In the socially conservative East African nation, the sight of Kenya’s all-female motorbike gang, the Inked Sisterhood, often shocks people.
The gang is one of five all-female biker groups to have sprung up over the last few years, including the Throttle Queens, Piki Dada and Heels of Steel.
Some residents of the town, which is on the border with Tanzania, did a double take, but these women are used to faces of surprise.
The group recently completed a 270km (170-mile) ride from the capital, Nairobi, south to Loitokitok town. Their black leather boots, guards, jackets and helmets are the only protection from the notoriously dangerous red-dirt roads.
Patience Mehta, a farmer and administrator started the Inked Sisterhood two years ago as a way to connect and empower women who ride motorbikes. It grew out of the Inked Bikers training school in Nairobi, where many of the women learnt to ride, and currently has 46 members.
Nicknamed “Empress Peanut” because of her small stature and admired leadership, Ms Mehta was inspired to take up riding after watching the 2010 US TV series Nikita, whose star rode a motorcycle in full black leather.
She rides a Hero Karizma ZMR 223cc – which she has named Babezy – and says the name of the gang is more of a metaphor: “The ink is what we use to tell our riding story – it’s not because we all have tattoos.”
Motorbikes, called “piki pikis” in the Swahili language, are a common mode of transport in Nairobi. Motorcycle taxis, known as “boda bodas”, also throng the city but some people find their drivers’ reputation for unsafe driving, catcalling and harassing passing women as they wait for customers off-putting.
While it is rare to spot a woman owning or riding a motorbike – more of them are seeing the benefits of donning their leathers to plough through the city’s congested streets. the longest time we have had clear roles for men and women and motorbikes, as they are perceived as rough and dangerous, and therefore more masculine,” says Bettina Bogonko.
A medical professional who owns a Lifan 250cc cruiser – named Dragon – she says: “My turning point that fully got me on the road confidently was when my father gave me his blessing to ride and said he was proud of me.”
Hope Makwali, a project manager who rides a 1991 Honda XLR 250, agrees that despite Nairobi’s cosmopolitan nature “biking is considered a man’s domain for the most part”.
“The danger, grit, and courage it seems necessary to ride is not appealing for most women,” she adds.
Before she started motorbiking, social worker Amanya Kuchio was spending between five and six hours in traffic each day.
After thinking about it for three years she was finally ready to take the leap – on to a Hero Karizma ZMR 223cc – to save on time and spend more time with her family. “It is very therapeutic, cost effective, and I love zooming past vehicles stuck in traffic and feeling totally liberated. In addition, the support and unity in the biking community is just amazing.”
The Inked Sisterhood meet up every few months to take group rides. Their next one will be a 56km trip to a small town called Kimende, north of the capital. They are also in communication frequently to share tips and encourage one another.
They get together with the other female groups for big occasions, like International Female Ride Day at the beginning of May, but the gang has no affiliation with any of Nairobi’s several male motorbike groups.(BBC)