Female riders challenge the status quo despite 'varying degrees of disapproval'

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• Two women of colour set about a journey from Johannesburg to Durban on motorbikes.

• En route, they experienced both the good and bad of people's judgment.

• The duo is certain that their ride has challenged the status quo in South Africa.

For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24

The adventure continues for Vuyi Mpofu and Bongiwe Didiza as they set about a cross-country trip on two motorbikes. The two women took on the challenge as part of their Pride of Africa Ride (POAR) campaign, looking to challenge the social perceptions that women, especially those of colour, are not made for riding an iron steed.

For greater insights into their ride, click here to read more.

Fully kitted in BMW Motorrad gear, Bongiwe Didiza and I set off on our adventure, excited to be venturing to a different city after being in an extended nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Bongiwe saddled up a BMW R 1250 GS, while I took command of a BMW F 900 XR.  Both our bikes had less than 3000km between them, and the tyres of the GS still needed to be run in. This gave us an excuse to enjoy a gentle pace towards the coast, allowing us to stop more frequently than we usually would have to take in the sights and, of course, plenty of pictures for social media!

Everywhere we stopped, people took a second glance; some gave disapproving stares, not sure what to make of two women of colour on 'big' motorcycles, while others were impressed with what they deemed as bravery. Petrol attendants and motorists alike approached us with similar questions and comments, most curious about our chosen mode of transport.

It seems people are more accustomed to seeing women driving than they are riding motorcycles. One man was genuinely concerned for our safety, which seemed odd, seeing as he had just bought a case of beer. Opening a beer as he settles into the driver seat of his vehicle, he seemed oblivious to the fact that driving under the influence of alcohol could cause serious injury - or death - to other road users, including motorbike riders.

Testing our knowledge

Other motorists tried to test our motorcycle knowledge, slyly quizzing us about our machines' technical features.  We not only disappointed them time and time again by sharing the kW, Nm, fuel capacity, riding modes and safety features on our bikes, but occasionally challenged the ones who claimed to be bikers about the motorcycles they professed to own.

What none of them were prepared for was the delicate conversation about the difference between a biker and a rider.

Smiling sweetly at each 'alpha-male', it turned out that most were riders who were in the process of developing their skills towards becoming authentic bikers.

READ: Duo undertakes cross-country ride to change social perception on women and motorbikes

Along the road, we encountered several different riding conditions ranging from crosswinds and torrents of rain to drivers who seemed to think we were some targets they had to pursue. It was harrowing to be tailgated by motorists who seemed to take pleasure in my obvious discomfort as a newish rider. Still, the threat went to a different level when the culprits were truck drivers, particularly those whose vehicles didn't have daytime running lights when it became dusk.

Stopping every 200km for a rest and fuel top-up, we arrived in Durban safe and still feeling relatively fresh. As this was my first time on a BMW motorcycle, I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort level of my 900 XR. Before our departure, I had mused about the bike's seating position, but as it is similar to that of a GS, my back hadn't suffered any undue discomfort. I had engaged the bike's Rain mode for most of the trip due to the inclement weather but was determined to put the Road mode to the test during the remainder of the trip.

Still in high spirits and feeling slightly light-headed from the fresh sea breeze, we mapped out which tourist destinations we would visit the following day.

Have you ever been chastised for challenging the status quo in motoring? Email us with your story or use the comment section below.

The looks we got...

I am a morning person, but my dear Bongiwe is positively not. So it was unsurprising that by that time she roused from dreamland, I had not only showered and had breakfast, but had been to the beach to dip my toes in the sea as most Jozi-nites do.

Feeling humid and a tad out of breath, we made our way to our motorcycles, aware of the curious looks of other hotel guests. It hadn't occurred to either of us how infrequently people see women in full riding gear. One guest stealthily followed us to the hotel's glass doors and kept a keen side-eye on us as we began unlocking the bikes and preparing to set off. Unable to conceal her apparent interest, she came to the parking lot, planted her hands on her ample hips and began smiling slowly before shaking her head and walking back into the establishment.

The security guards at the main entrance also seemed enthralled and either completely forgot to lift the boom as we approached the exit or rushed to raise it in anticipation of our arrival. Perhaps the sight of my long braids, steaming in the wind, caused the added attention, or because Durban has a different biking culture. Like the interest we had received along the highway, the driver eThekwini fluctuated between giving us a wide berth or driving dangerously close to us.

We engaged with the public at every turn and were prepared for varying degrees of disapproval from traditionalists. But, as one car park attendant clarified, our GP number plates gave us a pass.

He said: "There is nothing surprising about you being a woman on a motorcycle because you are from Joburg. Anything is possible with Joburg women." Still weighing up if I should be insulted or not, he waltzed away and begun guiding a motorist out of a forward-facing parking bay.

A victory fist

Having bought traditional Zulu skirts from one of the numerous vendors along the beachfront, we stopped at other tourist hotspots, including uShaka Marine World, Moses Mabida Stadium, and Blue Lagooon.

Here we posed with our fists raised in the air in the familiar salute of power used in times when it would probably have been impossible for us as Black women to ride motorcycles, let alone set foot in some of the places we were in.

As repetitive as it had become, we welcomed the banter from strangers about women's place in the male-dominated arena of motorbikes. Most surprising was the number of middle-aged women who expressed their interest in motorcycles and their desire to learn how to ride. The consensus, however, was the overwhelming lack of societal and cultural support, as well as the perceived attitudes of manufacturers towards women bikers. The majority felt ostracized when merely walking into a car dealership and had never contemplated enquiring a motorcycle dealership.

If it hadn't been clear to us on our ride to Durban, it was now painfully evident that more women were interested in biking than one could have imagined. While we had set out to garner interest in the two-wheeled machines, we were also elated that we had challenged the status quo in just two days.

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Vuyi Mpofu (left) and Bongiwe Didiza
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