If you’re a woman who’s ever considered buying a motorcycle, but have felt too intimidated to actually do it, picture this: You’re camping in the California desert, surrounded by cacti, mountains, and a national park. During the day, you get on your bike and ride out to some of the most scenic places you’ve ever seen. At night, you sing karaoke, watch live bands, and indulge in a generous supply of free beer. Now imagine doing this for four days straight, surrounded by thousands of women on motorcycles.
Does it make you want to go buy that bike? If your answer is “yes,” you’re not alone.
This scenario is not some far-fetched dream, but an existing event happening every October in California. It’s called Babes Ride Out, and it has inspired women across the world to start riding their own motorcycles.
The early years
It began inconspicuously enough. In 2013, a flyer announcing a “ladies only” motorcycle ride and campout started making the rounds on Instagram. There was a common theme among the people responding to the post: Many had been riding motorcycles for years, but knew very few other women who rode. Their riding companions at the time were overwhelmingly male, and they were ready to meet and connect with other female motorcycle riders.
As it turns out, that was a winning concept. And Babes Ride Out (also known by the somewhat ironic acronym BRO) was just getting started.
“Our very first event was actually not meant to be an event at all,” says Anya Violet, one of two BRO co-founders. “We literally just wanted to go camping on our bikes one weekend, and after connecting with a few other riders through social media, we thought we would invite others.”
Anya and her co-founder, Ashmore Ellis, figured that maybe 10 or 15 people would show up that first year. Instead, the non-event ended up bringing together 50 women from all over the country. Babes in Borrego—as it was initially dubbed, due to its location in Borrego Springs, California—became an instant social media phenomenon.
Photos and videos of women racing their Harleys and Triumphs on a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere, against a picturesque mountain backdrop, were being shared over and over again on Instagram. They showed women having uninhibited fun, in complete charge of their machines—offering a sharp contrast to the scantily clad models draped over some dude’s sport bike that were typically used to illustrate the concept of women on motorcycles.
“We had no idea that it was going to resonate with so many people,” Anya says. “After that first incredible weekend we had a lot of the women that came say that they would love for us to keep it going. That was when we made plans for the following year.”
By year two, the event was moved to Joshua Tree to accommodate the several hundred people who decided to attend. And from there, it just kept growing. In 2015, Babes Ride Out became the largest gathering of women motorcyclists in history, with over 1,200 registrants. It grew even larger in the years following, reaching 1,700 sold tickets.
Filling a void
Today, Babes Ride Out has grown into a small empire. In addition to the flagship West Coast event—which in 2019 is being moved to a new venue on California’s Central Coast—there’s an annual Babes Ride Out East Coast in New York, and a separate Babes in the Dirt franchise for those more interested in off-road riding. There have been some one-off events as well, like a Babes Ride Out U.K. in Europe, and a Borrego Springs reunion for the original 50 attendees.
With BRO, Anya and Ashmore have managed to fill a void that many of us didn’t even know needed to be filled.
It begs the question: Did this void already exist, or did Babes Ride Out create the shift in the motorcycle scene that laid the groundwork for this increased demand? It’s obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that the number of women on motorcycles has grown exponentially in just the last few years. And for everyone else, there’s data to back it up.
According to a new study by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), 19 percent of motorcycle owners in the U.S. are now women—compared to only 12 percent in 2012. Among millennial motorcyclists, the number is even higher: 26 percent are women.
“I cannot say with absolute certainty that Babes Ride Out had anything to do with that growth, but I would sure like to think so,” Anya says. “We’ve had countless women say that they started riding because of Babes Ride Out. It is so encouraging to see people fall in love with motorcycles through our events and other events like it.”
From Texas to California
One of those who were inspired to start riding by BRO is Casey Aicklen, 28, from Austin, Texas. Six years ago, she was riding on the back of her boyfriend’s bike. She had a dirt bike, but it wasn’t street legal. Then she found Babes Ride Out on social media.
“The idea of hundreds of babes riding out to the West Coast to party and rip around sounded so fun to me,“ Casey says. “I wanted to be a part of this and find women in my area that rode. I decided I didn’t want to just ride on the back anymore.”
She ended up buying a 1969 Honda CL350, and then quickly upgrading to a Harley-Davidson Sportster. After meeting a group of local women riders who were going to Babes Ride Out in 2017, Casey decided to join them.
“I DIDN’T WANT TO JUST RIDE ON THE BACK ANYMORE.”
“Five of us rode from Texas to Joshua Tree and it was the most fun I had ever had up until that point,” she says. “It was also the longest ride I had been on at that point. It didn’t matter that we barely knew each other. Most of the time when I meet other women who ride, it’s an immediate connection. You have so much in common right off the bat.”
This past summer, Casey spent two months riding her Harley to Canada and back. But it was the trek from Texas to California to attend Babes Ride Out a year prior that inspired her love for long trips.
“The event itself is a blast, and the surrounding area is beautiful to ride, but the journey to get there and back was my favorite part,“ she says.
Returning a rider
Harriet Riley, 30, from Portland, Oregon has a slightly different story. Her emotional connection to motorcycles first started with her mom, who bought a Triumph after recovering from breast cancer. Harriet’s roommate had been to Babes Ride Out and told her, “Once you go, you’ll return a rider. There’s no way to escape the energy.”
Harriet attended her first BRO on the back of her mom’s bike in 2015. “That’s when it all snapped for me,” she says. “I loved riding around the National Park and surrounding towns. I loved the all women camping; it all taught me that it’s a waste of time to judge a book by its cover. Everyone was so cool and so nice. All I wanted was the feeling of the sun on my back and wind in my face. It was really very simple.”
She describes some unforgettable memories from the event: Seeing a girl lay her bike down only to be instantly swarmed by women rushing to help her pick it back up. Riding through Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Watching her mom ride the mechanical bull in one of the many campground games (this one dubbed the “BROdeo”). Making friends and creating art along the way.
This year, Harriet is making the trek down from Portland to the new location in Santa Margarita, California. It will be her fourth time attending the event, but her first time riding all the way there on her own bike.
Harriet says that riding motorcycles has affected her life in countless positive ways.
“It’s made me slow down. To be prepared and to listen to myself when my intuition flares up. It’s made lazy summer afternoons so much more interesting, because getting to the destination has officially become a part of the fun. It’s made my life feel like anything is possible.”
What’s next for Babes Ride Out
Having an “anything is possible” mindset comes in handy as a woman in a culture that’s been dominated by men since its inception. That might be about to change, though. Women now make up one of the fastest-growing demographics in the motorcycle industry, and it’s become increasingly clear that they’re not satisfied with just riding on the back of someone else’s bike.
In the wake of Babes Ride Out’s success, other women-only motorcycle events started popping up across the country. There’s the Dream Roll in the Pacific Northwest, the Fox Run in Pennsylvania, and the Wild Gypsy Tour festival that takes place during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, just to name a few.
For those who attended Babes Ride Out that first year in Borrego Springs—before there were tickets or food trucks or even port-a-potties—it’s been a surreal experience seeing the event grow into what it is today. As for what’s next for Anya and Ashmore, it’s very simple.
“Our goal has always been and will always be to help inspire women to explore the world on two wheels,” Anya says. “As long as we are doing that, we are happy!”