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Black Women to Bike 1800 Miles to ESSENCE Festival

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Black women bikers
Photo Credit: Kimberly Thierry

As Festival ticket holders fanatically grazed the Internet to score cheap flights to New Orleans, motorcyclist Kimberly Thierry and her girls approached their travel preparation slightly differently. They secured lodging in Memphis and researched the historical landmarks they might pass as they ride all the way down to NOLA for the Festival this 4th of July weekend—from Chicago.

Yes, it’s an ambitious 1,856-mile trip. But if the image of four Black women taking to the open road to make a long trek strikes you as rare, it shouldn’t.

“Women motorcyclists are growing in numbers,” says Thierry, who is a motorcycle safety instructor in her homestate of Illinois. “More and more of my sisters are mounting and riding their own bikes.”

Once they land in New Orleans, they’ll park their bikes and trade in their boots and leathers for their sundresses, and get down with Prince. We'll follow their entire trip, and for the first part of this series we spoke with Thierry about why she decided to do this and what she hopes to learn along the way.

ESSENCE: Why did you choose to bike to New Orleans this year?

KIMBERLY THIERRY: I have always wanted to attend the Essence Festival. At the end of the last biking season, I introduced the suggestion of the Essence Festival to my riding partners, and without a second thought everyone agreed.  It’s the best of two worlds: the opportunity to attend the music festival and RIDE! Doesn’t get much better.

ESSENCE: What are you expecting to happen during your trip? What are you hoping to find and discover?

THIERRY: A lot of time and planning goes into every trip. Departure location and time, gas stops, safety, routes and weather are just a few of the considerations.  What we gain most from time on the road is the bond of strong friendships and sisterhood.  We are our sisters' keepers.  We are each responsible for each other.

There is also a universal bond amongst most, if not all, motorcyclists. It's the great equalizer.  No matter your race, economic status, or whatever, when bikers meet, they look out for each other, they share stories with perfect strangers and have respect for fellow bikers.

So, when facing the elements, be it sun, heat, rain or cold, we'll face it together.  With the introduction of Facebook we also love to share our travels with our families and friends via status updates and photos.

My family history is from Louisiana, my great-great grandfather founded one of the first African American schools in Louisiana. So, I am excited just from an historical perspective.

Once we arrive and put the bikes up. We will pull out the sundresses, let our hair down and enjoy the full experience of being in the French Quarter and hitting as many of the venues as possible. Not to mention, seeing PRINCE! Yeah baby! 

ESSENCE: What can you tell us about the community of women of color who bike?

THIERRY: Women have been involved in motorcycling for as long as there have been motorcycles.  The number of women riders has increased steadily.  I am a motorcycle safety instructor for the state of Illinois and I often hold classes where the female students outnumber the males. One of the earliest female riders in American history is Bessie Stringfield, an African American.  In Black and Latino communities in the inner cities, the number of female riders continues to increase yearly. 

Last summer I participated in an all-female ride from Chicago to Milwaukee with over 300 female riders, with the majority of them being women of color from both the Black and Latino communities. On any given summer day, when riding down the streets of Chicago, you will see a notable female riding presence.

Women of color are diverse within the motorcycle community, and the common denominatinor is the love of riding. We give ourselves our "biker names",  a traditon that was started in the male biker community. The motorcycle industry has recognized the value of female riders and they now cater to the female riders with the introduction of motorcycles and gear better equipped for the female rider.  

Stay tuned as we follow Kimberly and her crew's journey to the ESSENCE Festival!