As a woman with numerous bikes and cars in my driveway, I can't tell you how many other women ask me about riding a motorcycle. Am I scared? Is the bike heavy? Do men accept me? What is it like riding on the roads here?
I would say that most of the women who ask these questions have considered riding a motorcycle, but don’t know where to start.
Well, wonder no longer.
Harley-Davidson is spreading the message of gender equality and increasing numbers by finding new female riders in the UAE. So in collaboration with Harley we found a suitable candidate from the members of the female automotive group Miss Auto Know, of which I am the founder.
South African Kylie Slowe, 24, grew up in a motorsporting family and always had the automotive bug. At 8, Kylie moved to the Middle East, where she took up quad biking at 13, and by 16 had tried her hand at riding dirt bikes. She then stepped it up a gear to compete in motocross a year later. Up until that point though, she hadn't obtained her road licence.
It has been 20 years since I sat my motorcycle test – I was 19. It was something I had wanted to do since I was little, so I was eager to find out what Slowe made of her experience.
"The journey has been exciting and I've learnt so much," Slowe tells me. "My knowledge of the testing system stopped at knowing you had to be 17 years old, hold a valid residence visa and pass an eye test.
"Once I had registered on my preferred course with the correct documentation and some passport photos, I was ready to start the first stage, which was classroom-based."
The Road and Transport Authority (RTA) curriculum mandates that every trainee attends eight theory classes.
These classes are vital to educate each rider on the rules and knowledge required to drive on UAE roads.
“There were eight lectures, which I did over the course of two days, a Friday and a Saturday,” she says. “They were long hours (9am to 5pm), but I decided to try and get them finished as soon as I could so I could move on to the practicals.
"I learnt a lot about safety, which is most important to be a good rider," Slowe says. "They give you detailed presentations where you are questioned throughout the day, so you absorb as much as possible. Once the theory lectures were complete, I went on to the written exam a week later."
Those theory lectures are conducted in various languages including Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu, to communicate the rules and guidelines prescribed by the RTA. Each lecture covers topics essential to becoming a good rider, from understanding the characteristics of the road user to traffic violations, route planning and even what to do in the event of an accident.
"On the day of your written test, you are sent into a room where you sit at a small desk, headphones covering your ears and a timed questionnaire on a computer screen in front of you," Slowe explains. "I had 30 minutes to answer all of the questions. I found this part quite easy – but make sure to pay attention in the classes beforehand."
She passed, and then came the practical sessions.
"The driving school will email a list of essential safety gear that you need to bring with you to do the lessons on the bike," Slowe says. "You need a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, steel-toe-capped boots and gloves. They also require you to wear long sleeves and full-length jeans. You have 15 hours of practical sessions to complete, which works out at four to six weeks if you have a full-time job.
"I work 9am to 6pm, which means my sessions are on a Friday and Saturday. During these, you learn the basics; the accelerator, brakes, clutch, indicators, lights etc. Once you know where each of these are and what they are used for, you go on to riding in the yard.
“You will be taught how to manoeuvre the bike quickly and safely, emergency braking, sharp turns, clutch control, slow riding and reaction times at traffic lights. With each session, you will feel more and more comfortable with riding.
This, to me, is the most important part. After the yard sessions are complete, you do your yard test – if you pass this, you’ll do eight sessions on the road before the final exam.”
I feel that riding motorcycles and the culture around it has become increasingly appealing to women, thanks to a new generation of female bikers. We are finding and inspiring each other with the help of social media.
Add to this the support and encouragement of manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson and meeting places like Cafe Rider and there is a whole new world open to women motorcycle enthusiasts.
Slowe agrees. “I would recommend any women who is interested in getting their licence to go for it.”