Babes Ride Out 4 | All Women’s Motorcycle Gathering
Before I tell you about Babes Ride Out 4, an all-women’s motorcycle gathering that happened from October 20-23 in Joshua Tree, Calif., I should tell you that I’m not much for festivals or big crowds—nor have I ever been on (or particularly wanted to go on) a group ride, or even ridden with another woman. In fact, though I now have a set of true blue girlfriends who mean the world to me, for most of my life I’ve tended to get along better with men.
I’m sure it has a lot to do with being a competitive gymnast as a kid. During those formative years I was taught to be outwardly kind to my girlfriends on the team, but to secretly try to beat them—and to never forget that they’re doing the same.
So why would I, an introvert who loves to put my helmet on and disappear into my own world as I seek out open roads, and who is more comfortable hanging out with men than with women, go to a multi-day motorcycling event with hundreds of women? I was asking myself the same question as I packed up my bike to leave on Friday morning.
Just as I was finishing buttoning up my panniers and second guessing whether I should even go, I got a text from a guy friend of mine who I occasionally ride with. He wanted to know if I had left yet, because a girlfriend of his who I had met once last winter was about to head out and he thought we could ride together.
I had been looking forward to a 300-mile ride by myself, but riding to Joshua Tree with other women is kind of the idea behind Babes Ride Out. So, I figured I might as well get into the spirit of it all and say yes. Thus, she and I organized to meet up at a coffee shop in an hour and set out together.
The day was pushing 100 degrees, and I was getting over being sick earlier in the week and was feeling spacey. Between the fact that I felt off, and that she is a more aggressive rider than I am, I started to feel like maybe it would have been a better idea to ride separately. But we pushed on. And on.
The ride ended up being longer than we had anticipated because of traffic, construction, and detours. And when, 10 miles outside the town of Joshua Tree, we came speeding over the crest of a hill and had to brake sharply as the paved road unexpectedly turned to a sand road, I had just about had it.
Having taken the knobby tires off my Ducati Scrambler because I’d been running through them too quickly with road riding, and being weighed down with panniers, I was less than thrilled to try my hand at the sand. But, she convinced me that it should only be a mile or two and then we would run right into camp.
Off we went, me with no shame about going slow and keeping my feet hovering above the ground. If I hadn’t had to concentrate so intently on not dropping my bike, I would have been fuming that I wasn’t on a nicely paved road, or thinking about how coming upon a huge scene in the middle of the desert sounded far from the kind of oasis I was dreaming of at the time.
Lo and behold, though, she was right. We only had to go a few miles before we dropped down a hill and directly into Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground. My relief to get off the bike was quickly replaced with a barrage of stimulation, as I took in the scene of hundreds of bikes and tents and ladies for as far as I could see.
I’d like to say that my experience for the rest of that evening was simply a factor of being quite tired and dehydrated from riding when I felt under the weather, but I know that it was mostly influenced by my inner 7th grader trying to run the show.
As I walked around to get the lay of the land—first around the perimeter of camp and then through the village where the food, entertainment and merchandise were—I had a hard feeling in my stomach. I felt ornery and uncomfortable, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
In true pre-teen fashion, I just wanted to disappear by myself. But, I was too tired to get on my bike and get out of there, and my tent, like all the other tents in the more than half-dozen 50-yard-long rows of tents, was just a few feet away from its neighbor. So, I decided I’d just wander around some more and take in the scene.
The venue is at the base of the Mojave Desert, just north of Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to tent sites, RV sites, hot showers, and flushing toilets, it also has festival grounds that host music events throughout the year—think mini Burning Man, with funky art installations, benches sculpted out of cob, and huge fabric canopies creating shade over the stage and hang-out areas.
Each day of the event, from 4-10 pm, the village came to life with live music, beer, and food (from vegan to street tacos to hand-tossed pizzas). There were a handful of curated vendors, an area to check out the raffle items being given away and a booth where you could sign up to get $20 BRO-inspired tattoos.
There was a tent where you could put a pin on a map to indicate where you had ridden in from, a tent where you could print out and hang up photos from your ride alongside of pieces of paper that say, “I ride because _____.” There was a station where you could write BRO postcards and send them for free, a DIY garage, and booths where you could learn metal work, or make leather bracelets or key chains.
