There is a beacon that shines brightly each October – a mysterious cosmic force beckoning female riders from all over the globe to congregate in the heart of the High Desert. What started as a casual camp trip with a small group of friends has exploded into a large-scale annual event in Joshua Tree, CA. Five years after its inception, the popularity and attendance of Babes Ride Out has skyrocketed like a one-way mission to Mars.
Now, before we begin on our journey, I would like to pause and dispel a few rumors that you may or may not have heard about this event. No, the attendees are not only Instagram heroes in search of social media fodder; no, it is not only girls pulling sketchy stunt maneuvers on their bikes on even sketchier roads; no, it is not only about scantily-clad girls risking their skin by riding in ass-less chaps and pasties.
Does it stand to reason that those sorts of things may exist at a gathering of this size? Sure. Is that a fair and accurate description of the majority of the women that attend BRO? Not in the slightest. Leave the double standards at the door, dudes – it’s not like everyone at Daytona or Sturgis abides by the rally rules or considers the risks associated with unsafe motorcycling behavior.
There are a multitude of genuine and good-natured reasons why nearly 2,000 women attended Babes Ride Out this year. The event is not unlike a choose-your-own-adventure story, with no shortage of options for all manner of riders, skill sets, and bike types. The following is an account of the adventures I chose and the ladies I chose to adventure with.
Situated a mere six miles off of the beaten path of CA-62E, deep in the heart of Yucca Valley, sits an unassuming 40-acre property and 10-acre campground that provides a blank canvas for the events like BRO and the Joshua Tree Music Festival. This space came alive as girls from all over the globe poured into the site. The sandy grounds became speckled with flickering headlights, colorful camp gear, and delighted laughter of reunited friends. Each morning, even before the pink and blue hues of dawn began to peek out from behind the mountains, the sounds of tent zippers and smell of coffee filled the air. No one stayed idle in camp for long; there was just too damn much to do.
Route maps were provided for both road warriors seeking to put down some solid miles and girls who preferred to putt around town and grab a soda pop at Pioneertown. Some suggestions included loops through Big Bear, Palms to Pines via the hairpin twisties of Highway 74, and a serious jaunt out to Salvation Mountain by way of the Salton Sea, Slab City and the International Banana Museum. (Yes, Banana Museum… it’s a real thing. Scout’s honor.)
In the afternoon hours back at camp, Biltwell invited ladies to come and get “bucked up” at their Brodeo, Triumph sponsored a slow race, and workshops for various crafts like welding, leatherworking and pinstriping were hosted by none other than TV personality Jessi Combs. For those daring enough, or fresh back from a visit to happy hour at the Sailor Jerry booth, a tattoo studio was set up for girls looking to commemorate the experience with the ultimate, and most permanent, souvenir. After dark, an astronomy show was offered each night by the Southern California Desert Video Astronomers, along with live musical performances by The Velveteers, Larkin Poe and Dorothy.
But I stop to ask myself, “Well, how did I get here?”
Babes Ride Out was not always the all-out bodacious festival that it is today. Let’s get in the Wayback Machine for a minute, shall we?
The first incarnation of this event was affectionately known as Babes in Borrego and was simply intended to be a bare-bones one-off ladies camp trip to Anza Borrego in 2013. No electricity, no water, no paved roads, no permit – no problem. The event founders Ashmore Ellis and Anya Violet had the forethought to put out an all-call invite for the weekend trip via social media. What they didn’t anticipate was the overwhelming response from girls interested in finding other like-minded riders. A meeting spot was chosen off Highway 79 near Temecula, and there gathered approximately 50 bikes loaded with gear and girls from Arizona, Oregon, Northern California and New York. Per the map, it was just a sidewinding ride through the cross-wind down Montezuma-Borrego Highway around Hellhole Palms, a quick 2.5 miles through a sandy wash, and voilà!!
Having been in attendance myself, I can say with all certainty that it wasn’t quite that simple to reach our destination on the dry lake bed. That sand wash was about two feet deep in certain spots, and I was riding a 500-lb streetbike with a passenger on board. After a swim or two in the sand, we eventually made it there – all of us together in the middle of nowhere. Anya and Ashmore made things official, legit and legal the next year. The rest is history.
