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Updated 08 Dec, 2016

Whoever said riding a motorbike is easy is clearly mistaken.

I had the chance to ride a scooter in Karachi recently as part of a four-week training for women, and the experience was just as nerve-wracking as it was exciting.

Superpower Motorcycle, an automotive company, held Pakistan's First Women Motorbike Training Academy here last weekend, calling all women to 'learn to ride a Scooty'. The event organisers provided participants with the necessary equipment, including scooters and safety gear.

At a time when witnessing women riding motorcycles on Karachi's roads is a rare treat, this initiative comes as a breath of fresh air -- and timely too. After all, right across the border in India, women have been riding scooters for years; a trend further normalised by its frequent appearance in Bollywood films. Actors like Kareena Kapoor Khan in Three Idiots, Anushka Sharma in PK and Juhi Chawla in Chalk and Duster adopt the imagery of women owning the streets on scooters.

Anushka Sharma in PK and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Three Idiots riding scooters. Screengrabs.
Anushka Sharma in PK and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Three Idiots riding scooters. Screengrabs.

However, this concept is almost alien in Karachi, a reason why many scooter companies don't invest in Pakistan, as they see no market for it here. A case Superpower Motorcycle aspires to reverse soon.

"We have roped in Mehwish Ekhlaque as the trainer; she is one female who has been riding a Scooty in Karachi for years," said Uzair Khan, Marketing Manager of the event.

The event aims to empower women, he added. “Women here face issues when they want to ride scooters, but we hope to change that so they don’t have to deal with those obstacles.”

Mehwish Ekhlaque ready to train women on how to ride scooters.
Mehwish Ekhlaque ready to train women on how to ride scooters.

I decided to catch their first session on Friday and was at the location at 11.30am. Honestly, I didn't expect many women to turn up and was interested to see just how many would be enthusiastic enough to want to learn how to ride a scooter.

My first thought was: Are women in Karachi really comfortable with the idea of riding a motorbike in this city? Turns out, they are.

Upon reaching, the place looked like an empty parking space but once my eyes adjusted to the sunlight, I saw a cluster of women near a small tent-like setup. To my surprise there were daughters, sisters, mothers, brothers, friends who had gathered to learn how to ride a scooter or lend support to their partners.

I spotted the trainer in a black sleeveless jacket prepping the participants.

"I have been riding a motorbike for four years now," Mehwish told Images. "When I started, people would come up to me because they had never seen a Scooty before [as her's is imported and ordered especially from Malaysia] and to see if I was a man or a woman."

To blend in with 'motorcyclists' and not attract attention, Mehwish disclosed that she used to dress like a man. "I would wear men's clothes when riding my motorbike so that I didn't look like a woman, but the roads never scared me from venturing out on my own."

Mehwish's attire was a way to keep her gender hidden on the streets of Karachi. Photo: Mehwish Ekhlaque/Facebook
Mehwish's attire was a way to keep her gender hidden on the streets of Karachi. Photo: Mehwish Ekhlaque/Facebook

I quickly breezed through the paperwork, signed the necessary dotted lines and hopped over to join the group. First, Mehwish said, one must know how to ride a bicycle, if not, she had to learn with another team of instructors. The point of this was to see if the trainee could balance on a two-wheeler.

Almost all the participants didn’t know how to ride a bicycle, and I was so glad I did, saved me plenty of time. All I had to do was take a round of the parking lot, show the instructors I knew how to ride one and taa-daa! I was moved to the next round: riding the motorbike.

This should be fun, I thought.

I scanned for a motorbike and saw a bright, Barbie pink Scooty staring right back at me. This was it. I had to do this now. Definitely. Mind you, this Scooty isn’t the one in Urwa’s music video but the one Bipasha Basu is seen riding in ads.

Mehwish and I had an instant connection and she got on the pink Scooty to show me how it works:

I hopped on the hot pink Scooty behind Mehwish as she taught me the basics. We definitely share a connection.
I hopped on the hot pink Scooty behind Mehwish as she taught me the basics. We definitely share a connection.

