Female Bikers of Moscow

PHOTO by Afisha.Daily / Alexey Kalabin (Capital Wheels)
Girls on bikes who don’t have anything to prove

Afisha.Daily asked the photographer who founded The Capital Wheels society to take pictures of five young women who get around the capital on two wheels. Then we talked to them about stereotypes of bikers and their riding season.

Yulia Ionova

33. Architect. Riding experience: six months. Rides a Harley Davidson Sportster 883.

“It’s a family thing. My mom rode a Kawasaki back when she was young. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed motorcycles aesthetically. A few years ago my mom and I went to St. Petersburg for the Harley Days festival. Then a friend of mine gave me a night ride through London – on a Sportster, actually. That’s when I really fell in love. I got my driver’s license this spring and bought the bike straight away.

“For me, riding is about achieving zen. I know, it sounds pompous, but that’s the truth. You set off and forget about everything – there’s just you and the road. At first riding on motorways and weaving between cars in rush hour is a bit stressful, but you get used to it and realise that bikes are better suited for large cities.

“I really like the sense of camaraderie on the road: all the other bikers acknowledge you and are ready to help if something happens. I once fell over while I was stopped at some lights. The bike is 265 kilos, so of course I couldn't pick it up. One of the cars stopped, the driver got out and tried to help me with it. Suddenly, a burly guy on a Harley appeared – I told him that the driver was only there to help and didn’t have anything to do with me falling over, but he scared the first guy off anyway. So this biker picked up my motorcycle and told me not to worry – these things happen.

Biker girl 3

“I’m a big hit with the guys when I ride. Drivers often throw dumb lines at me like “Hey, what kind of a bike are you riding?” or “Oh, it’s probably very heavy, let me hold it for you.” Anyway, I leave them hanging, riding off as soon as the light turns green. I once rode my bike to Simachev (popular night club in Moscow) – man, I had a whole crowd around me that night.

“My friends and family don’t look down on my hobby: almost no one says that it’s a man’s game. Actually, on the contrary, they're proud to say that their female friend rides a Harley. One time a client from Yekaterinburg gave me two Ural motorcycle t-shirts. I guess it can be seen as a challenge, especially given the world we live in, but really, I don’t care what other people think.

“I’m very sad to retire my bike for winter, but I want to spend it productively and beef up my Harley a bit. I think I’ll buy a bunch of jeans and t-shirts too. Next year I want to do a long ride – maybe I’ll head to St. Petersburg and see how it goes.”

Biker girl 2

Alyona Melkosyants

44. General Director of a logistics company. Riding since this February. Rides a Honda NC700.

“You know, I’ve been dreaming about having a bike since I was a kid, but something always stopped me from turning it into a reality. My mum banned me from even touching one after she caught me red-handed on one: we were 14, there were three of us, and we were all riding some bike. Then for a while I was pretty scared of bikes. There were some unhappy events involving my friends, I had a realisation that our driving culture is extremely poor, but I still attempted to overcome the fear and try out riding. I actually tried banning my daughter from riding too, but she got her driver’s license and is virtually inseparable from her bike.

Biker girl 5

“Eventually I came to an understanding – I'm not the kind of person who gives up on my dreams. I learned how to ride, passed the theory test last summer, but I was too busy to take the practical part of the test. Last winter I suddenly remembered that I had to pass the driving test within six months of passing the theory test, so, long story short, I got my driver’s license after taking the riding exam in February, when it was -13 Celsius outside.

“Choosing a bike was a whole other story – I talked with some friends who knew about bikes, but they all had their own, usually contradictory, opinions. Eventually I settled on a Honda, which took a month to ship from Japan. My bike is not quite up there in terms of modern aesthetics, but it’s easy to ride, economical, comfortable and, overall, its performance more than makes up for any supposed shortcomings.

Biker girl 7

“I don't advertise my love for motorcycles, as I think I'll just be faced with a lack of understanding and will constantly have to answer the question: “Why are you doing it?” Only a few, select people, know about what I have in the garage and how I spend my summer nights.

“This past season was my first, and I guess I’ll remember it forever. Adults generally have a rigid community framework – your family and your job (and when you’re the boss you are also restricted in how you’re allowed to act). But my new hobby expanded my social circle, allowed me to mix with a diverse bunch of people from different demographics, all united by their love of bikes.

Biker girl 6

Olga Alexenko

33. Russian language and literature teacher, not currently in work. Riding experience: over ten years. Rides a custom Honda CB750.

“The first time I sat on a bike was in 2003. I immediately sensed that it was my thing. Two years ago I built my custom bike and realized that there’s no going back to stock motorcycles. You know, ordering a custom bike is a unique experience – they make it just for you, and you choose how it will ride and look.

