Women Rock Powersports

One writer finds healing during International Female Ride Day, the global movement to empower women who drive motorcycles, ATVs, and other motorized off-road vehicles.

Alone behind the wheel of a UTV on a backcountry road in Sedona, Arizona, I seriously considered turning around. My only other option was to power over the exposed and rocky cliff ahead of me. It was steep and I was scared, but what would be the point of trying something new if I don’t get a little spooked? Slowly, I lowered my foot on the gas pedal and the vehicle’s burly tires started crawling vertical over the boulders until I reached the hilltop. Red rock formations towered around me.

This is not my typical pace or preferred mode of transportation. I usually opt for slower-paced, human-powered sports like hiking, running, and climbing. The rough trail is one I would’ve walked up without a second thought. But when Polaris Adventures invited me to join them for International Female Ride Day (IFRD) in Sedona last year, I took them up on the chance to get out of my comfort zone.

Once again this year on May 7, women from around the world will celebrate IFRD. The global movement started 16 years ago when Vicki Gray, journalist and founder of the motorsports news publication, Motoress, called for gender parity, acceptance, and inclusion of women in motorcycling and powersports. Back then, women made up less than 10 percent of motorcycle owners, according to a study by the Motorcycle Industry Council. That figure has since doubled to 20 percent, with women taking to motorsports through experiences like IFRD.

The author having a blast. Photo courtesy Amelia Arvesen

If I’m being totally honest though, there was a time when motorcycles, ATVs, dirtbikes, and other motorized vehicles irritated me. I hated their roaring and revving engines, their speed, and their power. I never understood the appeal. But I also think fear was part of my bias. Ever since I totaled a Toyota Tacoma in 2019, I had been afraid to drive. The truck landed on its roof after fishtailing through ice, and even though nobody was hurt, the crash left me traumatized. I knew what it felt like to suddenly lose control, and I never wanted to feel that again. 

Before leaving Sedona ATV’s parking lot on IFRD last year, I was trembling. I had gone over the necessary safety checks. I was buckled into my helmet and the seatbelt. I even had maps. But still, I wished someone else could drive me instead. As I followed the directions to the OHV trail, where a handful of other women were headed in UTV’s for the day, my body’s shaking eventually blended in with the engine’s vibration. I got used to the breeze through the open windows, the beefiness of the wheels, and the weight distribution during turns. I took turns with caution, but sped up on the straights, adrenaline coursing through my veins.

Driving felt fun again. It reminded me that I could be safe while also being brave and adventurous. I could drive more than twice the distance I could walk, meaning I could see parts of the national forest land I had never seen before. And I also began to grasp how driving such a powerful machine could be empowering, not limiting. Out there riding on IFRD, I learned that I’m more capable than I give myself credit for.

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