KUALA LUMPUR: Emily Lim Phaik Siew looks forward to every chance she gets to throw a leg over her Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 - a heavyweight bike she acquired last December - and ignite the engine.
“Travelling on a motorcycle allows you to get closer to nature, especially when you’re riding on mountain roads. You can directly feel the wind direction and the chilly weather, smell the scents and listen to the birds chirping.
“I really enjoy it,” said the 40-year-old real estate agent and mother of four sons with enthusiasm.
Lim is part of a close-knit, all-female rider group in the Klang Valley, who defy the gender stereotype that women cannot handle heavyweight bikes.
The group started off with four of them wheeling through the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range towards Bentong, Pahang, in September 2019. They enjoyed each other’s company so much that they started planning more rides and gradually welcomed more like-minded female riders into their fold.
So rare is the sight of an all-girl crew that they sometimes get swamped with admirers.
“They were curious as they have never seen a female rider group. They were probably in awe and thought we were bold as we had attempted something they thought was dangerous,” Cecilia Su Yee Wei, 38, said of a recent experience during a ride to Tanjung Sepat, a coastal town in Selangor.
The little crown on her helmet added a playful touch to her outfit, paring down the strong femininity exuded from the patterns of roses and thorns on her Harley-Davidson Sportster 48. “I am a girl, so I hope my bike can look like a girl’s bike, but not overly feminine,” she said.
With varying years of experience in riding and different heavyweight bike models, the women have regular gatherings where they convoy and pile on the mileage.
They look out for each other on the road, hands on the handlebars and watchful eyes on the surroundings. At pit-stops, they are the cheery and chatty group that stands out.
It is just like an ordinary girls’ get-together, except that they are decked out in protective safety gear and their prized accessories are their bikes.
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In Hollywood movies, lady riders are sometimes seen sporting long and lush hair as they remove their helmets. However, biking in tropical Malaysia is an entirely different proposition.
Riders will be sweaty while their hair will be oily, Jean Loke Chiew Jing, 38, shared, laughing.
“This is why a heavyweight bike is not for everyday commute,” the business development manager said, adding that the space it takes up can also be inconvenient.
So whenever time permits on the weekends, the women will point their front tires towards an out-of-town destination and set off.
Such occasions are both about riding their bikes and enjoying the camaraderie among the group.
Only fellow female riders can empathise with the challenges unique to them, they said, such as having to handle a machine three to five times their weight and master the techniques of mounting a heavyweight bike with ease.
But this is not to say that they do not ride alongside men. Male riders are chivalrous toward their female counterparts, Su said.
Loke added: “They take extra care of us. When they notice we have difficulties pushing the heavy bikes, they will step forward to lend a hand.”
WHAT DRIVES THEM?
The motivations for their passion for heavyweight bikes are different.
Su was inspired by a sharing session on motorcycle travelling and the Instagram accounts of female Harley-Davidson riders in the United States.
“One of the posts showed a group of them camping at a national park, where they sat surrounding a campfire at night.
“That image stayed with me and that particular post stirred up an urge to learn how to ride a bike. And I thought, when I do that, I have to buy a Harley. It became my dream bike,” she recounted.
Following a year of on-the-road experience with a 150cc “kapchai” (a Malaysian slang word for underbone, a small bike), she upgraded to the 1,200cc Harley-Davidson, which she nicknamed Zeus for the booming engine that sounds like rumbling thunder, in 2018.
She has since travelled to foreign lands like Morocco, Japan and Indonesia on rented bikes. She also conquered the treacherous Mae Hong Son loop with 1,864 bends in Chiang Mai on her Zeus.
The women often encounter raised eyebrows.
“People would ask, are you single? You seem so carefree, don’t you have a family?” Lim shared.
A common perception of the fairer sex is their need to maintain a demure stature and avoid getting tanned. “People would say, girls are associated with make-up and beauty. Riding is a demanding outdoor activity, why do you do it?” Su said.
Loke, who rides a Kawasaki Ninja 650R, recalled her secondary school days in Ipoh, Perak, when students from boys’ schools would rev their bikes near her. “It was very rare for girls to ride a bike. (They might think,) you are a girl, why are you riding a bike like boys?”
These days, women taking charge of heavyweight bikes often invoke a “wow” from men, she said. “Now we always say, what men can do, women can, too.”
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Zipping on a heavyweight bike is an adrenaline-charged activity synonymous with speed and exhilaration, and yet Lim found similarities between riding and meditation.
“Riding requires you to focus. It makes you forget about what you are thinking and what is bothering you.
“This is my biggest gain from riding.”
With her husband also a rider, Lim dreamed of one day taking the family on a road trip in Malaysia with their two-wheeled vehicles.
Loke, who has a 10-year-old son, has planned far ahead. “I hope one day my son will pick up riding and we can travel together.”
As for Su, her biggest dream is to embark on a motorcycle road trip in a foreign country - any country - together with fellow female riders.
“Perhaps Thailand is the most achievable destination,” she said.
Read this story in Bahasa Melayu here.