“So you ride out on your new awesome bike, turning heads and feeling happy – then you stop caring about what others think. But, of course, it's nice to get a smile or compliment sometimes and I definitely try to avoid negative people. Only my parents were against me riding a motorbike, actually. It was either my innate ability to persuade or the glow of joy after riding that finally convinced them to get behind me.

Biker girl 8

“Guys hit on me regularly, but I like to think it’s my own personal charm and not my bike that attracts them. I won’t deny that the motorcycle plays a part, though.

“I don’t go on long rides out of town – my bike is better suited for the urban environment. My plans for the next season aren't set in stone yet either. I was going to to give my bike a paint-job, but I got way too many compliments this year. I'm almost never off my bike, so all I need is good weather – that’s enough for me to have fun.”

Biker girl 9

Katya ‘Vanilla’ Dmitrieva

30. Stylist. Riding experience: three years. Rides a Ducati Monster S4,916.

“I was nineteen or twenty when I rode my first bike. I was working at Harper’s Bazaar; we had a shoot with Vlad Loktev and we need to get somewhere to pick something up. I'm not sure whether Vlad actually remembers it, but I do, and probably will forever. I was scared of riding bikes, mostly because they just look scary. Eventually I went to a driving school, realising that things would change once I learned how to ride them. One thing led to another and eventually, I studied motorcycle trials and winter speedway – you know, riding your bike on ice.

“I love my bike. Primarily for the sense of freedom it gives me. Kind of like when you’re a kid, you go outside, sit on your bicycle and feel as if that is your universe. My bike is essentially the embodiment of my childhood dreams. Of course, a fast motorbike poses certain risks – driving it through a city like Moscow is a challenge of sorts. I think it’s also inspiring, riding and taming a relentless, merciless force of nature.

Biker girl 10

“When I first started to ride, my friends called me crazy (only in less pleasant words)... Only my closest ones supported me – I guess they knew me well enough to understand what I really like. I ignore the people with judgmental attitudes – it’s my life and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

“I’m fairly outgoing, but I prefer not to talk to anyone when I'm riding my bike. First of all, it’s kind of hard to do, since you’re wearing a helmet. Second, it’s not very safe: you need to stay focused on the road. But in general, I think guys hitting on bike girls is nothing out of the ordinary.

“To be honest, I didn't ride much this season. The summer was pretty uneventful. I remember one thing though: I got fined twice for an improperly hung license plate. I also installed a new fuel tank and tried giving rides to some friends. One of them weighs 90 kilograms, so you have to really adjust your driving. It was a personal achievement – I didn’t think I was capable of something like that before.”

Biker girl 12

Anya Kessler

36. Decorator and production designer. Riding experience: four years (drove a scooter for another five years). Rides a Honda CB400 SS.

“When I was a kid I loved riding in motorcycle sidecars whenever friends who had one visited us. I wouldn’t mind owning one of those bikes, actually – I might get one just for the collection. When I grew up, I asked my friends to chip in towards a scooter for my birthday – but every time they did it, I just partied the money away. Eventually they gave me a pale green Honda Giorno, and I was overcome with joy. I could drive up to 80 kilometres a day on the thing, running errands around the Moscow suburbs. I carried props, flowers and a whole bunch of other stuff – people in cars smiled, seeing my head popping out of the mess. I mistakenly decided to boost its engine and afterwards became a regular at the shop. But the whole time, I was dreaming about a motorbike. During one of my winter months spent on Bali I decided that I needed a custom bike.

Biker girl 13

“Finding the perfect bike took me a while. I wanted it to be stylish, a bit daring and not at all girly. So I decided to paint a Honda matte black and install a mono-shock. The tale of building my custom bike is a sad one. They had to rebuild it several times in order to make it run as well as it looked (or go at all, for that matter).

“After my first bike season I felt like I needed a bigger engine. That’s when I began my search for a Ducati. I had to put it on hold when I had my baby though. Afterwards I realised that bigger engines are more dangerous than I thought – they tempt you to go full throttle. To tell the truth, I’m quite fond of my bike as it is. My husband and I rent out our bikes for photo shoots and music videos – so they don’t just carry us around, they earn us money.

Biker girl 14

“There are three kinds of drivers in Moscow: those who are afraid of biker girls, those who admire them and those who hate anyone who overtakes them while they’re stuck in traffic. Generally though, everyone respects the bikers. Motorcycle police are a different story though. One policeman stopped me for a routine check and asked “That’s not a Honda CB400 SS, though, is it?” I said, “Sure is, just a bit upgraded.” He then proceeded to point out that my bike didn’t have a dashboard, had only one shock and the whole thing could make me criminally liable. After he was done I asked “But it looks cool, right? You like it?” He just smiled and told me to get out of there.