Taking on the world with Hayley Bell
Hayley Bell just wanted to meet fellow female riders. Now her project has taken on a life of its own, Jeremy Pick writes.
When Hayley Bell wanted to find riding companions when she took up motorcycling, she took the modern approach – a social media post to sound out the level of interest for women riding with other women.
“The whole idea came from such a simple concept. I wanted to go riding and have adventures on my motorcycle, but I didn’t necessarily want to go away with a bunch of lads,” says Hayley.
“I struggled to find a community among female bikers, so I ended up creating a platform for women to ride together.”
That simple start has snowballed into the Women Riders World Relay (WRWR) – a community of more than 20,000 women riders from 100 countries that already enjoys global partnerships with motorcycle manufacturers. And that’s just the beginning…
Off to a great start
Women still form a remarkably small proportion of the total number of motorcyclists worldwide, as the BMF has explored before, although that situation is changing for the better. To Hayley, that seemed so out of balance that she had to do something about it.
“I started riding motorcycles about five years ago when I came back from travelling. I wanted to ride and have adventures, but I had no friendship circle or sense of community with other riders because I’d been away so long,” says Hayley.
“So I posted on social media to see how much interest there was in women riding together. The first post reaching out to female riders was made at 2pm and, by 5pm, the community already had 365 members. Within a week, it was 1,500. By the end of the month, 10,000 women had joined. It grew very, very quickly just from word of mouth and without a penny spent on marketing.”
With that, the concept of the Women Riders World Relay was born – an initiative that has grown to become the largest motorcycle relay ever recorded. The concept of a group of female motorcyclists joining together to realise the dream of an all-female motorcycle relay race that will cross the entire world and set a new world record along the way quickly took off, thanks to Hayley’s youthful enthusiasm and organisational skills.
It is, at heart, a simple idea: groups of women ride together before passing a hand-carved wooden baton on to the next group, who pass the baton on to the next group, and so on – right across the globe. For each stint, the baton is carried by nominated riders, known as Guardians.
Starting in John O’Groats in north-east Scotland in February 2019, the first leg of the tour saw the relay baton accompanied across the UK and Ireland by more than 200 female riders. Before the relay left the UK for France, it spent two days at London’s Ace Café, where the WRWR organisers hosted a meeting featuring talks from inspiring female riders including Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride a motorcycle around the world, and British Superbike Championship racer Jenny Tinmouth in a celebration of International Women’s Day 2019. The following day, they held an introduction to off-roading for women, accompanied by more talks.
The baton then continued its progress around the world. It is due to return to the UK after passing through more than 80 countries, welcoming more and more female riders along the way.
Proof of concept
The WRWR has simple aims: to demonstrate what women riders can organise and achieve, and to highlight the potential of women riders in the wider motorcycle industry. Hayley is keen for that to change.
“Women riding motorcycles is still a niche within a niche, so I wanted to create a platform to allow women to ride together,” she recalls.
“I wanted to create a positive sense of encouragement between women riders, to give women a platform to inspire each other and to share their experiences, to give life to women with the motorcycle industry and build better role models for women within motorcycling.”
Now, Hayley’s initiative has made major motorcycle manufacturers sit up and take notice. Brands such as Indian Motorcycles have been keen to become involved in an initiative which clearly resonates among the growing number of female riders.
“Since the WRWR started, it has become clear how much pent-up demand there is among women riders for proper representation, and I’m keen to open women’s horizons when it comes to motorcycling,” says Hayley.
“Now my ultimate goal is to create a bigger motorcycle market by getting more women involved – I want motorcycling to flourish in a way that includes me and the women I respect who feel underserved at the moment. Women just want to be represented, and giving them a platform to express themselves and to build their confidence and create a community is increasing participation, growing the motorcycle market and inspiring women all at the same time. Change is finally happening when it comes to women riders and it is fantastic to be able to bear witness to that change.
“Motorcycling is fantastic for anyone, but the best thing about it is the sense of community − an honest community who really look after each other. Anyone who wants to really live life should try riding a motorcycle; regardless of the day you’ve had, it will make you feel like you are living life – and it is cheaper than therapy! I do warn new riders that it is addictive, though.”
What happens next?
The WRWR finished in February 2020, but Hayley’s mission is just getting started. The next stage of the plan is to improve the skills and abilities of female riders in areas including servicing and fixing their motorcycles and those of others; bike building and tuning; introducing women to new styles of riding like enduro and motocross; and pushing them out of their comfort zones to try new things which will fill them with a sense of achievement.
The ultimate goal is to encourage the role of women riders to create more bikers, to provide feedback to manufacturers about what women riders want that they are not currently being provided, and to provide new skills to women riders through interaction and training.
“This year, when the WRWR is finished, I want to keep the momentum going by focussing on improving the skill sets and knowledge levels of women riders,” Hayley says.
“There is scope for improving women riders’ skills in areas such as off-road and long-distance riding, repairing and building bikes, providing the tools and space and sharing the knowledge needed to help women look after themselves and others, and removing the stereotypes that still exist around female motorcyclists.
“The women we have met on the WRWR have been filled with enthusiasm from the sense of achievement they’ve got from taking part in the adventure, and they want to continue on that journey. My aim now is to build their confidence further, improve their skills and to make them better and more confident riders.”
Hayley’s project has grown and transformed in the short time since the concept was born. But the heart of the project remains true to its roots – building, growing and nurturing the community of women riders. And that is a mission we can all support.
To find out more about the WRWR and to join, visit their website here.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of BMF Motorcycle Rider.
All pictures are courtesy of the Women Riders World Relay.