SX talk to Dykes on Bikes president Nic Fletcher ina special profile of the popular group and Mardi Gras fave

Popular community group, and Mardi Gras favourite, the Dykes on Bikes continue to grow and evolve with each passing year. President Nic Fletcher gave Reg Domingo an insight into the group’s past, present and future.

For 30-year-old Bex Huland, it’s a fascination that stretches back to a very young age.

“When I was 3, my dad used to take me to pre-school on the back of a motorbike,” she tells SX. “I love the independence and freedom you get from being on a bike.”

It’s a sentiment shared among many, especially in Sydney’s lesbian community.

Huland, 30, is among the hundreds who are part of Dykes on Bikes, a community group that offers a social space for “women that like to ride that are into women”. Says the group’s president Nic Fletcher: “We have every walk of life and every profession covered – if we wanted to build a village, we could”.

Many, no doubt, will have heard about the group. Indeed, anyone who has watched a Mardi Gras Parade will certainly have. The distinctive ‘vroom’ of their engines, followed by the gleam of their motorbikes, has become a highlight of the event in its own right. Only a few things are guaranteed to whip the parade-goers into a frenzy each year: celebrities, marching boys in tight trunks, drag queens with feathered headdresses and, of course, the Dykes on Bikes.

More than 200 people count themselves as Dykes on Bikes members, with scores more as supporters and associate members. It’s an impressive statistic, particularly for a group that has such specific parameters in order to become a fully-fledged member.

“One you have to be a dyke, and two, you must be a licensed rider,” Fletcher says. “However, anyone can be an associate member – guys, girls, transgender and everything in between are all welcome.”

The group began in Sydney in the late 1980s when two women – Kimberly O’Sullivan and Kath Savona – saw, in the 1987 New York Pride Parade, the US chapter of the Dykes on Bikes. The sight and sound of a more than 1000 women on loud engines sparked an idea – this was concept that could work in Sydney’s Mardi Gras Parade. Inspired, they set about recruiting women and, in 1988, 15 bikes made their debut. The following year, the number increased to 25. By 1998, ten years since its inception, the Dykes on Bikes contingent numbered around 250. Today, there are chapters in Victoria and Queensland, and every year, the group attracts participants for the Parade from around the country.

Fletcher says that much of the interest in – and sign-ups to – the group stems from Mardi Gras and events like Fair Day. But others seek out the group to connect with people who share similar interests. Indeed, this is how Fletcher became involved – through a referral more than 16 years ago.

“I was a young and confused person living on the NSW Central Coast,” she says. “I was reading the Yellow Pages one day and found the NSW Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service. I nervously made a call and told them, ‘I think I’m gay’. And the person asked, ‘What else do you like?’ I replied, ‘Motorbikes’. And they said, ‘Have we got a group for you!’.” Such was the group’s impression on Fletcher that, the week following the meeting with Dykes on Bikes, she was doing her learners course. “The next weekend, I picked up my first motorcycle, and the following weekend, I went on my first ride with Dykes on Bikes.”

Making that connection, of course, was not without a sense of trepidation. Fletcher recalls the nervousness she felt when first meeting with Dykes on Bikes. For many, images of burly women in leather jackets immediately spring to mind. But it’s a common misconception, Fletcher says. “Everyone has their stereotypes whether that’s a mincing queen or whatever. And the ones for Dykes on Bikes is the big, leather, butch lesbian. Sure, it reflects a small amount of our members but it doesn’t reflect all of our members.”

Huland is a case in point. With fiery red hair and glowing crimson lips, the public servant from Punchbowl is the antithesis to this female bike rider archetype. An active member of the Femme Guild, she became involved with the Dykes on Bikes after meeting members at a Sydney Leather Pride event. Last year, she took part in her very first ride with the group at Mardi Gras and this year, has just purchased her own bike.

While the group is best known for their Mardi Gras entry, the Dykes on Bikes also hold events throughout year including weekends away, day and night rides, trivia nights, camping trips, a bike and tattoo show and, of course, their annual fundraiser, the Black & White Ball, which will take place this Saturday, August 6, at Jet Sports Club in Tempe.

“It’s been running since the md-90s,” Fletcher says. “And this year’s theme is ‘Rockabilly’.” Expect to see drag kings, drag queens, burlesque performances and music by Dykes on Bikes member, Sandi Hotrod. Funds raised from the event will go towards helping several GLBT community organisations such as NSW Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and Camp Goodtime.

“I just love bikes,” Fletcher says. “When I first saw a motorcross, I thought it was fun. Through friends who had a farm, I just got on and loved it.” And she hasn’t looked back since.

With enthusiasm such as this at the helm, the road ahead for the Dykes on Bikes is a bright, albeit noisy, one.

Vroom, vroom.

01 August 2010