Thirty women led by Jaqueline “Feisty” Branch, dubbed the “motorcycling grandma,” will begin their ride on Thursday, July 4 from Houston to New Orleans to attend the 25th anniversary Essence Festival celebrating African American culture and music in America.
Under the banner of Black Girls Ride, the first motorcycle magazine to target women of color, Feisty and gang will unite with almost 200 other bikers from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana— even a few all the way from California. Zipping across the country on Polaris Slingshots and Indian Motorcycles, who are both sponsors, and in the case of Feisty, a matte black Harley-Davidson Road Glide, these women paint a much different picture of the motorcycling industry than that of the handle-bar mustache, beer bottle bar fight.
Porsche Taylor, who founded Black Girls Ride magazine in 2011, embraces the new image of the urban biker lifestyle. “Our fellow biker sisters come from all walks of life. We work in boardrooms and classrooms across the nation, but on the free road we are one. We are a family—women who continue to break barriers and defy stereotypes in motorcycling.”
Motorcycle ownership among women is on the rise as they now account for one fifth of the market. In the last ten years in particular, the female presence has more than doubled, especially among Gen X and Gen Y’s according to a 2018 survey done by the Motorcycle Industry Council. And according to a press release citing an MRI Simmons study, it states that among African Americans, female bikers make up more than half of the population.
Forty-nine-year-old Branch, who started as a backpacker on her dad's motorcycle when she was 12, has been riding her own bike since she was 18. Back then, it was more common to see women as backpackers, riding on the back of the bike, she remembers. “Of course, we weren’t accepted, it was like the housewife was expected to stay in their zone, but now, we have our zone.”
Though the motorcycling industry has targeted women since the 1980s with outreach programs like Discover Today’s Motorcycling, it wasn’t until the last ten years that Branch says the sport become more accessible. She credits the eight-year-old magazine; “Black Girls Ride gives us a voice; we are seen and heard throughout the community and over the state.”
In a press release prefacing the 2018 survey done by MIC, Cinnamon Kernes, vice president and general manager for MIC and the American International Motorcycle Expo explained that an increase in female involvement with motorcycle products is partly why. “Over the past decade, more women are designing riding gear and other products specifically for female riders… having gear designed for women by women was a huge step and has certainly helped encourage female ridership.”
Not only does Branch help prepare beginners and experts for long journeys like the one on July 4, which includes practice group rides and bike maintenance, she has intermingled Black Girls Ride members with her other passion: helping the homeless.
When Branch isn’t on the open road, she collects and delivers supplies for at her job with SEARCH Homeless Services while also making time to volunteer for Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen. "When you say, 'motorcycle ride events', the image comes to mind of long beards and tattoos. They aren't expecting professional women doing different rides and community service."