Bikers empowered by motorcycle meetups, want to quash stigma

A pair of female bikers are hoping a large, friendly gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in Winnipeg will help combat the stigma around who bikers are, and the dangers associated with the machines.

The event has grown from 125 riders to close to 300 riders in the span of 3 meetups

Izabella Roberts is starting to make more connections through motorocycle meetups after beginning to ride one year ago. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

A pair of female bikers are hoping a large, friendly gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in Winnipeg will help combat the stigma around who bikers are, and the dangers associated with the machines.

"Motorcycles have a stigma of being rowdy and popping wheelies and being obnoxious on the roads and we're not, we just love bikes and bikes are not dangerous," said Izabella Roberts, who started riding last year.

Roberts and fellow female rider Kyla Chmara were surrounded by hundreds of fellow motorcycle enthusiasts Wednesday night, as they rode into Old Market Square on their bikes, stroking the throttle and revving their engines.

The owners of hundreds of bikes — ranging from Harley Davidsons to Kawasaki Ninjas — lined their machines up side-by-side to showcase them at the MotoSocial, hosted by King + Bannantyne restaurant in the Exchange District.

The event has become popular in many major North American cities, and has come to Winnipeg for the first time this year. It is routinely held on the last Wednesday of the month until September. Since the initial meetup in May, organizers say attendance has grown from 125 riders to more than 300.

For many riders it's their first chance to see how big their city's motorcycle community is, and to have a place to talk about their shared love.

"Every month more people keep finding out about it and it's awesome," said Chmara. "It really brings together the community."

In Chmara's case, she was hooked when she rode on a bike for the first time last summer, and the allure has not worn off.

Kyla Chmara began riding for the first time this year, and is enthused when she meets with other women at meetups. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Over the course of a few months, she got her motorcycle licence and then bought her first bike, which she says was love at first sight. In the few months of riding she's had this year, she's found what she calls a lifelong passion.

"It's just a thrill of excitement and it's really neat because when you're on the highway … it's like there's little micro climates and it's just the air changes the smells change. It's just a really neat way of experiencing Manitoba," she said.

Chmara and Roberts connected online through a group made for female bikers in the province, and now the two are soaking up the experience to be around other more experienced bikers.

"I am hugely surprised because I started last year and I couldn't find anybody. To experience this this year is amazing," she said.

Roberts initially felt intimidated talking to other riders, but quickly learned just how friendly they can be.

A trio of motorcylists pulls into their parking spaces at the MotoSocial held in the Exchange District. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

"It all starts with, 'Which one's your bike, how do you like it, what do you like about it?' and it goes from there and it's usually, 'Hey you want to ride together?'" she said.

In her year of riding, Roberts has been able to find a diverse group of friends to roar down Winnipeg streets with.

"I have buddies from 19 to 59 and they're all my riding buddies, they respect me because I can hold my own, I can ride my bike," said Roberts. "I'm part of the group and that's all anybody cares [about]."

Changing the stigma

Joshua Abrenica has spent a decade of his life riding motorcycles. He owns two bikes right now, and has been through five in his time riding.

Abrenica feels that once people actually come out and chat with riders they'll understand that the menacing perception of bikers shouldn't really exist.

"Even though there's that stigma, it means nothing. Once you come out, you ride with everybody and have a good time — you'll see," said Abrenica. "Once you get a taste, that's it, you're done."

Joshua Abrenica has been riding for over a decade and for him meetups are a way to quash the public's negative stigma surrounding motorcyclists and show off the work he's put into his ride. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Right now, Abrenica is spending his summer by putting thousands of kilometres on his bikes, but his labour of love is a year-long thing. He believes if people understood how much work riders put into their bikes, they could understand why they enjoy showing them off, too.

"We've put so much time effort and money into our rides, we have such a short riding season here, it's just a blessing," he said.

Abrenica is ecstatic more enthusiasts are coming together, but wants anybody with even a mild curiosity or questions about bikes to come out and engage in discussion.

Every month the venue is changed to a different neighbourhood in the city, and a local business is chosen as the host