Give a girl a motorcycle


San Francisco and Sacramento Litas gather for a memorial ride.

Story by Clara Applegarth and Photo provided by Kimmie Herrera

“My excitement for moto comes from the adrenaline,” said Tish Yodatee, co-founder of the all-female motorcycle collective Bay Area chapter “The Litas.”  “The power, the freedom. Being in the open. Feeling the wind push against my body. Being able to crank the throttle and take off.”

This is the story for many female motorcycle riders, as women continue to find their place in historically male-dominated industries. 

“I went riding on the back maybe like four or five times,” said Kimmie Herrera, legal secretary living in San Jose. “But just my personality kind of wanted to be in the front.”

Kimmie is one of thousands that are embracing their love for the thrill, for the exciting calm she describes when riding. 

“I feel like the biggest difference, pardon my language, was that it’s just a dick measuring contest with guys,” said Amanda England, preschool teacher and founder of the Sacramento Litas. “They’ll just be full speed ahead like weaving in and out of traffic.”

The Bay Area is full of female motorcyclists and female/non-binary motorcycle riding groups and collectives. There are the Valley Vixens, Dykes on Bikes, Devil Dolls and more. Yodatee, England and Herrera belong to the international female motorcycle collective, “The Litas” created in September 2015 by Jessica Hagget in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

“I started out riding with men,” said Yotadee. “For the most part regardless of gender, motorcyclists have each other’s backs, but as a female biker I feel I am often sexualized. It can be discouraging when my male counterparts don’t see me as a rider or acknowledge my skill, but rather objectify me.”

In 2018, the number of female riders nationwide reached 19%, according to Ultimate Motorcycles, but it’s not just the thrill that people chase. In Herrera and England’s case, it’s also the sisterhood. 

“I was always a bit of a loner,” said Yotadee. “But with the Litas SF I found my pack. We support, encourage and inspire one another. We all ride our own ride, but together. I know that I have a sis in front of me leading the way and I have a sis behind me watching my back, always.” 

Initially, Herrera was dating someone who rode a bike, and England’s good friend asked her if she wanted to go dirtbike riding. Yotadee started riding scooters with a rental service in San Francisco called “Scoot” where she worked. A small dose of two wheels marked the beginning of all the women’s journeys.

“I was always peeking over asking questions like, ‘What’s shifting?’ or ‘What’s the difference if you do this?’ or ‘Why does it make this noise or what happens if you do this?’” Herrera said. “Then maybe like three weeks later, out-of-the-blue, I signed up for the motorcycle safety foundation course.”

England remembers her first experience riding a motorcycle.

“A friend of mine had dirt bikes and asked if I wanted to come out riding with her,” England said. “We went to the park, and she said, ‘Here’s the clutch, here’s the brakes. Good luck.’ I got it on the first try and then I just followed her around the whole day. After that, I had dreams about it. I thought ‘I need to do this again.’”

One year later, England bought her first dirt bike off of Craigslist and rode around neighborhoods. It wasn’t long after England and Herrera bought their first bikes that they came across The Litas on social media. 

England and Herrera pointed out the many differences when it comes to male and female motorcyclists. By far the biggest difference they mentioned was the safety measures, or lack-of, in male groups. 

“There’s a pattern here with me, that I feel very comfortable around women,” said Herrera, who attended an all-female college. “It’s a safety thing for me. When I first started and wanted advice, it was only men that were out there on the internet giving people advice, or if I would go to get cycling gear, it’s a guy giving me advice on the gear that I should wear.”

Yotadee, Herrera and England both pointed out that in female groups, there’s always someone who is making sure everyone has all the gear they need or is checking in to see if anyone needs gas. If a member breaks down or falls off their bike, the entire group pulls over to make sure they’re alright and helps them in whatever way is needed.

There are women who promote wearing gear, who understand how to fix bikes and will always have you covered for anything you may need.

“The whole time with girls we’re checking on each other,” England said. “Or we’re signaling each other which lanes we are going to go into. But with guys, everyone’s on their own. Like ‘Fuck you, let’s go and die.’”

Herrera has also experienced harassment on the road from men.

“The ego comes out when they see a woman on a bike,” Herrera said. “They try to show off and do wheelies and split faster. I’ve had people at a stop sign yelling at me, cat-calling, just trying to get my attention.”

This is one of the reasons why their all-female motorcycle collective is so important and so powerful to Herrera and England. Both met people they would never have known unless they had contacted The Litas. England and Herrera have made profound connections for life and met some of their best friends through motorcycle riding.

“I mean fuck it. Most industries are dominated by males, at least I feel like a lot of the good ones are,” England said. “Even when we walk into a motorcycle store with all of our gear on, we still won’t be approached or even said hello to by a salesperson.”

The Litas usually schedule one ride per month, gathering together from all over the world. However, since the COVID-19 crisis, the California cities that Herrera and England live in are now on a government mandated lockdown. The Litas have postponed all future rides until further notice. 

“Realistically, I think it would be safe to do because we’re in gloves and helmets and on a motorcycle,” England said. “Nobody’s touching each other. But riding and just being around each other is a big part of who we are and how we relate to one another.”

Luckily, England and Herrera communicate through Zoom virtual meetings with their fellow riders and Litas members as the pandemic continues.

Moving forward, England and Herrera both are constantly on the search for new riders to join in and tag along.

“You have to know that you belong there, and you need to make a space there,” England said. “If you don’t do it, who else is going to do it for you? Who else is going to do it for the next generation?”