Step 1: Kick the stand back and balance the bike on your feet.

Step 2: Press your left heel on the gear near the peg and place the bike on neutral.

Step 3: Turn your key in and press the ignition button.

Step 4: Balance the bike on your left foot while you place your right leg on the peg (note, there are two brakes, one near the accelerator which you can press with your hand and the other near the right peg which can be pressed with your foot).

Step 5: Press the peg near your left foot to move to 1st gear and push your left foot forward to propel the bike into motion.

Step 6: Lift the left leg and place it on the peg once you achieve balance.

Step 7: Drive keeping the speed constant.

Pssh, piece of cake. I could totally do this.

Unfortunately, not. I couldn’t balance the bike and kept accelerating too hard, unable to keep the speed constant. The poor guy behind me holding the bike was making sure I didn’t zoom ahead and crash into people or banners (which one girl did! Though nobody got hurt). Mehwish walked beside me as I drove to make sure I didn’t speed, which helped.

Aaaaand we're off! With a few extra hands that is 😂 #BikesForDays #NewHobby #NewSkills

A video posted by IMAGES (@dawn_images) on

A few rounds later, I, literally and figuratively, broke into a sweat! I had to move the scooter on my tiptoes because I couldn't get the balance right. This was tough work and highly frustrating. After a good eight rounds I got the hang of it but was still struggling to maintain control over the motorbike. Heard the saying, “If you can’t do anything about it then let it go.”? So I may have just let it go... and the motorbike went a little out of control BUT I managed to regain control.

Thirty minutes of continuous tries and I had newfound respect for Mehwish -- to be able to ride a motorcycle that too on Karachi’s streets and in the heat is nothing short of admirable. However, the motorcyclist told me she never intended on riding motorcycles as a full-time thing.

Figuring out the controls and failing miserably till Mehwish comes to my rescue.
Figuring out the controls and failing miserably till Mehwish comes to my rescue.

“I first rode a motorbike alone in 2012, otherwise I had started riding one in 2007 with my husband when he was alive. In fact, he taught me how to ride one and he’d always accompany me,” she said.

“Back then it was purely out of pleasure,” she reminisced. “After his death I was forced to work and since I had his motorcycle, I started using it to commute to work.”

Mehwish, an Accounts Officer at a local company, said that her family was supportive of her decision to ride a motorbike and be independent: “They were extremely happy that my husband had taught me how to ride a motorbike. My family and in-laws appreciated the fact that instead of taking a bus, I went on my own.”

She currently owns three motorbikes, all which she maintains herself and rarely takes to the mechanic, unless she absolutely needs to. She proudly stated that in these last four years she has never gotten into an accident and credits it to her husband teaching her road sense and safety regulations.

This short exchange changed my perspective about the event. While I was there purely for leisure, these women were there to learn, some of them with motorbikes at home which they didn’t know how to use, itching to ride them.

Left: One of the girls trying her luck on the scooter. Right: Participants and their partners help teach the other women while instrustors were occupied teaching others.
Left: One of the girls trying her luck on the scooter. Right: Participants and their partners help teach the other women while instrustors were occupied teaching others.

One look around was enough to make me believe that we're ready for a change: A husband-to-be lending his fiance a helping hand while she practiced riding the motorbike; mothers making videos of their daughters learning how to ride a bicycle; companions present at the event helping each other ride a bike. (Two, in fact, even attempted to teach my boss how to ride a bicycle.)

Witnessing all these eager women learning the Scooty and having their loved ones there to cheer them on felt heartwarming. It’s so important to have family’s support, voices Mehwish. They need to have such experiences to be able to stand on their own feet, whether in times of need or otherwise.

Can we expect women to take over the streets of Karachi in the near future? Mehwish and I truly hope so.

