Guest post from Bridget, who we first met at the Malle Mile in 2020.
As an art student progressing into her second year of A-levels, I can firmly say that results day forces you to question near enough everything you achieved up until that point. How could someone who was currently panicking over which font to use in an essay have been an award-winning, confident artist as little as 12 months previously? For many of my peers, this thought process was often followed by some deep introspection and detrimental changes to their final theme for their course work in the second year.
While I, admittedly, did have these nervous and panicky thoughts, I was lucky enough to have attended the Malle Mile in 2020.
The result of the 2020 Malle Mile was entirely unexpected. I prepared myself for a weekend of dismissal and feeling out of place, as many 16-year-olds do in these kinds of situation. However, this changed almost immediately when we arrived. I became overwhelmed by the passion and artistic flare that this angle of motorcycling culture presented. I quickly learnt the true definition of custom culture (which apparently isn’t old fat men with tattoos that communicate solely through grunts, but instead a delicate and beautiful representation of passion and personality). I found myself obsessed. I became desperate to be as involved as possible, however it was at this point that I noticed the number of women at this festival. This is what ultimately led me to my final theme for my A-level art course: female empowerment through motorbiking.
It’s not surprising that motorcycling is often a sexist environment, women are regularly used as trophies on the backs of bikes instead of actually riding them. It was this kind of stereotype that led me to be apprehensive to attend the Mile. This was enhanced by having passed my CBT a few months previously on a Lexmoto Hunter 50cc [above]. the result of this was that I was a young, female, inexperienced biker with a below par bike; both in engine size and quality. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. So much of this festival was focused on encouraging women to join in and feel comfortable within the culture, I had no choice but to be inspired by it.
A distinct memory sticks in my mind from the event. It was the first day and I was still very much in awe of the concept that surrounded me. Having not even started my A-levels yet, I was a keen and impressionable student. I remember watching a biker creating a piece of art by splashing paint on his tyres and doing wheel spins while some upbeat indie music played in the background. I had mentioned to Dad that I was hungry, and we began wandering over to a food stand. However, before we could get to food another small stand caught my eye.
As I approached, the bookshelf to my left was packed with Sideburn magazines while to my right were satire hoodies that made me giggle. to the front were stickers, badges and even frame pieces of art. I’d hit the jackpot.
I was still a teenager who didn’t have the confidence at this point to strike up conversation like I so desperately wanted to. I had a Dad for that. It wasn’t long until my hopes to start art at college came into conversation and a sticker of a flag girl was handed to me. Written on the back was the name of someone who would actively change my life, it read Neryl Walker.
Walking away to get some lunch grinning like an idiot, I opened the first of my now extensive collection of Sideburn magazines to find four more stickers by the same artist snuck into the middle of the magazine. After examining the stickers in more detail, i opened sideburn coincidentally to page 58 of SB36 [a Deus Ex Machina advert featuring Carby Tuckwell's art of Dani Pedrosa's CR500 street tracker]. Instantly I fell in love with the bike that filled the page in front of me. I decided this was going to be the style of my next bike, which considering I had been less than satisfied by my options for a 125 so far was fairly impressive. As sheer luck would have it I looked up from the illustration to find a Fantic Caballero Scrambler parked in front of me.
As I’m sure all bikers have experienced in their lives, when you find the one, you just know. Six weeks later I swung my leg over another Fantic Caballero at Krazy Horse in Chipping Norton and fell in love. No other 125cc could compare from that point and I’m proud to say I’m sat writing this with my very own customised Fantic clean and happy in the garage. I’m a very lucky teenager.
It was inevitable that a bike I loved and a muse like Sideburn would trigger some dramatic changes in my life. It started with simple things, such as joining pages on Facebook that related to flat tracking, but this quickly evolved.
After deciding that everything I had learnt in the last few months, from custom culture's artistic side to biking’s role in modern day feminism, would be the topic I based my A-level on, I had to start some actual research. I finally got around to doing some detailed work on Neryl Walker, which was kickstarted by contacting her on Instagram and having a conversation with her directly. However, I quickly hit a wall.
For context, in order to achieve a grade higher than a D at A-level, you must include your own source material. This was all well and good for my friend's studying seascapes, a quick trip to the beach and they had ticked this box. I had a little more trouble though. Living in rural Devon, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by many female bikers… Other than my mum that is. After an experimental photoshoot with mum, I quickly realised this was something I needed much more of. This thought made me nervous, I had posted on Facebook explaining my aim, but really didn’t expect much back and started to panic that I would have to change my topic. To my delight, there are a lot of female bikers out there who were all really keen to help me on my quest for empowerment. I quickly had multiple shoots scheduled and was soon inspired and working hard again.
From this point forward it was easy, with a couple shoots completed I had started illustrations myself among other pieces that would eventually contribute to my course work. However, this opened a door for me that I wasn’t expecting. The chance encounter at an alternative biking stand in a small festival not only allowed me to achieve some impressive grades in college again, it also opened me up to a world of biking that has left me inspired, humbled and excited for the future.
While we still have a long way to go with this topic, female bikers everywhere, myself included, are growing in numbers and are here to stay. From the '70s protestor to the newly qualified air hostess, every person I interviewed and photographed was just as passionate as the last. Biking may mean many different things to different people, whether it's an escape, a social opportunity (rock on Malle Mile 2022) or a project at college, it has one common denominator. Two wheels. And I cannot express how excited I am for the day that two wheels is all there is to judge, not gender.