Meet the trail-blazing Saudi women changing perceptions of female bikers

Speed, sightseeing and camaraderie are just some of the joys Saudi women have discovered on bikes since 2018

Women motorcyclists break barriers in Saudi Arabia

Women motorcyclists break barriers in Saudi Arabia
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It has been three years since the ban on women driving in Saudi was lifted, and while many have taken to the road in their cars, some are choosing the greater adrenalin rush of motorbikes.

When the news came that the ban would be lifted, Fatimah, a dentist from Riyadh, immediately started asking if riding motorbikes would also be allowed.

"When I saw that it also applied to motorbikes, I was so excited and decided to work on learning to ride a motorbike before even learning to drive a car," she told The National.

Read more: Driving ambition: Saudi women reflect on three years at the wheel

She bought her first bike, a Harley-Davidson Sportster 48, before learning how to ride it.

"I didn't even know where to switch it on. So I bought it and directly took it to the learning school, even though they have their own bikes."

Fatimah said that her passion comes from the household she grew up in.

"I come from a bikers' family. My brothers are bikers. I used to go out with them as a passenger, but for me to be a rider was just a dream that I didn't know [would] happen one day," she said.

Zahra Abuali, from Dammam, on Saudi Arabia's Arabian Gulf coas, is also a motorcycle lover. She first rode in the kingdom in 2019 but her favourite ride was earlier this year.

Fatimah runs the Hawks MC Riyadh motorcycle group.
Fatimah runs the Hawks MC Riyadh motorcycle group.

With a group of bikers, she took to the road to cover more than 2,000 kilometres in 10 days. They started their trip in Hail and ended in Al Ula.

Her favourite stop was Wadi Al Disah in Tabuk, she said.

"When you are on a bike, you really can see how high the mountains are on both sides, and I think that is why riding in Wadi Al Disah was so special.”

The same day the ban was lifted, Zahra created an Instagram account called "Saudi Women Riders”, to build a community of Saudi women bikers, whether there or abroad, because she was living and riding bikes in the UAE at the time.

"Everyone was excited about the cars. I was excited about the bikes," she said.

Zahra Abuali in Wadi Al Disah. Courtesy Zahra Abuali
Zahra Abuali in Wadi Al Disah. Courtesy Zahra Abuali

On her account, Zahra shares her rides around Saudi Arabia and answers questions from any women interested in the sport.

Fatimah in Riyadh also provides support for any female riders via her own Instagram account. In addition, she became known in the community as the adopted mother for new female riders.

"Any girl who has a question about bikes, everyone tells her to go to Fatimah, and I welcome everyone."

Fatimah says she has a message behind doing this.

"I want to save the girls from the difficulties I went through at the start."

She helps with advice on which school to learn at, what steps to take, the best gear options and, most importantly, the safety protocols they need to follow.

Fatimah also wants to make women feel they have a community of bikers like them because this is one of the challenges she faced at the start.

She says that bikers' groups were "kind of masculine". Some bikers rejected her.

"I think they believed we were kind of invading their world," she said.

Fatimah is now vice president of a bikers' group called Hawks MC Riyadh. They have 55 members in the city, only five of whom are female.

Fatimah's friend, Nour Mohamed, is also a rider and agrees that their start was difficult.

But times are changing, she said.

"When people see female motorcyclists, they are not that surprised any more."

Despite facing some rejections at the start, she had her dad as her biggest supporter because he is a rider himself.

"He gave me my first helmet. I was happy to finally be a rider after 10 years of being a passenger behind him," Nour said.

Nour took it a step further in her group, the Harley Owners Group (HOG) Riyadh chapter. She is now a route captain, meaning she is responsible for leading a group of sometimes up to 20 bikers on the road. Her chapter is the biggest in the Middle East, with about 3,000 members. But only a few are female.

While Fatimah, Nour and Zahra mostly enjoy the speed and sightseeing, one woman took a different path on her motorbike.

Dania Aqeel during UAE National Sportsbike Superseries. Courtesy Dania Aqeel

In 2019, Dania Aqeel became the first Saudi woman to take part in motorcycle circuit racing.

She competed in the UAE National Sportsbike Superseries (2019/2020) and won Rookie of the Year in the BMR600 Championship in Bahrain (2019/2020).

Dania then shifted her interest to something else that reminded her of her childhood.

"We grew up playing in the deserts and riding dirt bikes and I just loved it," she said.

In March 2021, she was the first Saudi woman to compete in an FIA Cross Country Bajas World Cup event.