On a warm Saturday morning in Kuwait, a group of women are wheeling their motorbikes out into the sun. One of them is Dania Tyan, a passionate biker. Hailing from Beirut, she missed riding so much after relocating that she decided to set up Moto Lady Club, where women can ride with other women.
"I've been riding for 20 years, but it was only two years ago that I got serious about biking," she tells me. "I started riding more and more, and even went to work by bike."
That was when Moto Lady Club was born. It was in late 2013 that Tyan and a group of other women wanted to present a new approach to biking and show that motorbikes aren't just for men. What is a bike, if not just a mode of transportation, she says. Safety is a main priority for her group, but she points out: "It's not as dangerous as people make it out to be."
Only 40 percent of Kuwait's population are Kuwaiti; the rest are foreign nationals. This diversity shows in the make-up of Moto Lady Club. "We created a sisterhood on wheels, if you like; we're women riders from different backgrounds and religions, but we ride as one. Our unity keeps us safe and strong. Today, Moto Lady Club has around 30 members and we're growing daily. As well as expats, of course, we also have Kuwaiti female riders, too."
Although Kuwait has a startlingly liberal attitude towards female equality compared to the rest of the Gulf, Moto Lady Club still had to work out how to make it easy for men and women to ride together. "You would be surprised to know that Moto Lady Club is welcomed and respected by men; we get lots of support from them," says Tyan.
If that sounds unusual, then you might want to take a look at the Global Gender Gap Report. Although Kuwait ranks 113th out of 142 countries for gender equality, it comes top of all Middle Eastern states. Around 53 percent of Kuwait's women work—they're judges, politicians, and policewomen. "Kuwait is an amazing country where women participate actively in lots of activities," Tyan says. "There's even a female racing car team here."
"I can say proudly that Moto Lady Club is the first woman's club for motorbikers not only in Kuwait, but in the Gulf. I think it's because of our team spirit and activities that everyone here knows we exist. When a woman wants to ride, they automatically come to us."
It's easy to recruit to recruit, too. "We meet people during the activities we participate in, or some women see us riding on the roads or [wearing our gear ] in restaurants, so they stop and ask us about the club," she says. "We're not exclusive: the membership of the club is open to all female riders, regardless of the brands of their bikes."
Moto Lady Club is trying to erase the stereotype of belonging to a motorbike gang. They're no Hell's Angels. "We're a community. We are disciplined and ride as family," says Tyan. "But we're not using the word 'gang' because it makes going out on rides sound like a villainous activity. We'd like to erase the image of a motorbike gang from people's minds."
Tyan stresses that she doesn't care about biker fashion; for her, it's all about the ride. "Women on bikes in leather is another stereotype. We focus on safety a lot and don't care about fashion. For those who race or have speed bikes, they of course wear the leather safety attire, which is either a Dainese or BMW suit."
"Kuwait has around 22 motorcycle groups, but Moto Lady Club is the only one solely for women," says Tyan. "I reckon that Moto Lady Club has set an example for the others to follow. But we collaborate closely with all groups and have lots of common activities. We're like a big family, really."
Moto Lady Club is exclusively for women, but that doesn't mean they're the only female riders in the Gulf. "I have female friends who ride in Dubai, Bahrain, and Qatar—here, the bike scene is booming for women; women are riding bikes like they drive cars! Believe it or not, men are happy about it: most of them are very happy for their partners or daughters to ride a motorbike, because when you train properly, and wear the right gear, being on a motorbike is safe and fun."
Since starting out two years ago, Tyan's standout ride was taking part in the 2014 Kuwait bike show. "Riders from all over the Gulf participated, and in the end there were about 990 bikers riding. It was impressive and majestic as there was what felt like a never-ending line of bikers rolling along by your side."