Sometimes we wake up to the realization that our decisions are far too often governed by our obligations to work, to responsibility, to other people. About three months ago, I realized that my sense of adventure was beginning to dull, like a muscle atrophying after a period of dormancy.
It is because of this that I made the decision to take a solo ride to one of the most seductive cities in the south: New Orleans. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I packed up my Sportster and spent a week on the road exploring the great states of the gulf coast.
I was met by some of the most breathtaking scenery, and soothing back-roads in the southern United States. Amongst all this natural beauty, what stole my heart the most about Louisiana was the people who, without any bond between us except a love of riding, met and welcomed me along my journey. It is for this reason, that I have decided to devote this essay to pay homage to the badass ladies of The Litas: New Orleans.
When PJ (she calls herself this because their little sisterhood houses 3 Paulas) and I connected on Instagram, she was immediately enthusiastic about meeting up. One of the girls, a free spirit by the name of Jahnavi, agreed to meet me in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and escort me into New Orleans, where I would be greeted by some more friendly faces from this branch of the international women’s group.
As a rider I was immediately tested by the roads of Louisiana-New Orleans, in particular. Overly-trafficked and beaten by the elements, the roads of NOLA are riddled with potholes, humps, unpaved patches, metal slabs and the wildcard element of one-way streets. Needless to say, I found myself on-edge at first, but also awestruck at how easily these women seem to dominate one of the most unforgiving transportation environments in the Southeast.
Upon arrival, I was immediately ushered into the fold, and began having a conversation with this rare band of misfits to see what brought them all together to daringly embrace the Mad Max-ian traffic system that is typical of this city. It is fascinating how a person can often emanate the culture of the society of which they are a product: New Yorkers walk quickly, Californians embrace warmer weather, and Floridians are drawn to water. I was quick to notice that these women perfectly embody both the spirit of riding and the spirit of New Orleans: eclectic, exciting, and experienced.
My first query was about why and how this group of women came together as a unit. When PJ and PB (another Paula of the group) first organized a meetup with fellow riders from the area, (mostly men) they realized that they were lacking a sense of camaraderie. They found the boys to be judging the girls’ bikes, riding styles and not respecting their space and pace on the road. Sara (a sport bike rider of the group) added that she feels boys often challenge or try to compete with her just because she is a female rider.
They felt the stark contrast. Female riders feel immediate community and mutual respect. This may manifest itself in many ways: pulling over when a bike malfunctions, waiting for another rider who may be left behind, or just a general encouragement within the group. They felt that the mood of their first ride with the boys was tainted by the machismo demanding that the women who ride with them match their definition of “tough” riding.
PJ began recounting the moves she made that led them to the birth of the formal group. She shared that she was drawn by The Litas because of its international following and effortless reflection of diversity.
What most inspires me about this group is the basis upon which they build their credo: all bikes, all ages. An integral part of the contract to join this group is that one be accepting of all bikes and riders.
The Women Behind the Movement
There were four women who welcomed me onto their turf that day: four unique souls, bound by a love of riding, and each one reminding me myself in some way.
PJ, a woman so effortlessly free, has riding in her roots. She began at the age of 15 on a Honda Rebel 250, being unapologetic as the only girl tearing up the woods with the boys. She’s had five or six bikes since then, but a sense of loyalty and nostalgia has led her back to the Honda Rebel. She has a Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 waiting for her at home, but the little 250 ripper is enough for her to navigate the mean city streets. Riding for her means liberation; she feels wild and free, like she’s in her natural habitat. She equated the sensation of being on the road to finding true inner peace and serenity-a release from the chaos of daily life.
She and her husband wrench together at home and have instilled the love of riding in their daughter. At age 11, she has been on a bike since she was 5, but began riding her own motorcycle just three years ago. She took interest in them on her own. PJ remembers the day the words, “Where’s my motorcycle?” were uttered. Now that little girl can be seen on two wheels tearing up as much and as often as she can.
