HYDERABAD: In a bylane at Begumpet, onlookers witness a curious sight —a woman teaching another woman how to ride a Yamaha RX 100. Oblivious to the heat and the stares, the woman tries to balance the bike, make it her own, guided by her patient instructor. One of the spectators tries to suggest how it can be done in a better way, to which the teacher replies: “I know what I am doing. I am riding motorcycles for the past 18 years.”
Deepa Radhakrishnan is not your average 35-year-old. Her love affair with bikes, sparked by lessons from her uncle in Kerala, became a mainstay of her life. What started as stealing a few rides on her friend’s bike in college, led to her trailblazing a way for other women.
“I am a core member of Hyderabad United Bikers, which is an umbrella organisation comprising 17 biking clubs in Hyderabad. Only a couple of them have one or two women. I want to change that,” says Deepa.
Deepa has not only travelled far and wide in the country on her bikes, but can also fly planes. With diplomas in psychological counselling and in French, Deepa says the thirst to have new experiences in life is her driving force.
Why it is so difficult to spot woman bikers in the city? She says: “It’s just the mindset. Women have been conditioned to think that only men can ride motorcycles, whereas nothing else is farther away from the truth. If women can drive gearless scooters, they can drive bikes with gears too. It’s similar to changing a bulb. You just have to learn the steps.”
Dispelling the myth that women cannot handle heavy bikes, Deepa continues: “Many short men ride heavy bikes. If you know where the centre of gravity of the bike lies, you can balance it even with your two fingers. There are different types of motorcycles and women can choose any model and learn to ride it.”
“It’s not a big thing you see, learning to ride a vehicle. But they have been told for years they can’t and they never questioned it. That is how social conditioning works. Many men refer to their bikes as their girlfriends, even giving their machines names like Dhanno etc, but ironically women have mostly remained outside the club,” she adds.
It is to bring more women into the club that Deepa started GearSpot, a school to teach women how to ride bikes. She posted about her school two years ago on the Facebook page, Spread the Word, and the stream of eager learners has not stopped since. Their age ranges from 21-50 years.
“Most of these women wanted to learn bikes all their lives, but never got the opportunity. Their parents thought it was too risky, or no one would lend them their bikes thinking that they might spoil it. Most of the time, they did not find a teacher,” Deepa says, explaining the reasons why these women want to learn how to ride motorcycles.
Echoing Deepa, one of her students, Jivanjot Kaur, says: “I always wanted to ride a bike, but did not find anyone to teach me. I was elated the day I could ride a Royal Enfield Bullet.” Swetaa Varma, an upcoming actress, talks about her struggle to find a woman motorcycle teacher in Hyderabad, and her relief when she found one. “I was drawn towards motorcycles from my childhood, but no one could spare the time to teach me. The stigma attached to a woman riding a motorcycle also adds to the difficulty in finding a teacher. So I was on cloud 9 when I came to know about Deepa through Facebook. She is not only my teacher, but my riding partner now, and we have had many wonderful adventures together.”
Do all women riders have the support of their family members? Farhana Sultana, a knowledge management professional, and another of Deepa’s students, says: “My father is old, he does not approve. But this is something I always wanted to do.”
So how long does anyone learn to ride geared bikes? “Most of my students pick it up by the 6th class. I conduct eight classes, each with duration of one hour. I teach students who already know how to ride a bicycle or a scooter. I prefer to teach them in bylanes in the city, so that they are not afraid to drive on the roads later,” says Deepa, who owns three bikes.
“It gives me great happiness to see my students become such good riders. I am delighted to see so many women from Hyderabad taking it up so enthusiastically. Riding for me is like meditation. It helps me gather my thoughts and opens roads to many new experiences. Any woman who wants to have that experience should be free to do that.”
— Kakoli Mukherjee