On June 24, 2018, women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia for the first time in a decade. In addition to being able to drive cars, though, women were also permitted to ride motorcycles and drive trucks. Just like riders around the world, some Saudi women much preferred the feeling of riding a motorcycle to driving a car. It’s now June 24, 2021, and that’s still the case today.
“I come from a bikers’ family. My brothers are bikers. I used to go out with them as a passenger, but for me to be a rider was just a dream that I didn't know [would] happen one day,” Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based rider Fatimah told regional publication the National.
In eager anticipation of the day that she’d be able to ride, Fatimah even bought herself a Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 before she learned how to ride it. Now she’s a leader in the Hawks MC Riyadh motorcycle club, and she’s not the only one whose life has changed for the better since she was able to start riding.
As happy as riding makes them, Fatimah and other female riders that the National spoke to say their numbers are still small. More women are finding opportunities to ride, but there are still challenges. Cost is one, with rider training courses running 1,500 Saudi Riyals (about $400) for a basic course at Riyadh’s Bikers Skills Institute.
In February 2020, BSI’s only female instructor, Elena Bukaryeva, also told Arab News that female riders could not get their licenses through the school, and that the traffic department office was not issuing them. Instead, she said, riders would complete their training and then go to neighboring countries like Bahrain to obtain an actual license. So, there are still hoops to jump through for the women who really want to ride. As with any change, some Saudi people approve, and some don’t. Most of the women riders profiled in any news story you read have had supportive families, which makes a huge difference.
As well, riders like groundbreaking Saudi female racer Dania Akeel are out living their dreams, while also inspiring other women and young girls who see them. Although women couldn’t legally drive on Saudi roads until three years ago, one common riding origin story among many of these women is family encouragement in off-road riding from an early age. Akeel is one such woman—and perhaps that’s part of why she both participated in the United Arab Emirates’ Ducati Cup in the 2019/2020 season, and is also an FIA Cross-Country Rallies participant who is eagerly awaiting Dakar 2022.