By Gabe Ets-Hokin
We're celebrating women riders this month at Bits and Peaces, so we got on Zoom with Liza Miller, one of the first people we think of when we're asked about women riders. Her accomplishments as not just a woman motorcyclist but as a motorcyclist are impressive. She's a self-taught mechanic and customizer who loves sharing her knowledge and resources with others, she's led history-making moto-tours to Pakistan, promoted motorcycling at the AMA's Vintage Days, and hosts the Motorcycles & Misfits podcast with thousands of listeners all over the globe.
Special thanks to Chickistan Tour for photography!
Soon you'll be off to Pakistan to lead another all-woman tour of the country. Why?
I'm leading a group in four weeks. There will be 10 of us and this will be 3rd trip there. I love it there. I first went with [friend and Pakistani rider/activist] Moin Kahn the first time, and I came to be aware that Western media teaches wrong things about Pakistan, so Moin educates one person at a time by bringing bikers there. Went there the first time in 2017, knowing nothing and it was amazing, great for motorcycles. There are suspension bridges with missing planks, incredible mountains and perfect smooth, paved roads too.
In 2018 I went back and took an all-woman group of 12, because women aren't allowed to mix with groups of men. That transformed the experience—women come out to great us, to talk to us or even ask for rides. Women riding is a brand new thing there—it's basic transportation, sure, but not culturally acceptable. Atlas Honda [Pakistan's biggest brand] realized they could double sales so they started offering riding classes.
As women, we are part of the progress in their society and are kind of celebrities. When you meet the people, they want to treat you to food, have you stay at their houses, and they won't take your money, they're so happy you are there to see their country for yourself. They have so much pride it's amazing. You can ask anyone for anything—you're safer in Pakistan than you are in this country, it flips everything upside down. They see us as the dangerous place, but many of the travelers don't tell their families they're going because they don't want them to worry—what a double standard.
How do women approach adventure differently than men?
On the trip to Pakistan, it wasn't different at all. The first trip [which was mixed men and women], one of the men was a new rider, very slow...I was the fastest rider in the group. But in the next [all-woman] group, we had some veteran, experienced riders like [famed solo female adventure rider] Elsbeth Beard, [record-breaking distance rider] Danell Lynn and some newer riders, but everyone was up for an adventure. There isn't really a difference in the approach, just in the access we have in a country like Pakistan.
One thing I noticed on these trips is that women are more interested in the history, culture and learning about the places they're in, where the men seemed more interested in the ride and the challenge.
What are some of the greatest challenges facing women riders?
Confidence is a big thing. Women don't have the confidence they can do it. The more women riders—and it's the fastest growing group of riders—the more women want to do it. The biggest thing women say is that men treat them differently and don't always accept them. A typical story I hear is a woman goes into a motorcycle shop and nobody talks to her, or they only talk to their husbands or boyfriends. I say, “That's really weird!” I've never had that experience. When I go into a shop, I walk right up to the salesman, introduce myself and tell him what I want. And she goes... “oh.”
Other women will hear comments from men like, “that can't be your bike” but that doesn't happen to me because I own my bike, I own my space, I own it. Women need to learn they can own their space and be confident. You can learn that. One thing I do is try and get women to ride a little bit faster, further, harder—just a little bit, that's all., I want them to get out of their comfort zone and get a little more respect for the rest of the community. Which shows themselves, other women and the world that they can do it.
How should men treat women riders?
First thing: introduce women to riding. Almost every woman rider can point to a man—husband, brother, boyfriend—who got them started, so we're grateful to the men who have made women riders. But the difference is when they're newer, they ask more questions, they need more assurance. When men learn, they're like “I got it, I got it, I'm gonna go hit that hillclimb.” But women want to ask more questions, be more sure...the perfect rider is somewhere in between men and women...the two brains. Women are just happy doing it, learning at their own pace.
When I'm riding with a group, I feel I have to show the guys I can ride fast and show what I can do...but if there's a woman, I just have to be better than her. But I break the mold. Women riders ride for different reasons...we all ride for the freedom, the feeling, but the feeling tips the scale more for women. They're more likely to ride they're own pace and not be pushed. I always feel a little competition, but other women won't be rushed.
What's an External Obstacle Facing Women?
Height! I'm tall, so this Africa Twin (Liza's referring to the Honda Africa Twin she bought recently, which has a 34.3-inch seat height) is the first bike I've had that intimidates me, so now I get it. Men have the same problem sometimes and are looking for the right bike. Finding a smaller bike can be a challenge if you're short. I'm looking to women riders who have already figured it out to help out the men. [Experienced women riders tell me] that women shouldn't find bikes that fit them, to instead learn to ride any bike by using proper technique.
That's why some women think I'm an ___ (here Liza uses a word that rhymes with 'ash bowl'), but I don't care about those women—I care about the women who say “let's go!”
Connect with Liza and her merry crew of motorcycling miscreants here.