Published in Sunday Times Lifestyle. 6 November 2016.

Lanakila MacNaughton photograph of Marie Noelle. Lanakila documents female motorbike riders on her website www.womensmotoexhibit.com


WIND buffeting exposed limbs, thundering exhaust pipes and, of course, Steppenwolf ’s Born To Be Wild cranked up to the red.

A striking motorbike poster inspired Mars Bonfire to write this song. And one wonders how much gridlock escapism has been roused by those rebellious lyrics, the howling appeal to birthright, and that sermon in rock ’n roll to abandon civility. When hitched to the 1969 film Easy Rider, the lure of “Racin’ with the wind” added fuel to the already flaming lure of motorbiking.

The fire hasn’t dimmed. Riding a motorbike still screams antihero coolness, but the leisure bike culture has expanded from being the pastime of burly bald men hanging about in bars.

The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride, a social and fundraising gathering of classic bike-riding dandies, has attracted over 57 000 participants globally. With the aim of raising funds for men’s health research. The organisation recommends a well-manicured moustache, plus silk vest and tailored suit as appropriate apparel for riding.

Gender lines are also being erased. Women aren’t content just being the passengers. Lanakila MacNaughton, a US-based photographer, has been documenting the growing popularity of bike riding among females in her Women’s Motorcycle Exhibition. She plays down any overt feminism; her pictures are simply of riders having fun with the sense of liberation that two wheels and open air provide.

The transforming and seductive power of motorbiking found in those sleek lines of chromed metal are still a fantasy for many. Perhaps for those needing to hammer their individual identity, or those weighted with the concerns of modern living.

I fall more or less into the latter category, not burdened but often piqued by the prospect of adventure. So, when presented with the opportunity to attend BMW Motorrad’s Pure&Crafted Festival, I thought I could discover reasons for that niggling fascination.

Held in Berlin’s east side at a disused postal station, everything and everyone circling the orbit of leisure riding poured in. Within the red-brick hall of the station compound were tattoo artists, leather workers, barbers and enough paraphernalia to fill the prop room of Tarantino’s Titty Twister strip club.

Outside, among the industrial landscape of overhead cranes and railways, rock artists performed for an audience of head-bangers and families. Enthusiasts displayed their magnificent machines from various ages, and customisations glinted like trophies on pedestals. The leader of an all woman riding team demonstrated gymnastic poses atop a saddle next to a grinning gent in lederhosen and his vintage ride.

In the Motordrom — a tall barrel-shaped arena from the post-apocalyptic mind of Mad Max producer George Miller — daredevils entertained the mob with showy manoeuvres while spiralling on loudly snapping machines.

On every corner were bobbers, scramblers, café racers and flashy vintage whatnots. Everywhere denim, leather, rattle and hum. If only one could condense this rich atmosphere into an elixir the smell of burning gasoline and raging spirit. A single gulp would undoubtedly overwhelm inhibitions and strengthen strides. But in its absence the flowing German ale would suffice.

In two hazy days of observing and interacting with this concentration of enthusiasts, I found the scratch to my itch. Here were crafters gratified by their hard work and riders appreciative of each other’s beasts; bikers as the modern-day equivalent of a noble equine class, but without the snobbery. Gradually I realised that the world of heavy metal thunder was less about malevolence and more about confidence. Perhaps that was the allure, it was men and women being unfettered, authentic. / KT

Picture: Keith Tamkei

A participant of the Pure&Crafted festival in Berlin. Picture: Keith Tamkei

Picture: Lanakila MacNaughton


Performers inside the Motordrom. Picture: Keith Tamkei