Milling around were women of all shapes, sizes and ages, though the majority were in their 30s. As you might expect, there were a lot of tattoos. Having seen photos from the previous three years of Babes Ride Out, I was worried that it was going to feel a bit like a fashion show where showing off how quirky or skimpy or trendy your clothes were would be a thing.
Even though there were indeed outfits that were quite quirky or skimpy or trendy, it didn’t feel showy. It simply felt like women who know who they are just expressing themselves without any pretense. In fact, it dawned on me while scanning the crowd that this was quite possibly the most empowered, most comfortable-in-their-skin group of women I’d ever been around.
As I walked back toward camp, I stopped to watch as bike after bike after bike came pouring in the camp entrance. Though the event had officially begun the afternoon before, there was a steady stream of folks rolling in on Friday evening.
There were girls wearing cut off shorts and tank tops, all tatted up, riding in on choppers. There were ladies on cafe racers in vintage-inspired coats and helmets. There were older women wearing all-leather riding Road Glides, and girls on dirt bikes wearing Klim suits. There were bikes with bedrolls and boxes of beer strapped to them, bikes with panniers and bikes with pillion riders. There were Triumphs, Aprilias, Ducatis, BMWs, Japanese bikes, and even a Ural. You name the motorcycle, and it was coming in the dirt road to camp. And every damn one of them was ridden by a woman.
When there was a break in the line at the check-in point, I walked over to the woman in the orange Staff Babe vest who was checking people in and asked her how many people were attending the event. “We have 1800 ladies registered and more trying to come in,” she replied.
I was flabbergasted. Eighteen-hundred women! That’s a quarter of the size of the town I live in.
With that realization, it dawned on me why, in part, I felt uncomfortable and disoriented. It was as if I was in an alternate reality where it was the cultural norm that women ride motorcycles. And where, if you heard a motorcycle go by you, you could be certain it was a woman riding it.
Think about that—that never happens! 99.9 percent of the time out in the world, if a motorcyclist passes you on the road, it’s a man. You’d be surprised to see that it was a woman. Not so in Joshua Tree this past weekend.
At any given time, every gas station in town had half-dozen or more bikes at the pumps—all women riders. At stoplights were double lines of bikes—all women riders. Carving around the back roads through and around the park were long strings of bikes—all women riders.
As I laid in my tent that first night listening to the heavy metal band on stage in the distance, the voices and laughter of groups of friends hanging around by their tents, and the incessant sound of bikes coming and going, I started to get into the idea that this alternate reality was kind of cool.
By the next morning, I was excited to get out and ride some of the roads they had suggested in route maps that were printed up on bookmarks. “Guys would never think to do that!” my friend remarked as we picked ours up.
There were routes through Joshua Tree National Park, to Pioneertown, to Big Bear Lake, Salvation Mountain and one that went to the great twisties into Idyllwild. I figured I’d run take some pictures of the bikes lining up to go on the guided ride heading out to Pioneertown, and then I’d hop on my bike and disappear by myself.
But, when I showed up to take pictures of the group that was coming together, I ran into a girl I know from my hometown. She encouraged me to grab my bike and come along. In that moment my inner 7th grader had a choice—keep playing the loner or join in. Realizing I was being ridiculous to spend the day riding by myself, I went and got my bike.
At the back of a line of 40 women on bikes, the morning sun lighting up the desert, the hardness in my stomach melted and my heart swelled. “This is so badass, and so fun!” I thought to myself as I waved back to the women on bikes who excitedly waved as they passed. I giggled when the occasional male rider came along on the road because it felt like I could nearly see the amazement in his eyes behind his faceshield. He, too, must have felt like he was on a different planet!
The group stopped at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown and, bolstered by my newfound excitement for group rides with women, I started talking to other riders. I ended up meeting a few women who I’d been following on social media, and was delighted to find that they were kind and easy to talk with. They invited me to break off from the larger group and come with them to a French restaurant they had heard of.
We headed off, six women and me, one of which was a professional photographer who boggled my mind as I watched her ride and take shots at the same time. We talked bikes over fancy food, we had our pictures taken by tourists through car windows at stop signs, and we beat the heat by swimming in the pool of a hotel under renovation that is owned by one of the girl’s friends. Other than wishing that we had more time to explore, it was the best kind of riding day.
