The roar of Harley Davidson Motorbike engines is audible even though I can just see the first outline of the pack on the near horizon. Heavy steel, heavy metal, leather and chrome. As they come into view – the thud of engines sends leaves hurtling, dogs barking, and people clearing. Menacing, mean – this is a gang one doesn’t want to mess with. The pack of strong armed, gloved hands stop - just near me - and one after the other prepare to dismount their metal machines, kicking their side stands like flick knives with boots and a velocity that would startle any critter nearby. I am in awe and speechless as I wait… the leader of the pack!!
Imagine my surprise when the helmets’ get lifted and long hair, curls, bangs and bobs is revealed. These are ladies!! The biker ladies of the Motorcycle Club, STEELWINGS. With manicured nails, lipstick and leather. Biker chicks one and all. Riding their machines for… what? I’m about to find out…
There are about 400 members in all of Steelwings nationwide. Of that 110 are biker chicks. At least a quarter!!
They are a well-organised club with Chapters in different regions of South Africa like – Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Nelspruit, Zululand, Kimberley, Rustenburg, Thabazimbi, Klerksdorp and Hartebeespoort. To be a member of Steelwings, you have to own and ride your own Harley. A committee runs each Chapter – and on each committee at least one or two women have office, with one woman, Lizette Freeman being the President of her Chapter in Nelspruit. I am impressed as this seems to be real women’s empowerment – holding office and riding as an equal to men, In what traditionally is perceived as a very macho male dominated past time.
“ Hi “ says one lady “ I am Natalie Dinath and I am the secretary of the Hartebeespoort Chapter – and one of the few that can openly admit that I sleep with the President” she laughs. Natalie’s husband is the President of the Chapter. “ I am 43 years old and have been riding now for 3 years. When I hit my forties I decided I needed a drastic change of life. So I got some very lady like tattoos and my first Harley…. a Sportster.”
“ I never in my wildest dreams thought that at this age this what I would be doing. My work background took me all over the world, as I worked in the airline industry for 15 years, riding the wings of a plane, but now I ride the wings of my Harley. My first passion is family. I am a mother of 4 – my youngest being 4 and my oldest 17 years old. My next passion is my Harley, where I find my sanity riding long and winding roads.”
So I got talking to the rest of the “crew”. From Private Bankers, Accountants, Business Owners, Marketing Managers, IT Specialists, Interior Decorators and even Farmers these ladies are something to reckon with. What struck me is their independence, multi tasking between work and home and their love of freedom, doing what they love best – riding their bikes. What also impressed me was the tight bond the ladies from the different regions all had with each other.
“It’ a Harley thing” explained Heloise Smith, who works for a cellular company arranging funding for its subsidiaries across Africa and the Middle East. “ I started going to rally’s with my sister in 2003, but being the control freak that I am, I quickly got tired of riding pillion and depending on others for a ride, so I bought my own bike and all the gear and for the next few months I would dress up and sit on my bike in the garage! Then I joined Steelwings and encouraged by the other biker chicks my riding days started. I now own three bikes – a Fatboy, De Luxe and Night Rod. I’m a lady after all – you know, a shop-a holic” she chides.
“Wherever you are in the world, if you wear a Harley T shirt or any recognisable Harley logo – another biker – male or female – will come up to you and bond with you. It’s almost like a cult. Like minded people doing like minded things” mentions Liz Beetge who looks just the part in her leather cowboy boots, brassiere type top and thick hipster Harley belt.
As I chat to the ladies one theme seems to be constant with all of them and that is thankfulness at how much they all have been blessed with and the will to give back in the form of charity to others less fortunate. Joanne Raphael-Katz mentions how she started and ran Red Nose Day – a charity that raised over R10 million for Child Welfare and became A National Day, which she is bringing back next year in 2010. Mishka Moller also tells how she is involved with Journey of Hope a breast cancer ride on Harley Davidson’s that aims to raise awareness and funds for under-privileged women to have reconstructive surgery. These ladies are all heart!!
“ My Harley is my best friend” says Anusha Padayachee, a Corporate Governance Consultant from Kimberley. “ I live life to the fullest. My Harley has connected me to so many people who have become not only riders but FRIENDS. “ Sharing a passion for Harley’s is a great way of getting people together, the sum of which creates a bigger group who put themselves out there for the less fortunate” enthuses Amanda van Jaarsveld Events Captain of the Nelspruit Chapter.
With linked arms this feisty and glamorous group of women all agree that when Harley Davidson created these powerful machines many years ago, little did they know that powerful women with a zest for life would ride together, wind in their faces, sun behind them, having the time of their lives while fulfilling their mission of a better nation for all.