In a city where millions of male motorcyclists dominate the roads, with their wives perched behind them, it was refreshing to see Mehwish Ekhlaque riding the two-wheeler with her husband sitting behind.
The woman is one of the very few female motorcyclists in the city who still hold a passion for hardcore biking and track racing.
Three years ago, Ekhlaque lost her biggest support when her husband passed away. “When other women sat behind their husbands on motorcycles, he sat behind me, encouraging me to pursue my passion, telling me to wear the gear so that I look the part of a track motorcyclist,” she remembers fondly.
“When I bought my motorcycle and took it to a mechanic and asked him that I needed a star wheel, he said it was impossible,” she recalls. “So I did it myself with my uncle and then took it back to that mechanic to show him.”
Her Saturday evenings are exclusively for her motorcycle. “I make sure it is polished and looking good for the Sunday rides. I take care of its every little need on my own,” she points out. “If you give your motorcycle love and respect, it will love and respect you back.”
In pursuance of her passion, Ekhlaque has not encountered any problems. “The men are helpful. They say ‘madam aap pehle kara lain’ [madam, you go first]. I enjoy the ‘ladies first’ attitude of Pakistani men,” she says. It took her time to get used to being a woman riding a motorcycle on Karachi’s crowded roads and alleys. “At signals, people have sometimes come and lifted my helmet to confirm if I am a woman,” she says with a smile. Sometimes she sees women asking their husbands to teach them also, once they see Ekhlaque gracefully gliding on the roads. “They take selfies with me.” In her experience, she faces no harassment as a female motorcyclist as long as she exudes confidence and does not look vulnerable.
When women perch on one side of the motorcycle as they usually do, Ekhlaque says it is difficult for the rider to balance. “If you are dressed modestly, why should sitting in the proper position on a motorcycle be a problem?”
Recently, Ekhlaque became the only woman to have participated in Pakistan’s first-ever Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) event in Karachi in September this year. The DGR is an international event that takes place in about 80 countries to increase awareness and raise funds for the treatment of prostate cancer.
The DGR was brought to Pakistan by Faisal Malik, the founder of café racer group Throttle Shrottle, who aims to get Pakistani women to ride motorcycles, and that too for more than just commuting purposes. “I had to search for a female motorcyclist ready to hit the tracks, and reassure Mahwish’s family that she will be made to feel secure and respected in this group,” he points out.
The event received an overwhelming response in Pakistan with more than 250 bikers registered in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. To participate in the event, there are two requirements — participants must be dressed in formal attire, and be riding vintage or custom-modified motorcycles. Ekhlaque fulfilled both criteria.
For Malik, being a café racer is ‘an attitude’. “It helps the rider develop a certain kind of a personality,” he says, adding that the café racer is synonymous with being a rocker or a rebel. Malik’s group mates, mostly aged between 30 and 40 years, may not all fit the rocker image but they do ride custom-made or modified motorbikes, which the rider can create according to his or her own specifications. The starting price can be as less as Rs100,000 and is thus affordable for most enthusiasts. “Harley Davidson is an off-the-shelf product while a café racer is something you yourself have put together — a fusion of sorts,” he says. “Like an artist’s painting.”
*Longer version of this story in available on tribune.com.pk
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.