Life is like riding a bike”, says Navneeta Joshi. “When you ride a two-wheeler, the trick lies in continuing to move. The moment you stop, you fall. So is with life”, she adds.
What makes a woman want to ride a bike? “And what stops a woman from wanting to?” asks Navneeta. In our society, there is so much that has been forced onto women for so long that we have come to accept it. For instance, riding a bike is still very much a ‘boy thing’. Gearless scooters have been accepted as a popular and cheap mode of conveyance for women, not 500cc bikes for sure! Look at all the ads on bikes and you would know what we are talking about. It is so stereotypical to see a woman riding pillion that it makes us cringe now. That’s why it is almost refreshing to see women riders like Navneeta for whom riding constitutes a huge part of their lives. Also refreshing is her attitude towards it. She doesn’t ride just because she can; she rides because she wants to. Not a surprise that her pet name Nobo stands for No Boundaries! Navneeta has been riding for more than twelve years now. Her first bike was a Yamaha RX 100. Now she rides a Royal Enfield 500cc, which is what ‘serious riders’ choose.
Taking time out of her full time job at a leading MNC in Gurgaon, she usually makes two trips every year. Navneeta prefers riding in a group when she sets off on one of her long trips. Navneeta has a group of bike riders who do trips together. “Sometimes you are in such a treacherous terrain that it’s comforting to know that if you skid, help is at hand”, says Navneeta. She recalls how during one such trip to Shoja Valley (Himachal Pradesh) in 2013, the road was covered in black ice. It was -3 degC and the engines wouldn’t start. To add to their woes, they had about 700 kms to cover in a day as most of them were joining their offices the next day. So the group decided that whoever slipped on the road would honk and continue to do so because the sound would echo and one of them was bound to hear.
As luck would have it, one guy fell but on the other side of the horn. So he couldn’t honk as had been decided. And he was recovering from a hand injury so couldn’t do much for himself either. Thankfully, the group had conducted a headcount and knew who was missing. Navneeta rode back, helped her friend up and they carried on. Navneeta even found the love of her life, Nilesh, on one such trip. This ‘rider’ duo had bikes on their big day as well; the groom reached the venue on his bike and his bride rode pillion after the ceremony. The bridal finery stopped Navneeta from riding her own bike, she tells us. That makes us wonder, how does a woman rider cope with the stares and gawks that she would invariably invite from other roadusers? “See, a woman riding a bike could be an alien alighting from a UFO. So cat-calls or someone overtaking you for the sake of it are a given. But serious riders don’t do any of that”, shares Navneeta.
It was another trip last year December with her husband, 500-odd kms from Delhi to a village on the Indo-Nepal border, Bilai, where Navneeta woke up to some very harsh realities of life. The small hamlet near Moradabad, with 200 or so people, didn’t have basic amenities, like a primary school. It moved the couple so much that they adopted the village and started a small school there. Navneeta mentions that riders carry a lot of weight, literally. Apart from their protective gear of elbow- and knee-pads and helmets, they are lugging big backpacks and all kinds of things they might need in case their machines need a quick fix. Like common electrical wire comes in handy if the clutch wire breaks. You may not be able to speed but it is good enough to take you the nearest garage which may be hundreds of miles away. “That’s another thing riders know. We know our machines and also how to fix minor glitches”, says Navneeta. For a bigger problem with the bike, she needs to visit a mechanic and that is something she doesn’t relish, even after all these years. Navneeta says she is yet to meet a mechanic who would take her seriously. “They’d rather take me for a ride. I rode in, didn’t I? So, I should know what I am talking about and yet they prefer arguing with me, telling me how I can be so sure about what’s wrong…” she rues.
Women riders are still a rarity in India and we are yet to see them crowding our roads. But for riders like Navneeta, riding a bike is way more relaxing than driving a car. In a car, you are cocooned. On a bike, you can turn your head, look around and enjoy being a part of the scenery unfolding before your eyes, she adds. As Dr Seus said “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” Navneeta is already planning her next trip to Uttaranchal where she wants to visit a cave temple, Bhadrakali. Have bike, will ride!