Dykes on Bikes are groups of Lesbian motorcycle riders and their allies who patrol the perimeters of Pride parades. Their primary duties at these events are to express solidarity with the LGBTQ community, offer assistance if needed, and entertain observers.
Origin of the Name
The name “Dykes on Bikes” originally referred to a group of women motorcyclists who rode at the head of the 1976 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, and the phrase was popularized when the San Francisco Chronicle used it. The tradition of having a contingent of women motorcyclists in the Pride Parade has since been adopted by many other cities.
The term “dykes on bikes” entered the common vocabulary to refer to any group of Lesbian-identified motorcyclists or any exclusively female group of motorcyclists. The name was adopted by at least nine other women’s motorcycling clubs in four countries.
Organization and Ethics of Inclusion
The San Francisco Dykes on Bikes was an informal group until the mid 1980s, when growth of the parade as well as the number of women motorcyclists participating (from 20-25 in 1976 to over 400 in 2006) made it necessary to adopt a more formal type of organization.
The group was organized as the Women’s Motorcycle Contingent, a name chosen partly to indicate that the group was open to all female motorcyclists. This inclusiveness is typical of many Lesbian motorcycling clubs, which require participants to be females willing to obey traffic laws and follow club regulations. The WMC provided an outlet for all women motorcyclists who enjoy riding in the company of other women and wish to avoid the sexism, misogyny, and disregard for safety found in many heterosexual motorcycle clubs. In rare occasions, men have been allowed to join.
As well as providing security, members of Dykes On Bikes also have fun and sometimes put on a show. Colorful clothing and accessories brighten the standard leather-and-jeans biker outfits. Spectators witness occasional outrageous behavior on the motorcycles (within the limits of safety), adding humor to the festivities.
The club name was changed in 2003 to the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Women’s Motorcycle Contingent in order to recognize both the club history with the Pride Parade as well as their inclusiveness as a women’s motorcycling organization. The club also began legal proceedings to trademark the phrase “Dykes on Bikes” and reserve it for noncommercial use, in response to a trademark filing by a clothing manufacture who applied for a trademark on that phrase. The club’s petition was rejected three times by the court on the grounds that the term “dyke” was offensive to the Gay and Lesbian community, but the club ultimately won the right to trademark the name in 2006.
Adams, Bob. “Bikers Fight to Own ‘Dyke.’” The Advocate, June 20, 2006, 116-118.
Boslaugh, Sarah. “Getting Past the Stereotypes: Women and Motorcycles in Recent Lesbian Novels.” International Journal of Motorcycling Studies, March 2006. http://ijms.nova.edu/March2006/IJMS_Artcl.Boslaugh.html, accessed July 2010.
Ilyasova, K. Alex. “Dykes on Bikes and the Regulation of Vulgarity.” International Journal of Motorcycling Studies, November 2006. http://ijms.nova.edu/November2006/IJMS_Artcl.Ilyasova.html, accessed July 2010.
Joans, Barbara. “Dykes on Bikes Meet Ladies of Harley,” pp. 87-107 in Beyond the Lavender Lexicon: Authenticity, Imagination and Appropriation in Lesbian and Gay Languages, ed. William L. Leap. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishing Corporation, 1995.