Zen and The Art of Motorcycling

One woman’s meditation is another woman’s ride. Discover a new form of freedom, female empowerment and peace of mind through motorcycling.

By | January 22, 2021

Born and raised in France, the notion of freedom has always been in my blood and I never questioned what it meant to me—after all, our national motto is “liberty, equality, fraternity”. My parents always encouraged me to speak my mind, to be myself, and to make my own life decisions, even if they were unconventional. When I moved to Asia six years ago, I was struck by the many societal expectations people, women in particular, had to live by. From what they should wear, their career, to when and whom to marry, and how many children they should have, everything seemed dictated by their family and society. 

Once a Nepali woman confided in me that her dream was to go on a stroll with me and my Nepali male friend, without being looked down upon. Being married, she was expected to stay home. I felt sad and outraged at the same time. For days, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why do we impose this on ourselves and others? What if she didn’t care about what people said? Maybe then other women would follow? What if it all started in our minds first?

When I began riding with women in Malaysia, and speaking with other women riders from all over Asia, I realised that we had more in common than not. I’m always surprised by our similarities, the activities we love, the values we hold dear and our thirst for freedom, no matter what this freedom looks like.

For some, it is a way to affirm who they are and challenge gender stereotypes; for others, it’s a way to relax and escape their daily responsibilities, to explore the world and their own capabilities; and for many, it’s simply a way to make a living or access economic opportunities without being dependent on family members or dangerous public transport. Mobility can indeed be life saving—figuratively or literally. 

Women who ride together, create a stronger tribe. Photograph: FreeW

I came to the conclusion that freedom means many different things for different people, where volumes of books have been written on it. What I know is that ultimately, what matters is how free we feel. When a woman breaks free from social constraints and defines her own life on her own terms, she emancipates herself and those around her. It all starts within, with a mindset, and I can’t think of a better vehicle than a motorcycle to ignite that free spirit inside us.

Viewing Kuala Lumpur from a different perspective. The Petronas Twin Towers. Photograph: FreeW

When women come together, they empower themselves

Feminine energy is indeed powerful and can create fear. That’s why society tries to disempower us. Ultimately we are all free to make our own decisions, we just need to accept the consequences. But it’s often the fear of those consequences and our own self-limiting beliefs that prevent us from fully embracing our true selves and our desires. We are sometimes victims of ignorance and misogyny, but it’s also because we have allowed it to happen. So many of us value our beauty through others’ eyes, or accepting what others say about us because we are led to believe they know better. Women compete against each other, thinking it’s the only way to get to our place in a man’s world. We limit ourselves and sometimes each other, out of fear and jealousy. Only when we understand that we are part of the problem, can we be part of the solution. Only when we take on our responsibilities as members of society, can we make lasting changes. We need to remind ourselves that fear is temporary, regret is permanent. 

When we’re riding together, there is no more fear. I can’t think of a more exhilarating and empowering feeling than when I ride my Harley surrounded by a crowd of lady riders looking badass and brimming with self confidence. Everything and anything seems possible. I see us running the world, our own world, and that’s what matters.

This liberating feeling is difficult to put into words, you have to experience it. It doesn’t matter where we’re from, how much we earn, how young we are, or what our marital status is, we understand each other. We reconnect with our womanhood, with our tribal nature, and feel stronger together. 

I’ve always compared life to a motorcycle ride: to feel safe, we need to keep control of it. Sometimes we fall but we learn from our mistakes on how to ride better. There are many elements in our environment which we have no control over, but our proactivity and ability to master our vehicle is what saves us. To enjoy it, we have to be mindful, focused on our sensations and fully aware of our surroundings. As motorcyclists, we are vulnerable on the road, we can’t afford to be absent. Last but not least, it’s the human connections we make along the way that make the ride worth it.

Overcoming challenges, while bonding. Photograph: FreeW

‘Motorcyclists have never needed a mindfulness coach to tell us it’s all about the journey.’—Henry Cole

When we talk about meditation, many people have this concept of sitting still and closing their eyes, but sometimes it’s just about “being in the zone”. That’s what I feel when I’m riding and exploring on two wheels, especially through mind-blowing landscapes. Whenever I feel down, riding my bike helps me find joy and balance again. On a motorcycle, we sense everything out there, nature, the road, the wind in the face, the smell… Nothing can compare.

When we’re riding, we are not mothers, corporate leaders, sisters, wives, daughters… we are just connecting with ourselves, leading our lives, enjoying the present moment, and finding inner peace.

Freedom starts within. Alison in Nepal. Photograph: FreeW

Freedom + personal autonomy = well-being

It’s well proven that motorcycling can improve brain power, reduce stress, develop your core muscles and sharpen your focus. Dr Lee Bartel of University of Toronto has also found that vibrations and sound can indeed stimulate cells in your body and brain to reduce the impact of mental disease and depression, while increasing blood flow. It’s well known that some women can even orgasm while riding their bike. 

I know countless women dealing with increasing professional responsibilities while their household ones haven’t decreased. They are extremely strong, and don’t need to be empowered by anyone. But overwhelming societal expectations are sometimes met at the expense of their own mental health and emotional well-being. We run after things that we sometimes don’t even want. We forget ourselves and we forget how to have fun.

According to Dr Sharon Ledger, most of the chemicals that make us feel happy, such as oxytocin, dopamine, endorphin and serotonin, “are produced when we look forward to doing something we enjoy, we get up early, we go outside into sunshine and fresh air, we challenge ourselves, we meditate, we concentrate on an activity that requires skill […].” That’s motorcycling! When I conducted my own survey about women and motorcycles in Malaysia, the words that came up most were “freedom, joy, independence”. 

Find your inner power on the back of a bike. Photograph: FreeW

Two wheels to free will

I envision a world where every woman can be their true selves, find their inner power, and exercise their free will. I wish to share motorcycling experiences with women and extend my sisterhood bonds to them. When I take women on a bike ride or teach them how to ride their own, and see that smile on their face when they realize that they can do it, could do whatever they want, I find purpose. Motorcycling is an amazing vehicle to challenge stereotypes and discover what we’re made of.

It’s also the perfect vehicle to explore untouched areas, connect with amazing communities, and dig into one’s soul. While I enjoy riding and travelling with men, I experience a different dynamic with women. Our exchanges are more authentic without the male gaze, we take our time, we appreciate nature not only the physical challenge, and connect with people. I wish to use motorcycling travel as a vehicle of human encounters, to inspire and be inspired, and invest in local women by offering them more enriching economic opportunities in tourism and motor-sports. With FreeW, I’m building an ecosystem for women to go out of their comfort zone, boost their self-confidence on two wheels and extend their womanhood powers to others across borders. 

Alison Grün

Alison Grün

Alison is the founder and managing director of FreeW, an event organisation that provides personalised motorcycle classes and tours in Malaysia as well as India, Nepal, Myanmar and soon, Iran. She’s also a business consultant, currently working for the social enterprise Fugeelah, and will soon launch the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Future Female, a movement that aims to increase and support the success of women entrepreneurs, globally. When she’s not exploring the roads on her Harley-Davidson, she also enjoys running, dancing, muay thai, and outdoor rock climbing.