Roxy Bourdillon spends a day with the Dykes On Bikes
BY ROXY BOURDILLON
I’m straddling a motorbike, clutching on to a six foot dyke called Badger. I thought I’d be terrified going out on the road for the first time, but in the immortal words of Madonna, this feels like flying. My nerves have melted away and all that’s left is exhilaration. My senses are heightened. I drink in the scenery as the breeze caresses my skin. I’m basking in the thrill of this moment, cruising with my homos. I feel totally and utterly alive.
Rewind three hours and I’m gussying up to meet the London chapter of Dykes On Bikes for the very first time. My girlfriend catches me trying on her leather jacket and swaggering in front of the mirror. She looks confused. What the hell’s happened to her glamorous femme? She asks why I’m “walking funny”. I tell her I’m trying to get in touch with my inner butch. She does not look convinced.
Any trace of bravado vanishes as soon as I reach the open-air cafe in Epping Forest. It’s only 10am, but it’s already crawling with bikers – mostly blokes all in leather – looking like extras from Sons Of Anarchy. Someone’s revving their engine repeatedly. This place is noisy, rough and ready, and full of people who look like they belong. I immediately regret bringing my pink patent handbag. I’m as out of place as Mary Poppins at a Metallica concert.
I take a deep breath and steel myself, because I am a woman on a mission. Today this dyke will mount a bike. I notice a group of leather-clad ladies with rainbow patches sewn on their jackets and realise, with relief, I’ve found my tribe. I needn’t have worried. Far from being standoffish or scary, the Dykes On Bikes are, without exception, warm, friendly and gentle.
While we’re getting acquainted, I learn that all the chapter members have biker names bestowed on them by their teammates. Their president is Petit Chou, so called because she was born in Paris. She has a crop of hot pink hair, a gorgeous French accent and a mischievous grin. She reassures me, “We are not this image of Hell’s Angels”. “We’re always waving at children!” beams Badger (it’s a long story, involving “a badger the size of a feckin’ horse”). I ask what it is she loves so much about motorbikes and she replies without hesitation, “You see two wheels and you just think, ‘How much freedom is that?’ There’s no better feeling”.
We’re suddenly interrupted by the roar of an engine, as club secretary Pogs – a ridiculously cool dyke in her 60s, who Petit Chou jokingly refers to as “the granny of the group” – rocks up on her Harley-Davidson. She greets me with a smile, “Don’t worry. We’re all pussycats.”
The squad is modestly sized but mighty, with six full-patch members and three prospects hoping to become bona fide Dykes On Bikes soon. One of those prospects is Flipper from Orlando, who’s been riding for just over a year. She looks around the table pleadingly, “Couldn’t I have a butcher name?”
I cannot stress enough that these are some of the coolest women I’ve met. Maybe I’m biased because whenever I see Dykes On Bikes kicking off a Pride parade, I find myself overwhelmed with all the lesbian feelings. I know I’m fangirling here, but I genuinely feel like I’m backstage with queer rock stars. Or maybe they’re more like superqueeroes, what with their nicknames, special outfits and ability to fly on two wheels. After all, these women do lead double lives.
Take Slick. Monday to Friday, biking badass Slick is a pre-school teacher called Su. But come the weekend, she slips into costume, climbs on to her ride and joins forces with the rest of her squad. Oh, and in case you’re curious about that nickname: “Pogs, cover your ears! My name begins with ‘S’ for Su, and… I like to lick.” Pogs cringes muttering, “I don’t know how you don’t get red saying that.”
To change the subject, Pogs gives me an impromptu herstory lesson. I discover that the phenomenon of Dykes On Bikes started in San Francisco in 1976 when lesbians on motorcycles made their way to the front of the march. “It was about lesbian visibility.” Forty-three years later, there are now chapters all over the world being brilliantly visible. The London chapter received its official status in February this year, and the members proudly wear Dykes On Bikes patches on their jackets to prove it.
Talking of their jackets, I’m a tiny bit obsessed with them. Each one is a personalised work of art. These items of clothing tell a story. One look at Stolk’s jacket and you instantly know her biker name and roles within the chapter – treasurer, founder, and ride leader. You clock the London chapter colours worn over her heart, the rainbow laces threaded down the sides, and badges saying everything from “Eat pussy” to “Trans rights are human rights”. I’m momentarily flustered when I spot the one saying, “Suck my clit”.
Pogs’ jacket reveals the number of HOG miles she’s racked up on her Harley. “I’m up to 100,000,” she says casually. Petit Chou, clearly the joker of the pack, pipes up, “She’s got an iron butt!” Pogs shows me another of her patches, which lists “B+” for her blood type, her legal name and her partner’s phone number. “It’s called an ICE – in case of emergency.”. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie among these women. “You live and die by the people you ride with,” says Badger. “I love this lot to pieces and I’d put myself in front of any one of them.” “The sisterhood is very important,” confirms Petit Chou. “We help each other. Yesterday I dropped my bike. Afterwards I had a cuddle. They said, ‘Are you ok?’ It was nice, you know?”
