India’s first female owner of a Harley Davidson Road King says that biking is more about skills than muscles.
Why should men have all the fun with Harley Davidson? Bangalore-based HR professional Sheeja Mathews today became the first woman in India to own the iconic cult motorcycle, thus breaking the stereotype of only tattoo sporting muscular hunks riding the bike.
Thoughts about female bikers often end up as a singular image in our heads. Moments before the interview with India’s only female owner of Harley Davidson Road King the mind was full of curious questions. The Road King weighs more than 400 kg and looks like a huge iron and steel bull. She must have short hair. Maybe a thick line of kohl defining her eyes? A nose ring would look appropriate and, of course, leather pants.
But Ambika Sharma is a far cry from these stereotypes. She is a lovely lady of 33 years with manicured nails, a soft voice and an office cabin where fluffy stuffed toys share space with toy models of Harley Davidson and sport bikes. She is a hatke biker babe.
Her romance with growling two-wheelers reached a sort of sacred culmination last week when she rode home a Harley Davidson Road King. For the uninitiated the Road King established Harley as a touring brand. Touring bikes are meant for long journeys as they are more comfortable and stable than sports bikes. When the Road King was launched in 1994 there was no other bike like it and it started the trend of touring bikes, which focused more on the sitting comfort of the rider. Sharma’s first out-station trip on her Road King will be to Pushkar, along with some 20-25 other biker friends.
Ambika’s romance with bikes started early. She was only 12 when she rode her father’s Enfield for the first time. Her father, a chopper pilot with the Indian Army, has been an avid motorist and has passed on his love for machines to his daughters, Ambika and her younger sister, Ayesha. “I remember my feet never used to touch the ground when I first started riding, ” says Ambika who never encountered any resistance from her family for the so-called ‘manly pursuit’. “That’s because it was common to see girls riding bikes in army cantonments. Biking came naturally to me. ”
In fact, she says that it’s only in India that biking is seen as a male pursuit. “I think biking is not about muscles but skills. You do require a certain amount of stamina to handle the bike but the rest is how well you ride it. I remember when I was buying my Harley some people asked me how I will handle such a heavy bike? My answer to them was that if the bike falls down, even a man can’t pick it up. It weighs almost 450 kilos. So, bikes being a “guy thing” is just a mentality. ”
For Ambika, biking is a passion but more than that, it’s something that lets her be. “Biking is a solitary pursuit. So you get a lot of time to think, clear your head. Riding also gives me confidence and a sense of freedom. And if you enjoy traveling, like I do, then bike is the best mode of transport because it allows you to enjoy your immediate surroundings much more. ”
Like any other expensive hobby, biking makes demands on your time and money. Sharma usually spends early mornings during weekends taking care of her machines. “I like to tinker, service, add accessories . . . basically work with the bike. ” She also spends lot of time trawling through various online biking forums for advice and tips from seasoned bikers. “For instance, my older bike would not do a wheelie (a vehicle maneuver in which the front wheel or wheels come off the ground due to extreme torque being applied to the rear wheel or wheels) easily and I wanted to know what kind of sprocket will do the trick. Someone on an online forum told me to get a minus-one in front and plus-four at back. Only real bikers, and not mechanics, can tell you such stuff. ”
Now that she has two bikes, Ambika jokes, “the pressure is getting to me”. Her older bike is the Honda 1000RR, a sportster which “goes from 0-100 in six seconds. I have touched 300 kmph on it on the Buddh International Circuit, ” says Sharma who has also had her fair share of falls. She proudly shows off few of the 55 odd stitches she has endured till now. “These happened more frequently when I was younger when I was in my Bullet phase. Now, I am a more mature driver and more restrained. But I have had good luck, too.” Her Harley will safely touch 100-150 kmph when she hits NH8 for her drive to Pushkar.
It’s not only falls that are on her mind when she’s travelling, often, alone through unknown towns. She has encountered all sorts of obstacles on Indian roads. She recalls one such instance when she was riding to Ranthambore and at a point she tried to overtake a truck when she saw something white come from the left side. “Instinctively, I ducked. But I got hit anyway. I was going at 120 or 130 kmph. I was covered in powder and feathers. It was almost like someone had chucked a pillow at me. ” She pulled to the side to take stock. Satisfied, that she was okay she walked back a few yards to see what had hit her and saw a dead white crane. Another time, she almost rode into a huge pile of cow dung, which had probably slipped from some tractor trolley, bang in the middle of the Panipat highway.
But the scarier stories don’t involve stray animals, birds or traffic.
“I was once riding back to Delhi from Nainital and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I ended up in a small town called Bazpur. It was dark and the road was full of men. It was not the time for a girl on a super bike to be there. As I was making my way through the crowd, people started touching my bike, coming close to it. I got really scared and went full throttle with one hand on the horn. That was the time when I talked to my bike. . . to not give up on me.”
Unlike, most male bikers who dotingly give names to their bikes and often refer to them as ‘baby’, Sharma is very clear in her head that she is not married to her bike. But when the going gets tough, she admits, she does ‘talk’ to her it.
What she does openly, though, is sing aloud when she is touring. “My fellow bikers know I am singing when they see my head bob rhythmically, ” laughs Ambika who always rides in proper gear. Riding boots enforced with steel, helmet, elbow guards, shoulder guard, spine guard, and gloves are a must for her. Even her riding pants have knee guards and are heat resistant. Of course, in summer it does get unbearably hot riding wearing so many layers. “You get fried but I still gear up for safety, ” says Ambika who always says a little prayer before setting out. “That and common sense are my good luck charms. ”
The 34-year-old, who has been riding to her office on her husband’s Yamaha Rajdoot 350 for the past 10 years, is now looking to cruise the new ‘Iron 883‘ to her workplace at least once a week. “I didn’t know that I was the first woman to buy a Harley Davidson in India till the company people told me. I thought of upgrading to a Harley when they opened a showroom here,” Mathews told PTI. When asked what prompted her to go for a Harley Davidson, she said: “Well, I have been riding my husband’s bike for the past 10 years and I thought it was high time I upgraded.”
Mother of a 7-year-old son, Mathews said even her son is excited about the new bike, on which the family has spent about Rs. 8 lakh in total, although the ex-showroom price of the bike is Rs. 6.5 lakh.
“Oh, he wants me to drop him to school on the bike so that he could show off his mother’s bike to his friends,” she said, adding, she would be taking the bike on long rides on weekends. A self-proclaimed foodie and a shopaholic like any other woman, Mathews said she has been a drag racer as well. “I do drive a (Tata) Safari and (Chevrolet) Cruze but I love bikes,” she said, adding, her businessman husband chipped in 20 per cent of the amount for her Harley Davidson.
The American cult bike maker started selling its bikes in India from last year and announced to set up an assembly plant in India in order to cater to demands here. The Iron 833 model is one of the two models to be assembled at the Bawal factory in Haryana. The other model is the Super Low. The company offers a total of 15 models in India priced between Rs. 5.5 lakh to Rs. 38.66 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).
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