According to a 2012 Motorcycle Industry Council report of the approximately 27 million people in the United States that operate a motorcycle, about 4.8 million are women. This represents a 28 percent increase over the previous five years.
A Changing Industry
The increase in women ridership has been changing the motorcycle industry as they develop bikes that are designed for our smaller stature. Rider apparel that fits better and is more feminine has also evolved, allowing for curves and colors that are more appealing to women.
And although there are more of us than ever on the road, not much has been published about personal safety for female riders. Here are some thoughts and advice for my fellow women riders, but could also apply to any biker on the road.
Stay Calm and Trust Your Instincts
I learned long ago that the best way to stay safe while traveling is to be “situationally aware.” And if you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, remain calm, trust your instincts, and have an exit plan.
Many years ago I was traveling with a couple of guy friends. We were stopped at a gas station on our way home from a camping trip with our fully loaded bikes. I rode a 1979 Sportster, and at 5’1” I had to wear boots with thick soles and heels to be able to touch the ground and back the bike up.
A group of heavy-duty motorcyclists pulled into the gas station. One of my friends walked over to them carrying a handful of flyers to tell them about an upcoming motorcycle event. Someone from their group abruptly hit my friend’s hands and the flyers went scattering all over the parking lot.
My friends quickly got on their bikes and left, but I had to back up in order to leave. As I was struggling to get moving, I heard a gunshot. A deer was bounding across a nearby field and one of the bikers had pulled a handgun out of his vest and shot at it.
Inside my head I was screaming “danger!” but on the outside I did my best to stay calm. As I was on my tippy toes inching back unsteadily, I heard someone ask, “Would you like some help?” I was almost far enough back to be able pull forward, so I continued backing up and answered, “No thanks, I’ve got it.”
I quickly shifted into first gear and pulled out on the highway. It was a scary situation, but I managed to stay calm and get away safely. Here’s what I took away from the experience:
- Always try to park your bike for a quick exit, backing into a parking space whenever possible.
- Do not assume every biker you meet is your friend.
- If you see something going down that doesn’t look quite right, plan a safe zone. This might be on your bike, or inside a gas station or other establishment.
I don’t mean to suggest that every time you see a heavy-duty rider you are in danger, but always stay alert and keep your eyes open. This is good advice to any woman at any time, not just for motorcycling.
Self-Defense and Women’s Intuition
People frequently act surprised when they see me traveling alone and see my big bike. What they don’t know is that I carry pepper spray in my bike and have taken self-defense classes. While I am small I am not naïve.
Any self-defense class will advise you to be vigilant about getting out of dangerous situations whenever you feel a threat might exist. Women’s intuition can come in handy in cases like this. For that reason I tend to stay away from bars after dark. Nothing good can come from too much alcohol and I would not want to be riding with people who are intoxicated anyway.
I encourage every rider to take some kind of self-defense class. You can search the web to find classes near you. In addition, you might like to check out some Basic Self-Defense Moves.
Working with women as a safety advocate and educator, I find that they are interested and receptive to the concept of continuous learning. They want to master their motorcycle and are empowered by learning to confidently ride and handle their bikes. They like riding in groups so they have the support and assistance of other riders.
For some, they say this makes them feel safer. Female-specific riding groups have been popping up all over the country. Women tell me they like the camaraderie and feel less intimidation.
My advice to new riders is that they should spend time around other experienced riders to learn as much as they can. A rider education class can teach you the basics of riding but fine-tuning comes from experience and from mentors.
Choose a person with experience who you admire and ask that person to take you on rides and give you advice. The number of years they have been riding is not as important as the number of miles they ride each year.
Look for someone who will be patient and who remembers what it was like when they first started riding. Be open to suggestions from riding techniques to fitting your motorcycle.
Most importantly, ride every chance you get. Comfort and ability comes from education AND experience. Who knows, some day you might have that new rider who approaches you and asks if you will be her mentor.
Good luck and be safe on the road!
Allstate Insurance Company is not affiliated with Vicki Sanfelipo. Allstate makes no warranties or representations and is not liable for any goods or services provided by this individual or this organization. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Allstate.