Breaking stereotypes, here comes Chennai's own band of biker girls. Aruna. V. Iyer talks to the Cruising Dames about their passion for metal birds
Bikes are for boys and scooterettes are for girls, or so most people think. But watch these women ride, and you'll be forced to believe otherwise. They call themselves the Cruising Dames. The group now has five members, and hopes to expand. Ask them if they knew they were going to be the first official biking group for women in Chennai, and they shrug. After all, they are five women who straddled bikes simply out of unadulterate passion for bikes. “Cruising Dames is pretty recent — three of us met at a blood donation awareness bike rally to Yelagiri, organised by the Chennai Trekking Club this September. Amidst more than a 100 bikers from all over the state, we were the only women bikers.
That got us together, and so was born our little group,” says Ela Johri, who is for all practical purposes the “owner” of Cruising Dames. An avid biker, Ela has been riding bikes since the age of four, the vintage Yezdi being her first. “My parents always encouraged my sisters and me to be independent, and riding bikes was my way of being independent,” she says. Today, she works as a financial analyst at Irevna.
Chitra Priya is in many ways the most well-known among the Cruising Dames, thanks to her long list of achievements as a professional biker. To name the latest and the biggest, she is representing South India at ‘The Best Job in India'— a two month-long biking trip that will take her across the country. “It is a joint initiative of Mahindra 2 Wheelers and indiabikers.com, and will make me the first woman biker to cover a distance of 12,000 km,” she says. Chitra hopes that it acts as a trendsetter, promoting the biking culture among women.
If you think only biking legends or those with promise can be part of Cruising Dames, the answer is a simple no. Gayatri Chandrashekar, Preetika Ganapathisubramanian and Swetha Srinivasan are not very different from the girls you see around you.
A Bharatanatyam danseuse on a Royal Enfield is what Gayatri is. Being part of a family that was passionate about bikes, she thinks her interest in them was natural. “If there was an emergency, I would take off on my dad's bike. But it was at Yelagiri that I realised I could do long trips on a bike, and now I want to keep going because only a solid bike can make you fly!” she says.
“The very first time I rode a bike, I performed the wheeling stunt, but it was by mistake,” says a grinning Preetika, who does sales for Network 18. “Instead of scaring me, it got me hooked onto bikes, and I was at that time only in Standard VIII! It was a Yamaha then, and today, I ride a Thunderbird,” she adds.
Swetha, during her college days, was the only one to use a bike, and she now goes everywhere on it. She is the latest entrant to Cruising Dames. “When I was in Standard X, my brother told me I could not ride a bike. To prove him wrong, I learnt to, (from him, by the way) in two days. It was a Suzuki Max 100, and since then I have enjoyed it.. What I ride today is a Pulsar 200 CC — a birthday gift from a friend,” she says. She now works in the Royal Bank of Scotland, and is a professional cricketer who has played at the state and national levels.
For many, women on bikes may seem acceptable on the big screen — they may hoot when the Charlies' Angels fly by, or when Agent Salt does a daredevil jump off a bridge and hijacks a superbike. But, show them a woman on a Thunderbird in real life, and it's a different story,” says Preetika.
“It is also because of the kind of advertising we have for vehicles. They say ‘Why should boys have all the fun', but it is still just another version of the good-old scooterette that they are advertising for. Then they tag Pulsar as being ‘Definitely Male'. The marketing strategies should change and become more inclusive,” they feel.
So, what lies ahead? “The entire group is yet to go on a biking trip together,” says Ela. “Only three of us could make it to the Nagari Hills in Andhra Pradesh.
We have marked January 2011 for our first trip together, and it will be an exclusive biking trip to the Mangalore Highway,” she adds.