The girls are particularly buzzing today, as they’re gearing up to lead the Pride In London parade for the first time ever. After anti-trans protesters disrupted the start of 2018’s march, Petit Chou told the organisers, “If there is abuse, we can protect everyone”. I’m pleased to learn their membership policy is trans-inclusive. As long as you’re a dyke with a bike who identifies as female, you’re welcome to apply.
In light of tensions within the queer community, the recent homophobic attack on a same-sex couple on a London bus and the alarming rise of the far right, it feels vital for the Dykes On Bikes to be as visible as possible at this year’s Pride. It’s written on all their jackets, but I wonder, what does “dyke” mean to them? Badger reflects, “It’s claiming the word back, isn’t it? ‘Yes. I am. And?’ It’s who we are and we’re not ashamed.” Pogs adds, “I’m not going anywhere and I’m not hiding from you. I’m in your face and I want you to accept the fact that I exist. We exist. We’re real.” She pauses, before confessing, “I’m getting a bit choked up”. For these dykes, it’s about so much more than just having fun on their bikes. It’s about being proud of who they are and being part of a community of women who are, as Badger so beautifully puts it, “cut from the same cloth”.
Before we set off on our ride, Badger gives me a safety briefing while I do my best to stay calm. “You can hold on to me, or the back of the bike, or one hand on me and one on the back.” I think I’ll just cling to you for dear life, ta Badger. Once I’m kitted out in an enormous jacket, motorcycle gloves and a helmet, we’re good to go. My fear soon floats away and I succumb to the pleasure of the moment, as we roar down the road and through the forest.
We ride in a staggered formation. Stolk’s up in front, leading the way in her rainbow glittery helmet. The girls communicate with hand signals, pointing out hazards like potholes. They are a band in unity, looking out for one another, keeping their sisters safe. After half an hour, we arrive at an airfield and then the real fun begins, as I’m invited to clamber atop Slick’s great big beast of a bike and rev up her engine.
So, I know I’ve talked a lot about camaraderie, visibility and the thrill of the open road, and they’re definitely all wonderful aspects of being a dyke on a bike, but nobody warned me about this bit. Pogs, cover your ears! As I tentatively rev up, I feel the bike vibrating between my thighs. Sweet Jesus. Who needs Ann Summers when you have a motorcycle? I try to compose my face to look more professional and less orgasmic, but the struggle is real. As the t-shirt Slick’s wearing under her jacket says: “Sex is good, chocolate is fantastic, but a motorbike? Now you’re talking.”
Before I get too carried away, I reluctantly dismount and we grab a snack at the nearby tea hut. Maybe it’s the petrol fumes, or the fact that I’ve basically been edging all day, but pretty soon I’m innuendo-ing with the best of them. Slick asks, “Would you do us again?” Without thinking, I respond, “I‘d do you girls any time, baby”. Badger laughs, “You’ve slipped right in!” I have never felt prouder.
Our conversation turns to romance. According to Pogs, most of the group are “old married ladies”, but I’m desperate to get the goss on whether anyone’s hooked up. After much pressing, I find out that Badger met her girlfriend when Slick invited a biker friend to ride with them. Their eyes locked, their engines revved and now they’re racing on down the highway of lurve. “This is the first relationship I’ve had with another biker and it massively changes the dynamics. When you’re riding with your partner and they’re in front of you, it’s a completely different feeling. Your eyes are like saucers.” “On her bum!” Petit Chou chimes in with perfect timing. We all crack up and Badger grins, “A little bit on her bum. But it’s crazy having someone you ride with and love. It opens everything up.”
Next on my list of burning questions: do bikes get girls? Pogs answer is simple and full of sage-like certainty: “It’s sexy.” I couldn’t agree more. Stolk observes, “You could see it yesterday. We were at Cambridge Pride. All our bikes were lined up and we were fundraising, charging £1 to sit on a bike and rev it. The women absolutely love it.”
A few weeks later, it’s Pride In London and the Dykes On Bikes are “extremely proud and delighted” to be leading the parade. As they tear through central London, their motorcycles resplendent with rainbow flags, the crowds go wild for our girls in leather.
Later that day, I scroll through their Instagram, checking out their Pride snaps. I see Pogs, Slick and Petit Chou dancing in the streets, and Stolk beaming ear-to-ear. I can’t help but smile. Their unbridled joy and unapologetic visibility is powerful and life-affirming. It’s 50 years since the Stonewall riots and yet, still today, queer women face discrimination and violence. I am so proud of these remarkable women, out there doing their thing, representing dykes at Pride and beyond. And I’ll never again be able to hear the sound of an engine revving without getting a cheeky tingle, and reminiscing fondly about my glorious day with the quite frankly iconic Dykes On Bikes.
Find out more at dykesonbikeslondon.uk
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!