Breaking down barriers, assumptions and preconceived notions 

By Ericka Wagner

Motorcycles: is there any other word quite like it to invoke an image of effortless cool, danger, sex appeal, daring…. The list goes on.

I remember being a little girl, we had a horse farm in those days and someone came onto our property on a motorcycle without warning or invitation. They were friends of my stepfather. The noise from the engine revving scared the hell out of the horses and infuriated my mother. I learnt my mother’s opinion of uninvited guests and motorcycles that day. But in spite of my mother’s prejudices against motorcycles, something had me hooked from that day. As I grew older motorcycles never lost their appeal. To me motorcycles were cool, and I wanted to be that cool.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that the dream of having my own motorcycle became a reality. It certainly wasn’t an easy road, first I had to overcome the stigma of having a motorcycle, that I’d become an organ donor, that bikes were for men, that they were dangerous. Not to mention the money they cost! Working three jobs in Toronto still didn’t give me any money left over to save up for one.

Then I moved in with my partner, in Hamilton and suddenly the financial burden was eased. But that turned out to be one of the easier obstacles in my journey to getting on two wheels. Everything from not thinking through combining getting my G1 and M1 license at the same time, failing the written exam twice, buying a motorcycle without trying it first or before I even had my license, spending way too much money on my first bike and winding up with a lemon, having to have my partner co-sign for the loan, breaking my elbow before taking the motorcycle course, popping a double wheelie and laying down the bike the first day of the course with a barely healed elbow, paying through the nose for insurance. It was one of the biggest and most frustrating endeavours I had undertaken at that point in my life, almost surpassing moving back to Canada, and watching my mum die of cancer a year later. But this journey was one of my own doing. And I questioned my sanity and my abilities many a time. I’d be incredibly selfish if I didn’t credit my partner Kevin for supporting me every step of the way.

I remember in my motorcycle course I was one of three women. The other two women were there taking the course with their husbands. I was the odd woman out on that one. It’s a lot more common for wives and girlfriends to get a bike because of their male partners, when in fact, my partner got his motorcycle because of me! I didn’t realize that fact until it was pointed out to me.

As a female motorcyclist, the thing I learned most and that always makes me proud is the empowerment. Not only in tackling what is still a very male hobby, though most of us call it our lifestyle, but that I didn’t give up. I wanted to. So many times! Whenever it got rough I thought I was done, yet, I persisted.

My journey is probably a unique one. But I think I’ve been lucky in the sense that most of the motorcycling community is supportive of female riders. Where I encounter degrees of sexism is from outside of it. I haven’t yet gotten sick of breaking down boxes people put me into. I love it when men see my bike and assume it belongs to my partner and then watching them backpedal. I love challenging perceptions when people say, “but you don’t look like a biker!”  Even down to the bike I own, “That doesn’t seem like the bike I thought you’d have. Why do you have a cruiser instead of a sport bike?”

I love my motorcycle, while city riding is a strain on the nerves, when I hit those long, open roads all the stress melts away. Feeling the rumble of the engine as I pull back on the throttle, the wind an embrace around my moving body and soul, I still marvel at the fact that it is actually me on that bike. What was only a fantasy three years ago, is now my reality.

When I first got involved in all of this, I felt like an outsider, a poser trying to be something I wasn’t. I remember an old boyfriend telling me off when I would salute a biker on the road. I apparently had no right saluting other bikers, pretending I was something I wasn’t. I don’t think I need to tell you what I feel now, every time I give the “secret bikers wave” whenever I see one while riding. I’ve joined that special club, of women, and men, who choose to live life by their own rules. Who have done something other than what they’ve been told they could or couldn’t do. Breaking down barriers and assumptions, and boxes and foolish preconceived notions. I’ve accepted myself, regardless what others think.

Turns out its true, you can do anything in Hamilton!