Kathy Thompson is a warm, friendly woman in her 60s who runs a medical supplies shop in a suburban Brisbane shopping centre. Yet when she pulls in for petrol, women and children shrink in fear.
They aren't scared because of who she is, they're scared of what she might be. One look at Thompson clad in leather, motorcycle helmet underarm, Harley Davidson sitting pretty, and all signs point to biker with bad intentions.
They're only half-right; Thompson is a biker, but she's rides for good not evil.
One of thousands of other women motorcycle riders to participate in yesterday's Sixth Annual International Female Ride Day, Thompson said pursuing her passion saw frequent clashes with many negative stereotypes.
Recent stories about bikie gang violence across Australia meant people were on high alert whenever street machines' two wheels roared into view, Thompson said, though such adverse reactions were not without reason.
"Those kind of bikers tend to leave us alone, but I did have one experience with a group of them out near the [old Bandidos] clubhouse in Stafford,” she said. “I was riding along the highway and a bunch of them came and enveloped me.”
In other words Thompson was surrounded by a swarm on the road, a high-speed formation favoured on long haul rides that can be very impressive or very intimidating.
“I know there are lots of people who ride in different groups – in [outlaw gangs called] one percenters and stuff but we don't tend to encounter them that often – I've never really felt scared on the road," she said.
Thompson's experience and club connections have helped. A rider for seven years, she regularly teaches other new women riders at special skills classes and enthusiastically participates in the charity rides organised by the Brisbane Harley Owners Group of which she is a member.
Her husband also rides, and it was his passion that got her interested in the pastime. And while women are still vastly in the minority, Thompson says more are discovering the great thrill of riding the open road.
“It's not something that is the boy thing it used to be though there are still some hard-nosed blokes who will look down their noses at women riding,” she said. “Our club is very supportive – we're very keen to show that bike riding is not a scary thing.”
Rock star Sarah McLeod agrees with Thompson. A keen motorcyclist, McLeod helped launch a national campaign aimed at promoting bike safety in 2007, and has voiced her support of this year's Female Ride Day.
“I encourage women all over the country to take advantage of this special day, to jump on the back of their bikes and hit the road,” McLeod said, adding there was “no better feeling.”
Originating in Canada, the International Female Ride Day invites women riders around the world to “just ride” on May 4. More information can be found via the website.