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HomeNewsZimbabwe’s “Biker Queen” rides full throttle against gender norms

Zimbabwe’s “Biker Queen” rides full throttle against gender norms

By Mike Saburi, (bird story agency)

Evonne Mudzingwa’s state of bliss comes when she’s surrounded by roaring engines. Known as the “Zim Biker Queen”, the 50-year-old regularly joins a pack of leather-clad riders on the highway. For Mudzingwa, it’s not just about the thrill of the ride. She’s also using her biking adventures to challenge gender stereotypes.

Evonne Mudzingwa is in her happy place.

The roar of an engine at full throttle is music to the ears of Evonne Mudzingwa and the glint in her eye is from light reflecting off brilliant chrome on powerful two-wheelers filling a parking lot in Harare.

It’s a Sunday afternoon, which means the country’s highways have little traffic – every biker’s dream.

Mudzingwa and the other members of the Ulysses Motorcycle Club are clad in leathers and are conducting their final checks, raring to go. Their destination is the city of Kadoma, 140 kilometres southwest of the capital. It’s an annual event called the Ubuntu Bikers Run.

About 100 riders have gathered to hit the road together with Mudzingwa, who is known in biking circles as the “Zim Biker Queen”.

“When I was 13 my dad used to have a Honda 120cc. He could bike around so he got me into biking the first time, that’s how I started biking,” she explained while waiting to hit the road.

The rides have become a way for Mudzingwa to reduce the stresses of entrepreneurship and caring for a family.

“Biking is my time. I have been a mother the whole week, I have been a boss the whole week, and there is just that one day I selfishly take for myself,” she said.

Mudzingwa is one of only two women in her 60-member club.

An adventurous spirit and refusal to conform to traditional gender roles is what enabled her to ignore the stares and intrusive questions that came her way when she first joined the biker club.

“There were a lot of negative whispers, my morals were questioned, assumptions were made and labels thrown around, but I was not deterred, quitting was never an option. I was the first woman of colour here. I just stuck to my principles and rode like the boys, until I earned their respect, albeit grudgingly, inspiring the girls in the process,” Mudzingwa recollected.

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When off their bikes, many of the men Mudzingwa rides with would struggle to keep up with her – literally.

Emirates

The internationally certified fitness instructor has podium finishes under her belt in ultramarathons, triathlons, and obstacle races. She’s received several business awards for the successful wellness brand she has painstakingly built over the last 16 years. A confessed adrenaline junkie, she enjoys zip-lining and bungee jumping. Mudzingwa has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, and the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa.

She’s now using her influence in biking, and business circles and online to organise events that raise awareness and funds for breast cancer, mental health treatment and prevention of gender-based violence.

“The message to other women is that you can balance out life. You don’t have to be ‘either, or’. We take on a lot of roles, and I think while doing that, we forget to take care of ourselves,” she said.

Wisdom Nherera, President of the Zim Free Riders Motorcycle Club, noted that the involvement of high profile personalities like Mudzingwa, and the exponential growth of motorbikes in the public transport sector is attracting more women to biking – for both recreational and commercial purposes.

“It’s actually surprising because we now have women taking up biking seriously, not only as a hobby, some are taking it as a commercial activity, we see at the motoring training schools that there are now more women than men,” Nherera said.

One of the women leading the charge is Natasha Mutsvairo, who is now president of the Titanium Motoring Club.

“Biking for me, it’s an adrenaline rush. But at the same time, it’s also a little bit scary, because it’s generally a male-dominated environment in Zim, but I would like to think that I am inspiring other women to also become bikers through biking myself. I would also like to inspire other women to rise up in the ranks,” Mutsvairo said.

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According to the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), the country’s road crash fatality rate rose from 1,836 in 2016 to an average of 2,000 deaths annually, or more than five deaths every day, between 2017 and 2019.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that when taking into account victims who pass away while travelling, in the hospital, or after being discharged, the actual number of road deaths may be nearly three times greater, or over 7,000 each year. It’s not clear how many of those fatalities are attributed specifically to motorcycle accidents.

Riding enthusiast, Candily Gleig, says fears around safety can be mitigated by proper instruction and strict adherence to road safety regulations.

“Biking is perceived as a dangerous sport, but it’s not. If you learn to ride with the right trainer, and you learn to ride properly, you learn the rules of the road, you learn how to navigate your way through traffic and respect other people on the road, it’s fine, you are perfectly safe, and it’s one of the best things to do,” said Gleig, who is a property manager.

Mudzingwa points out that apart from negative perceptions, finances are also a barrier for many women. Average costs for a new motorbike in Zimbabwe range from about US$1,000 at entry level to thousands of US dollars for high-end machines.

“My vision, what I would love to see is a female-only motorcycle club where nobody has to look twice, because at the moment, when we ride as females we still have a lot of people who are still in awe, so I am hoping we can pass that,” she added.

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