Jahnavi’s story is different, yet familiar still. She rode her first scooter when she was 12 and spent an entire summer ripping that scooter up and down every street of her subdivision. It wasn’t until the age of 17, that she and her boyfriend split the cost of a 250cc motorcycle and decided to learn together. She felt the fire ignite within her and has since owned seven motorcycles. In 2009 this fearless woman took a group ride in the Himalayas of India. She remembers the jarring differences in the traffic culture there. She joked that the horn was essential, not a courtesy or option. She also recalls how treacherous the roads proved to be. She had been riding about four years at the time, and true to her characteristic tenacity, she was the only girl operating a motorcycle that day.
I must admit, sport bikes are unexplored territory for me, so when I pulled up to see Sara on her Suzuki GSXR 1000, I was immediately intrigued by her. Sara’s ex taught her how to ride 10 years ago and she has since owned two bikes- blame it on loyalty to her bikes. She hated having to sell her 600cc, and feels a tinge of pain when she sees that first bike occasionally rolling through her town. She owns the road and her machine, and displays an enviable level of confidence on her bike.
By far the most curious and eclectic soul, PB, has an infectious personality and unparalleled wit. Her tale began with a cultural identifier: she remembers feeling connected to a classmate in elementary school who had a grunge rock style. She noticed that he wore Harley-Davidson t- shirts, and tied that feeling of kinship with motorcycle culture. Fond recollections of riding on her uncle’s motorcycle in the Philippines as a child, still sit in front of her memory, but the most impactful moment happened years later, when she went to Milwaukee for her aunt’s wedding. It happened to be at this exact weekend that a huge gathering of Harley-Davidson motorcycles took place. She remembers being mesmerized as the chrome-laced machines roared along the highway in droves. The image of this stuck with her, and she immediately knew she had to be immersed in this community.
She began her two-wheeled journey on a 2007 Honda Elite scooter. She loved that machine with all the force of her being. Ever the rebellious soul, she rode without an endorsement for some time. She playful stated that once a police officer, “threw the book at her,” filling up “all the lines on the ticket” one day. That was all it took. She soon got her endorsement and was one of only two women in her class to pass the certification test.
After losing a muffler on that little scooter, and getting a taste what a stronger engine might sound like, PB was coaxed to attend a Harley-Davidson tent sale one afternoon, and the rest is history. She is now the proud owner of a 2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster Superlow.
The Future of The Litas NOLA
Amazed by how quickly their group has grown, and how many women who ride live in their area, PJ has high hopes for the outlook of their group. Posting flyers to recruit and keeping an active social media presence, the group is now 16-strong and hope to plan a huge Southern moto campout within the next two years. They aim to embrace and promote all elements of motorcycle living, including garage nights/workshops, regular rides, even bike wash nights.
When I asked PJ where she sees the group five years from now, her answer was simple: a bigger, tighter community. She aims to cultivate a real sisterhood that sustains supportive lifelong friendships, one in which they push each other to venture out to ride in other states, or even other countries.
PB spoke of building a group that could create a legacy, something that could house a second generation of riders in the years to come. She hopes to establish the group within the community, so that all riders know this tightknit community of female riders.
Inspiration is a key goal of these women. They want women who ride on the back, but ache to feel the wind to their chests, to learn and join them. Sara chimed in here saying that her mother has been inspired to rekindle her love of riding after hearing of the birth of The Litas NOLA.
Bound for Life
It was clear to me from the first Instagram connection, that these girls love everything about riding. Their perseverance, strength of purpose and vision for their future solidifies for me the certainty that they will soon be a powerful force in the riding culture of Louisiana.
This impromptu ride to New Orleans gave more than just the adventure and fortification of spirit that I sought. Through this experience I forged lifelong bonds with women who superficially may seem nothing like me, but, as all riders know, the bond between us runs deep.
Follow along the journey of the Litas: New Orleans on their Instagram page, @thelitas_neworleans.