By the time I got back to camp, I felt like a bona fide citizen of this new world. The group of ladies in the tents next to mine was just getting back from a ride, too. As they took their helmets off and called back and forth to each other about their ride, they looked so stoked that I asked if they wanted me to take a group picture. “Yes!” they exclaimed, and went on to tell me how none of them had known each other a few days ago.
They had met through Instagram and decided to ride from the Bay Area together. Their ride down had been an adventure. Among other mishaps, one woman in the group had her old Honda Shadow blow up four hours into the trip. Rather than delay the group or not make the trip, she decided to hop on the back of one of the other bikes and ride to the closest Harley dealer. The group of ladies waited while she bought a new Sportster and got on the road again. That’s the spirit!
I told the ladies I’d see them later, and walked off to grab a slice and to check out what was happening at the Moto Games. The wind had picked up and many ladies were wearing bandanas or scarves to protect their mouth and nose from the blowing dust. But, that didn’t stop them from cheering for the other ladies who had lined up to compete in the slow race—a 50-yard dash in which the person who crossed the finish line last without putting a foot down was the winner.
The matchups were hilarious—a tiny 125 dirt bike vs. a Harley, a rainbow-painted Honda Helix scooter vs. a Triumph, a custom chopper vs. a custom cafe racer. When a girl who had been killing it round after round on her dirt bike in flip flops and short sun dress finally touched a foot down and lost the race, everyone cheered and laughed as she sped off the track with one leg raised high in the air, flashing her underwear to the whole crowd.
The young competitive gymnast in me felt touched to see all these women just playing. There was no ego, just pure enjoyment. What good medicine this is for all of us, I thought, because it’s not too common for women to come together with other women in a space that isn’t competitive or cliquey. I suspect I’m not alone when I say that it is a unique experience to feel so welcomed in by a group of women who are strangers.
Name me another motorcycle gathering that is so diverse in terms of bikes and types of riders. Usually rallies are built around a certain kind of bike or style of riding. BRO has all kinds of bikes and riders, and they coexist respectfully.
Earlier in the day I was in camp and paused to let a Triumph Bonneville go by. I overheard one woman who no doubt was a Harley rider say to her friend, “It would scare the crap out of me to be on the road on a bike that quiet!” I chuckled to myself because yesterday I had heard two girls on Triumphs marvel to each other as they watched Harleys go by, “It’s so loud already on these bikes. I can’t imagine how you protect your ears on a Harley!” In neither situation was there any smack talk or disrespect, just acknowledgement of how vastly different experience can be in the world of bikes.
That is what makes Babes Ride Out so special—it is incredibly inclusive and welcoming to all women who ride. That was the point from the very beginning for Anya Violet and Ashmore Ellis, two friends from LA who founded BRO.
“We never want to be exclusive. We want all bikes and all women, and we want them to feel like it’s approachable—just come!” Anya told me on Saturday night after coming down from the main stage where she had thanked everyone for coming out and had bestowed the Iron Butt award to the woman who had ridden the farthest to get there (from Maine via Key West).
As I was thanking Anya for all she had done to create such an amazing event she excused herself for a moment to grab an older woman in a giant hug. After they laughed and squealed for a bit, she turned back to me and exclaimed, “This is my mom! She’s the one who taught me how to ride dirt.”
Anya went on to tell me about her passion for dirt and how last year they hosted their first dirt-only event, Babes in the Dirt. It was clear that she was genuinely thrilled and amazed by what BRO has turned into—from 50 ladies the first year, to 500 the second, 1500 the third, and almost 2000 the fourth year. Not to mention that this year saw the first Babes Ride Out on the East Coast and in the UK.
Anya and Ashmore say they are committed to continuing to create riding-focused environments that promote safe riding and encourage women to gain the confidence to attend other events and to find their place in the community. Well, mission accomplished for this girl.
Riding home solo on Sunday morning under cloudy skies, I reflected back on my Babes Ride Out 4 experience. I realized why I had been so ornery when I first got there. I’m used to being an anomaly when I’m out on my bike. I’m used to getting attention and having people think what I’m doing is special.
But at Babes Ride Out, I wasn’t special. I was just one of thousands of women, most of whom have been riding a lot longer than I have. My initial response was to feel a bit intimidated and insecure. But the more time I spent out on the road with other women, and the more conversations I had with women passionate about all things two wheels, the more I experienced something different than being special. I experienced belonging.
I’m already looking forward to next year, and to more rides with my new friends until then.