The rise of the women bikers: ‘I feel like a teenager again’
The over-50s are taking up motorcycling like never before. Saffron Alexander speaks to some older women bikers and finds out it’s no longer a man’s hobby
Originally posted to the Telegraph UK
It’s official, the days of retirement being synonymous with reclining on a sun lounger on a cruise ship are over. Cruises are out and motorcycles are in as women bikers grow in numbers.
Saga, the insurance company that specialises in products and services for the over-50s, recently acquired Bennetts, the UK’s leading motorbike insurance specialist, after it noticed a surge in beginner motorcyclists within their target audience.
Chief executive of Saga, Roger Ramsden said: “While almost one in five of the ‘baby vroomers’ use their bike to commute, there are significantly more that are turning to bikes a as a hobby, using the spare time they have in retirement to fulfil a long held yearning for adventure.”
Ramsden believes that the attraction of the “thrill and freedom of the open road on two-wheels” is encouraging them to ride as well as being at a point in their lives where they are able to afford to purchase and maintain a bike.
Research from the Centre of Economic and Business Research found that between 2008 and 2014, the money spent on motorcycles by the over-50s grew by an average of 41 per cent, compared to just 4 per cent for those under 50. In 2014, the over-50s spent £340 million on motorcycles, almost a third of the country’s total motorcycle spending.
From April 2014 to March 2015, the Department for Transport reported that the over-50s made up for almost 10 per cent of those who passed their practical test. Of the 3,500 over-50s who passed their test, 92.3 per cent were male.
However, the statistics show that the number of women over the age of 50 taking up motorcycling is increasing at almost double the rate of men. The amount of women over 50 who passed their test increased by over 34 per cent from 2013 to 2015, compared to just 16 per cent for men.
Women-only motorcycle clubs are a rarity – there are only a handful officially registered in the UK – but instructors and testing centres around the country are seeing an increase in the number of women bikers over the age of 50 in recent years.
At 52, Paula Stroud passed her motorcycling test just two months ago. With some experience under her belt already, picked up after riding on L plates before her children were born, Paula chose to get her licence after she was diagnosed with cancer. “I got through it,” Paula says, “but I came out with a completely different perspective on life.” After this she was determined to get her licence so she could ride her dream motorcycle, a Yamaha Virago.
Paula’s husband and son purchased the bike and paid for her lessons and after three months she had passed her test and was on the road. She joined a Facebook group called the ‘Motorbike Ladies‘, a group designed to created a “friendly place to share a passion of motorbikes” where she found out about the Curvy Riders.
The Curvy Riders are the fastest growing female-only motorcycle club in the UK, with members from all over the country. Paula describes the club as “proactive” with a varied age group, though many members are, like Paula, in their 40s or 50s.
Fellow member, 54-year-old Audrey Sibert passed her test just a few weeks ago.
Audrey, somewhat jokingly, describes her motivation to get her motorcycle licence as part of a “midlife crisis”.
“I woke up one day and thought, do I sign up to the Women’s Institute and learn to crochet and make jam, or do I do something else?
“I’d been riding pillion with my husband for years and I suddenly thought, ‘you know what? I can do this.'” After lessons, a theory test and a 45 minute practical exam she was sure she had failed, Audrey was deemed roadworthy and joined the Curvy Riders.
“It gives me a massive sense of freedom. I feel like a teenager again,” Audrey says, explaining why she has quickly become so enamoured with the activity. “I ride everywhere now. I go out everyday to pick up the shopping or even to go swimming. I live right on the edge of the Cotswolds, so on the weekend I’ll do about about 150 miles.”
Has she ever faced any sexism in what is traditionally a male-dominated hobby?
“We do get stares,” she admits, “a group of us were parked outside a cafe and as we were taking off our helmets a man ran out and yelled in disbelief ‘they’re all women!’
“As we were leaving, all the men were watching us through the window to try and see if we’d fall off the bikes or make a fool of ourselves somehow. We didn’t, of course, and you could just see the look of envy on their faces.”
As a member of one of the few women-only motorcycle clubs in the country, Audrey is aware of the gender gap between male and female riders, but she has noticed the numbers steadily improving, especially among women her age: “Women of the 21st century are beginning to realise that riding is for anyone, whatever age, whatever gender. Women my age, we’re getting to a point where we don’t want to sit around a grow old, we want to do something.
“Riding gives you this rush that things we’re traditionally expected to do just doesn’t.
“Some of the appeal probably comes from the financial stability we might have. We can afford the bike at this age, we can afford the insurance because we have the money.”
And Audrey isn’t alone in this belief that financial stability is the driving force behind seeing more over-50s on the road.
A spokesperson for the Motorcycle Industry Association agreed that those in their 50s and older are more likely to have the time and money to develop their interest in motorcycling, when compared to those younger than them, adding that “many people harbour a lifelong desire to ride a motorcycle, which is often thwarted by partners or parents”.
The MCIA also suggested another important reason as to why there has been a surge in over-50s riding: “The reason why over 50s are taking up motorcycling is the same reason why people of every age take it up – it is tremendous fun.”