, i agree… the manuals should have glossaries. for those of us who didn’t learn mechanics from a family member growing up, some of the terminology can be quite baffling. come to think of it, now we have the internet. that should be helpful. but also daunting, when applied to the entire manual.

      i think i want to write up another post: tips for new riders.


Comments are closed.