Riding with the Amazons
There was a time when riding a motorcycle was a truly radical thing for a young dyke to do. I remember because I was there. I progressed from bicycle to motorcycle in the summer of 1980 when I turned 20. To say it was a pivotal time for me is an understatement.
Those were the days of affirmative action, when feminists were fighting to get equal pay for equal work and so on. Women were breaking into nontraditional work and experiencing a lot of resistance. Those of us riding motorcycles were getting razzed at every gas station with comments like "Isn't that bike too big for you?" or "Is that your boyfriend's bike?"
I discovered the thrill of motorcycle riding long before I found the Amazons, the queer women's motorcycle club that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. My first girlfriend knew of the club but kept it secret from me. Instead she offered to buy me a brand new sports car if I would agree to give up motorcycles for life. Clearly she cared about me and was concerned for my safety. But I didn't go for the sports car then and I'd make the same decision if offered the choice today.
I've sought all sorts of adventures on a bike. I've fucked and done fun bondage scenes (while the bike was stationary). I've enjoyed countless miles gliding through mountain passes on multiple continents as well as dancing on tight dirt trails. I've ridden in the cold and the rain, sometimes wishing I was one of the fair-weather riders instead or snug inside one of the many cozy-looking living rooms I've driven by.
I found my way to the Amazons in 1982. Although I'm now one of the longest-standing members, at the time I joined it seemed I was quite an outsider, both as a baby dyke and someone who rode a Triumph at a time when the Japanese makes were holding the throne. By the time I got there it seemed all the members had already slept with each other, although a certain amount of that went on in the years after, as no doubt it does for most queer organizations.
The Amazons Motorcycle Club was founded by four young dykes in 1978, including Sue Wells, who has until very recently been our benevolent dictator. It appears to be the oldest dyke biker club in North America, and possibly in the world.
I've ridden with the Amazons off and on in the years since then. Riding with the club is a lot different than riding alone because wherever we go we're a group of women, a group of dykes, and we attract attention. We don't look the way folks seem to expect female bikers to look. We don't look like we might work in strip joints, have pimps or drug-dealing boyfriends who ride Harleys.
Actually we're a pretty wholesome group once you get past the leather. Corralled by our benevolent dictator we've managed many group rides over many seasons, as well as some one-week-plus road trips. For years we've met up on warm Wednesday evenings on Church St. We've led countless Pride parades as the dykes on bikes contingent in Toronto and in smaller cities around Ontario. In winter we mostly miss each other's company but at the season closing and spring opening we gather for potlucks. After all lesbians are famous for our potlucks and biker dykes are no different.
Being an Amazon is different from being a part of so many clubs — dyke or otherwise — because we have very little in the way of hierarchy. Wells has kept us organized and kept the club together through the years, and with her stepping down we now have two copresidents who will take up the slack. But we've never had the need for a secretary, treasurer or minute-taker, or for regular meetings or membership fees for that matter. The group functions fine without all that.
From the outside it may seem hard to get involved with the Amazons. We don't have a web presence and most find out about us through word of mouth. To become a member all you have to do is come out and ride with us. If you stick around long enough, you may get a custom club patch hand-embroidered over the winter by Wells. These days being an Amazon is a point of honour among dyke bikers.
I've travelled many miles by motorcycle, solo, with friends and with lovers. Riding solo is nice — you can choose your own route and ride at your preferred speed, stopping when you want to pee, for tea or a yard sale. But when you're riding with a group you ride formation, one big entity moving along. It's fun to be a part of that.
I've often heard Wells say, "Once an Amazon, always an Amazon." But it's not like with an outlaw club where you can never really leave. It's rather that you're always welcome back.