Nelson’s female motorbiking community brings two best friends together

Around Nelson, off-road female friendships are born from a need for speed.

Words: Cari Johnson

Slowing down is said to improve mental clarity, happiness and overall wellbeing. But taking it easy is the antithesis of wellness for motorcycling pals Maria Williams and Lisa DeVries. Speed, tummy-flipping corners and wide-open skies are all they need for a rush of feel-good adrenaline — middle age be damned.

“There is nothing better than riding a motorbike and feeling free,” says Maria.

Most members of the Nelson Women Motorcyclists Facebook group are in their 50s and ride “cruiser” motorbikes (think burly and grumbling Harley Davidsons). But Maria and Lisa, who met through the group in 2018, prefer carving up corners with their nimble and “naked” motorbikes (see below). “I like going fast,” says Maria.

A growing number of women are hopping on the motorbiking bandwagon for this reason — it’s exhilarating. In Maria and Lisa’s 30-plus respective years of riding, each has noticed an influx of fellow feminine motorcyclists in the past decade. Indeed, a brethren of biker babes can be hard not to notice. “There’s nothing like 10 women on motorbikes pulling up at a pub to make heads turn,” says Lisa.

Women riders around Nelson tend to be in their 40s to 60s, which this pair reckon has to do with the disposable income needed for buying and maintaining motorcycles — not to mention the cool gear involved. Maria has a pink leather jacket, five different riding outfits and knows her Yamaha MT-09 is the accessory to beat them all. She and her husband have nine motorcycles in total.

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When Maria and Lisa aren’t zipping around Nelson together, they are on outings with their respective partners or other members of the Nelson Women Motorcyclists. Leathers and helmets aside, cruising the roads with five to 10 female bikers is not all that different to, say, catching up over brunch. “Finding the right café for our destination is very important,” says Lisa.

The perfect ride is only a few hours long; even the duo’s annual week-long “girl’s trip” never requires more than four or five hours of daily riding. “You can’t really stay on a bike for more than 1.5 hours at a time,” Maria says. “You’d get a sore bum.” Straight lines and low speed limits are also avoided. In fact, their favourite ride along the Whangamoa Saddle was entirely ruined when the speed limit dropped from 80 kilometres an hour to 60 kilometres an hour in “the fun areas”.

That’s not to say Maria and Lisa can’t handle slower speeds when necessary. Both fell in love with motorbiking as teenagers and later met partners who loved it too. Motherhood applied the brakes to those engine-revving days — at least until they met each other four years ago.

With her children grown, Maria decided to buy a gutsy Triumph Sprint ST sports bike, join the Nelson Women Motorcyclists and introduce herself to some 100 strangers. Lisa, also a new member, was the first to respond. The new friends became inseparable one blind coffee date and several rides later. “We’re like sisters now,” says Lisa.

It turns out motorcycles are suitable for much more than bloody good fun — this coming from speed-seeker Maria herself. “There’s something special about riding with a group of women. It’s unusual, fun and empowering. Roaring into your destination and taking off your helmets — it feels like camaraderie,” she says.

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In the world of two-wheeled motoring, there are scooters, cruisers and many more iterations. Scooters, which can only go to a maximum speed of 50 kilometres an hour, are easy to learn on but aren’t considered the real deal. The cruiser is the most popular style, a midweight motorcycle dominated by the world’s most ubiquitous bike brand, Harley Davidson.

It is generally heavier and seated lower than its sportier counterparts, offering comfort for long rides and, well, cruising around town. Meanwhile, a naked motorbike, made without farings or windscreens, has speedier handling, upright seating and excellent manoeuvrability. A naked motorbike falls in the broader sports category, emphasizing designs with optimal speed and agility.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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