Light on her feet, the gesture is slow, affectionate, the hand sliding across the seat of her black 12 100 R, bought 13 years ago.
“I can’t get rid of it, I lived through too many things with it.” says Sophie,
A sporty middle-aged woman who organises her schedule around her thesis on women in the Camargue’s herds, her job as a documentarist for a big media company and her passion for motorbikes. After three inexplicable breakdowns on the highway, Sophie’s BMW, counting 130 000km, is going for an overhaul. The researcher, unfortunately, cannot count on that ride who’s accompanied her in Europe. Replaced but not forgotten, the 12 100 R now shares Sophie with a Triumph.
“With my thesis defence in ten days, I had to prepare for my trip in advance” she explains as she looks at the metal boxes laying around her living room in Paris’ 14th neighbourhood. Small clothes net, laundry detergent, crockery and tent are spilling out of her bags. On July 7th, Sophie and her friend Caroline will mount their bikes for a month of travelling in Europe. “Since 2003, every year I discover a new European country. It has become a necessity, I impatiently await that moment.” Sophie explains. This year, they will travel for a week to Tallin, in Estonia, to meet up with the girls for the WIMA (Women’s International Motorcycle Association), an association created in the United States in 1950.
These girls are on fire
Sophie’s passion starts from her early teenage hood. “I started thanks to my big sister and my uncle. Bicycle, moped, as far as I can remember, I’d always been on two wheels!” she remembers. When 20 years old, her motorbike license in the bag, she goes from her native Camargue to Paris: “a real nightmare, from 1991 tip 2003, I only used my bike as a mean to commute, not to travel.”
The click came in 2003 when she traveled to Ireland alone. She stumbled upon the girls from WIMA, who invited her to join them for weeks of crossing Europe together.
“I followed them as if they were a friendly-space, not to say family, she writes on her bog, some women came alone, others even traveled with their husband and children. It is a space with no limits where differences are erased, where masks are dropped and where tolerance rules.”
For that researcher whose thesis’ title includes “do it like a man while keeping our femininity.”, being a biker is not a feminist act. Of course, riding a motorbike is “manly” but also unusual for a woman, Sophie thinks, who underlines the physical dangers of this mostly masculine activity. Laurie, young biker who also travels in Europe, considers being a biker not “as a revendication, but a passion. It’s a good way of living things closest to their truth: in direct contact with the rain, the wind, people…”
European travel journals
Displayed with pride above her bed, The Motorcycle Diaries movie poster, which came out in 2004, and portrayed the motorcycle crossing of Latin America by Che Guevara and Alberto Granado, in 1952, inspires Sophie. Of her multiple trips in Europe, she particularly remembers Croatia and the scandivian countries: “ We were dying in the heat of Dubrovnik, but the crystal like water was beautiful. If I were to go back somewhere it would be the nordic countries. There are few people, it’s hostile, cold, spacious and far away.” Nevertheless, trips in Europe are not the most boundary-breaking for the biker. “ We’re still in the Western world, it’s rare to drive on unpaved roads like in other regions of the world” she explains.
Sur On her living room’s wall, a a blue web stretches across a map of Europe. Since she was 17, every year, Sophie traces new roads. “A month on a motorbike is not that easy. We’re super exhausted at the end, we just want to sleep on a mattress. It did happen that I cross the French border and start crying from relief.”, she confides. She particularly remember Norway, three years ago, where she had to face storms and icy winds. “ I couldn’t even hold my 240kg bike. Those are very hard but very powerful moments.” , she sums up. Next year, Sophie and her motorbike might leave Europe for the first time. “Why not Mongolia…”, she whispers.