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[Lifestyle] A new start after 60: I yearned for freedom after raising kids – so I rode a motorbike across Australia


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Lois Pryce
Mon 7 Aug 2023 07.00 BST
When Joanna Barthorpe announced to her family, at the age of 60, that she was learning to ride a motorcycle, it was her grown-up sons who were the most shocked: “But Mum, you never let us ride motorbikes!” Her husband wasn’t keen either. “He hates bikes,” she says. “He thinks they’re too powerful, noisy and dangerous.”

The element of danger was part of the appeal, Barthorpe concedes – but most of all, it was about doing something for herself after bringing up three children. “You put your life on the back burner,” she says. “Being a good role model, doing things for your kids. Now it was my time.”

There were no bikers in her family and she had no connection to motorcycling – but it represented the freedom she was seeking in life. A natural optimist, she bought a bike, a Yamaha TDM850, while she was still taking lessons. It took a couple of attempts to pass her test but she was soon off on her first solo ride. Leaving her home in central France, she headed to Royan on the Atlantic coast and then south to Biarritz. She recalls the heady excitement of being on the road alone for the first time.

“I loved it. I was just happy to sit in the saddle for hours, much longer than if I had been driving a car. Everyone thought I was loopy! They’d say: ‘Aren’t you frightened on your own?’ Or ‘What if you drop the bike, or break down?’ But what people don’t realise is that actually, as a woman riding alone, people want to help you. They look out for you.”

Not that she hasn’t encountered a few patronising men along the way. “They’re often gobsmacked when I take off my helmet and they see a woman – and not a young one! When I went to buy my second bike, one motorcycle dealership wouldn’t even let me take a test ride.” Happily, the opposite was true when she visited a Royal Enfield dealership, where she was greeted with genuine enthusiasm and encouragement. She promptly snapped up her next bike, a 410cc Himalayan.

Although Barthorpe, who is now 67, prefers riding solo, she was intrigued when she heard about the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA), a club set up in 1950 with members in 39 countries. She made contact with the UK group, initially to inquire if there was a group in France. “It was a Thursday in August,” she remembers. “They said to me: ‘What are you doing this weekend? Why don’t you come to London and join us for ladies day at the Ace Cafe [the legendary biker’s hangout]?’ So the next day I jumped on my bike and took the ferry to England. My husband was very surprised!”

It was the WIMA connection that led her to her next adventure – the Women Riders World Relay, a movement of thousands of female motorcyclists from 84 countries to create a “global sisterhood of inspirational women” and to demonstrate to the male-dominated motorcycle industry that female riders are a growing market that deserves their attention. The plan was to pass a relay baton, rider to rider, all around the world, so Barthorpe signed up to be the French coordinator. But things didn’t quite work out as planned.

In October 2018, just after she had taken on the role, Barthorpe skidded at a roundabout and crashed, breaking her pelvis. She spent the following five months in hospital. “I’m fine now,” she says breezily. “But I had to learn to walk again – and ride, of course!”

Most disappointing was that she was unable to ride on the French sections of the relay, so instead she travelled by car and train, meeting up with the other riders as they crossed the country.

Getting on a motorcycle again was nerve-racking – especially navigating roundabouts – but she took extra training and eased herself back into the saddle. With the relay under way, she decided to join it wherever she could. “The baton was in Pakistan at the time, but that was a bit tricky to organise, so I looked at the route and decided on the Australia leg.”

In September 2019, less than a year after her crash, she set off from Perth to ride 5,200 miles across Australia in 12 days, including a gruelling 590 miles in one day, crossing the inhospitable Nullarbor Plain. Women riders from all over Australia joined in at various stages and they rolled into Sydney in a 100-strong group.

“There was a great sense of solidarity,” Barthorpe says. “It’s one of the best things about motorcycling, knowing there’s a network of people all over the world that you can meet up with who will help you out if you break down, or just take you around their town on a bike.”

But the main appeal is what attracted her to a motorcycle in the first place – freedom.

“I can go anywhere I want, any time I like,” she says. “The kids say to me, ‘Mum, you’ve turned into a teenager!’ and I tell them: ‘No, I’ve just become the person I used to be.’”

link: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2023/aug/07/a-new-start-after-60-i-yearned-for-freedom-after-raising-kids-so-i-rode-a-motorbike-across-australia


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