Comments

1000 Characters
Blackadder Dec 06, 2016 09:50am
The real question is Will the pedestrians be safe on Karachi's Roads ?
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hammad Dec 06, 2016 09:55am
Women can and should ride in Pakistan, at least its much safer than public transport. They can ride their bikes with dignity and feel safe.
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Alexey Dec 06, 2016 10:06am
Good for them!
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Ahmed Dec 06, 2016 10:12am
I think the more important question is "will you be safe on Karachi's roads" because - I don't think anyone is safe on Karachi's roads - even people in cars.
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VGP Dec 06, 2016 10:28am
Its funny to read such a big issue being made out of girls riding a scooty leave aside a mobike in Pakistan. In India most of the girls learn to and start riding scooters and bikes even before they are of an age to get an official licence and once they get that you can be sure to see all these girls and women riding around town for they daily needs like going to college, work or doing even their daily day to day chores. Today for most of the girls scooties are passe and you will find most riding 100 cc plus scooters and bikes.
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zeugma Dec 06, 2016 10:38am
Great. Upper elite helping lower elite.
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Syed Dec 06, 2016 10:47am
@VGP Wow. Thanks for sharing how developed India is. We envy you boss!
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ak Dec 06, 2016 10:58am
Its not the women on two wheels im worried about, its the pedestrians :D. Jokes.
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hari Dec 06, 2016 11:10am
good, the day when women swamp roads of pakistan in their own two wheelers , it will be a great win for the country. These days i am travelling by car, and stopped riding two wheeler, n busy high speed roads. But at the same time see women zooming past me in 150+cc two wheelers. Need to get one myself above 250cc , kind of royal enfield and enjoy the freedom. Car is safe but boring.
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Vineeth Dec 06, 2016 11:32am
Why did the author have to learn on a geared contraption? Aren't there gearless scooters available in Pakistan? Women and elderly folk would love the sheer simplicity of it.
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Lokesh kumar Dec 06, 2016 11:59am
such a common thing is projected in such a big way in pakistan.
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Pakistan Zindabad Dec 06, 2016 12:01pm
If you are good in kitchen, then no matter you ride motorcycle car or Truck.
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Mohammad Dec 06, 2016 12:19pm
Necessity is the mother of invention.... If you need it to ride, do it - live your life and don't give a damn of what people think. Best of Luck!
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Ali Dec 06, 2016 12:27pm
when you women talk abot gender equality then they should not raise this question if they are safe or not. No one is safe. So drive equally..........
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Sara Dec 06, 2016 12:41pm
What a shame that there is no freedom for women in Pakistan. In the mullahs eyes women should be living in the four walls of their house. What a shame.
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Rukhsana Shama Dec 06, 2016 12:54pm
@ak Please refrain from stereotyping, even if it seems only a joke.
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mahesh Dec 06, 2016 01:00pm
Wow, Happy to see equal freedom for women in Pakistan is initiated. All the best!!
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mahesh Dec 06, 2016 01:02pm
@Blackadder Why are you so much negative about positive development. As a common man you should welcome the same.
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Hamid Shafiq Dec 06, 2016 01:19pm
In Punjab I see many girls and women ride motorcycles in different cities and educated city still behind.
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sadface Dec 06, 2016 03:11pm
@VGP I am sorry to say but you are only talking a very small percentage of women who actually ride motorbikes in India. A better comparison would be Vietnam or Philippines where everyone rides bikes or scooters instead of walking.
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ak Dec 06, 2016 03:48pm
@Rukhsana Shama Whoa Whoa, I was just kidding, I taught my sister how to ride 2 years ago. Now, she is a better rider than I am. I support all this. I apologize if you found my joke offensive, I take it back. :)
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Pankaj Dec 06, 2016 04:43pm
Even something this basic is such a big deal in Pakistan. In India women riding scooty, bike, cars & everything available is common since decades. Don't know where pakistan lost the plot & spent it's time and energy on all the wrong reasons rather than focusing on development. We just want you to get back on the right track pretty soon and get the development wheel running again.
