- Lucia Benavides American-Statesman Staff
Loud motors and wind-blown hair are part of a motorcyclist’s everyday life. In your mind, you might be picturing a man with a thirst for risk-taking as the person atop the Harley.
But a 2012 survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council found that about 1 out of 4 riders is a woman. That number is increasing, up 20 percent from 2009 to 2012.
At the start of the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, in which thousands of bikers will descend upon the Travis County Expo Center and downtown this weekend, we look at some of the local women who have discovered the thrill of the bike.
During the day, Teffany Lovell is a mother and an emergency room nurse at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. On her time off, she is a motorcycle rider.
“I think people are split between those who love to ride and those who think it’s crazy,” Lovell says. “I have always loved it.”
Lovell has been on the back of motorcycles since she was 15 years old and began riding dirt bikes at age 19. It wasn’t until six years ago that she finally purchased a Harley. The day she first rode her bike, which she named “Zoe Jane” after a Staind song, home, she was undoubtedly nervous: the kind of nervousness you experience before you get on a roller coaster, she says. After a few days of getting a feel for the bike, she began to feel like she was flying.
“It’s so freeing,” Lovell says. “The smell when you pass a laundromat or a taco joint. The scenery around you.”
Lovell has attended the ROT Rally three times. The first two times, she volunteered at the medical service tent, which used both her skills as a nurse and her knowledge of bikes. The overwhelming number of motorcycles at the event is always an amazing experience, she says.
“I ride any chance I get,” says Lovell, whose favorite route includes the Three Sisters Ride in Medina. “Texas weather lets you ride any time of the year.”
As a female rider, Lovell gets people who approach her to help, even when she doesn’t feel she needs it. When she rides with a group, fellow male riders take on the situation assuming she’ll be slower than the rest. It takes a while to gain their respect. There’s nothing about being a woman that gets in her way, though; she always keeps up.
“When you ride, you’re one with the machine,” says Lovell. “You get to know how the bike will respond to different situations.
“When I go on long trips, everything I need is behind me: a toothbrush, a change of clothes, and most importantly, my bike.”
Kate Layton, Latin American studies graduate student at the University of Texas, has been riding motorcycles since she was 17. Before going off to college, her father wanted to give her one last important present: a motorcycle license. In order to acquire the license, Layton took a class where she learned how to ride. Along with this present came a motor scooter, which she used until moving to Brazil in 2013 for a Fulbright scholarship.
“I immediately loved it,” Layton says. “It’s a sensory experience: the landscapes, smells, even the bugs that hit you.”
During the nine months she spent in Maceio, Brazil, her main mode of transportation was a motorcycle. It was much quicker than taking the bus and easy to navigate among the city’s busy traffic. She was on her bike at least four hours a day, and for recreational purposes, she would ride with local friends up the Brazilian coast once or twice a week.
“I would definitely get looks at the light when I was in Maceio,” Layton says. “There were hardly any women riders.”
While male motorcyclists tend to be enthusiastic when they encounter a woman who rides, most of the sexism comes from outside the bike community, Layton says. She did experience random acts of support from fellow women in Brazil. One day a bus carrying female students cheered Layton on as they drove past.
“When you ride, you’re part of the machine,” says Layton. “The car is a shield, but a motorcycle is a companion.”
Ever since watching Aaliyah’s “More Than A Woman” music video as a kid, in which the late pop star rides a motorcycle, Lauren Matthews knew she wanted to bike. For her 21st birthday last November, she finally gave herself that present: a motorcycle license and her own bike.
“Learning to ride was a lot more work than I thought,” says Matthews. “At first I was afraid I bit off more than I could chew.”
Eventually, the fear wore off and the exhilarated feeling began. Matthews says she can feel herself smiling when she rides, and she has learned to appreciate how fragile life is. She is able to take in the city as she rides along her favorite neighborhoods, something she wouldn’t be able to do if she were on any vehicle other than a motorcycle.
“I’m treated a lot cooler and get asked a lot of questions now,” says Matthews. “Sometimes I get unwanted attention, but it’s all worth it.”
Since 2010, Pamela Larson had sworn off motor vehicles. It was an attempt to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, and as a community transformation grant planner at the city of Austin, the issue hit close to home. Bicycling around town eventually proved to be difficult, however, and she found herself unable to get to certain places. Last year, she began to borrow friends’ motor scooters, and in January, she finally purchased her own motorcycle.
“It really makes you feel empowered,” says Larson.
Larson was attracted to the fact that motorcycles use a small amount of gasoline but can still take her to distant places. While her bicycle continues to be her main mode of transportation, her motorcycle is used about once a week. Her favorite part of riding is getting on highway overpasses.
“The amount of wind up there is incredible,” says Larson. “It’s like you’re entering an alternative reality. You feel so alive.”