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N.S Karachi Dec 06, 2016 06:25pm
@Pankaj I think you are a bit mistaken, in urban areas, you will see an equal number of women driving cars, and SUV's. In the morning rush hours more women will be seen behind the wheels than men dropping kids to school in many areas of Karachi. At the same time motorcycles are considered unsafe and parents refrain their daughters from riding them, they are unsafe on major city roads. Yes they comes in handy for small distance travelling, talking about scooties. Your perception is stereotyped and incorrect about women in Pakistan.
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BAKA-chan Dec 06, 2016 07:05pm
Don't the laws of gender equality kinda put everybody equally in danger when on a two wheeler, I fail to see as to why the author must go out of her way in the title to assert its dangers as applying to women only. And as for me, I've already crashed my bike at least a dozen times, so the danger is real for men too. (Yay... I just played the feminist card aganst women.....
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Malik Usman Javed Dec 06, 2016 07:14pm
You are like my sister and betti....trust me if you wear modest clothing and cover yourself properly...I don't think there would be any issue....people on general are respectful...traffic issues are regardless of gender you will be used to it. It is much appreciated and encourged....time to come out.
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Sonesh Dec 06, 2016 07:30pm
must be provided with Gearless first naa, that would be much easier to learn for them. Anyway all the Best from me Ladies! Hope they will cross someday Wagha too, to shop and roam ... yes, on their Scooties :)
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AHA Dec 07, 2016 03:54am
Come and see Bangalore or Puna, over half of women ride scooters for daily commute. No age bar
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worthless wealth Dec 07, 2016 06:51am
@Blackadder , your comments leads to the conclusion that as if, without women riders Karachi's Roads are safer! It seems that, you have never witnessed menfolks riding their vehicles (Scooters, Motor Bikes ) on footpaths during rush hours or traffic jams! Footpath means, road way for pedestrians! What sort of safety is it for people on foot, or walking on footpaths! Give womenfolks their rights, respect them as you would want others to respect your ladies family members!
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SS Dec 07, 2016 08:22am
@sadface visit and get mesmerized. Promise you will change your statement then.
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NY Dec 07, 2016 08:37am
@Ahmed : Couldn't agree with you more. Regardless of gender and regardless of mode of conveyance (scooter, motorcycle, car), you are unsafe on Karachi's roads.
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Riaz Dec 07, 2016 03:16pm
Yes they have to start it, this is the time.
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Malik Usman Javed Dec 07, 2016 10:27pm
@Pankaj Dear Sir....in my family every woman drives and some even tricks and drive before legal age....SAD thing is that last time I was finned on highway by lady police officer after chasing me near about 4-5 Km despite my speed more than 180 Km....Another SAD thing is that people of both India and Pakistan both falsly assume that population on other side is living below poverty....trust me we here in Pakistan have preception that 90% of indians are still living in stone age in villages...rest say thanks to Channels like National Geographic and your Hindi Movie who potray India as under developed country which has very less difference to Pakistan in infrastructure,hospitals, drinking waters, slums in big cities, corruption, crime, woman rapes rate, domestic violence and now new issue security...you tell where we are different...honestly without putting glasses of hate on your eyes....same and same no difference...good doesn't becomes good by only yelling.
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Pallavi Tyagi Dec 07, 2016 11:06pm
Good luck Pak ladies...scooty is the most enjoyable vehicle for traveling.... I always prefer to use it instead of a car...
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waheed Dec 08, 2016 03:09am
@VGP good for you, no one cares.
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Shaktiman Dec 08, 2016 05:53am
@Syed yeah you should envy
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sexistslayer Dec 10, 2016 12:38am
@Ali "as a woman will I be safe on Karachi's roads" by this line author meant that if she is not going to be sexually harassed on the road clearly you as a men does not face those problem on the road.
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