BRO wouldn’t be what it is without its visionary founders. Anya and Ashmore genuinely have a passion for what they do, and pour every ounce of their hearts and souls into producing a truly special gathering for their attendees. While others have been enlisted to help out with the event over the years, these two ladies are the powerhouse force behind the lion’s share of the work. They take a boots-on-the-ground approach to organizing all aspects of the weekend, going so far as to design and produce their own line of merchandise for the event. The mission is clear in their own words:
“We will continue to do our best to create riding-focused environments and partner with those who care about the longevity of motorcycling. We are committed to safe riding, introducing learning elements for new and seasoned riders, as well as building up the ever-growing community of two-wheel enthusiasts.” That statement could not be more true, as BRO also holds an annual event on the east coast in addition to the off-road focused Babes in the Dirt event in Gorman, CA.
Full disclosure – here’s where things get weird. For those of us at BRO that are veterans of riding in Southern California, we’re always on the hunt for something a little zestier than the typical group ride from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, the loop through Joshua Tree National Park or picking your flavor of riding on Highways 62, 247, 74, 18, 38 or 330 are all lovely choices bound to satisfy most moto cravings. But what kind of local flare is really hiding out there in the Mojave Desert? On Friday afternoon, I ventured out to Landers with three other gals to find out.
What we found was a 55-foot-diameter cupola structure, situated on a powerful geomagnetic vortex, known as the Integraton. This place has a rather… er, unique history. The structure was originally created by controversial UFO advocate George Van Tassel, who claimed that the all-wood design was based on Moses’s Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla, and the telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. Sounds legit.
So we mustered up a true ‘when in Rome’ attitude, and took off our boots and helmets to indulge in a sound bath. The acoustics in the dome are truly astonishing; imagine being on the inside of a cello. In keeping with true outlaw biker standard protocols, we laid down to enjoy a peaceful hour of healing vibrations from quartz bowls played live, and took a nap.
On Saturday, a larger group of girls saddled up in search of an art installation off the beaten path. Accessible only by dirt roads, the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum contains over 100 pieces of art and is a collection of sculptures and installations created by the artist over a 15-year period. If the name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s likely due to his involvement in the Watts Towers Art Center in Los Angeles and nearly four decades of work in the art community. The current curators of the Outdoor Museum were gracious enough to let us get weird, take photos, and rip around the property on our bikes.
If you’ve had enough artsy-fartsy talk for one day, let’s turn our attentions to the magnificent Triumph Thruxton 1200 that Anya brought to the party. As she flies by me on the soft sand, all I can think is that I’ve never seen a Thruxton with any less than a showroom spit shine – let alone one that’s good and dusty from a desert back road. But then again, Anya has been riding and racing motocross since before she could walk. So of course she would take the opportunity to air out the Triumph model named for a legendary road-racing lineage… on the dirt. Makes perfect sense to me, so long as she doesn’t try to get past tech inspection at her next MX race with that TC system switched on! (C’mon… I can’t resist a bad dad joke.)
I could hear and see the difference in this machine from its 865cc predecessor, no doubt due to a new ECU tune and the 45% lighter crank. The resulting [claimed] 97 hp and 82.6 ft-lbs of torque seemed to get the bike off and running smoothly out of the gate, and a slightly lower wet weight on the latest model made for a much more spirited ride. It doesn’t hurt that it truly is a damn good-looking motorcycle.
“The 1200cc’s give you all you need on open desert roads, and the more aggressive body positioning on the bike allows you to grip the bike as you lean deep into the mountain twisties that surround Joshua Tree,” Anya explained about her desert experience with the Thruxton 1200. “I could not have asked for a more perfect bike to share the weekend with!”
So we all know that motorcycling is all fun and games, until that split second when it becomes a shiny-side-down kind of day. And let’s face it, women get the short end of the stick when things go tits up. (Literally, in our case.) There is substantially less riding gear available on the market, especially if you’re not a fan of the color pink. To make matters worse, the gear that is out there is oftentimes less protective than men’s versions. If you are a woman that rides, and you aren’t out there on a sportbike in full race leathers, there is an extremely high probability that you are riding in jeans and a thin lambskin fashion jacket. Girls will be girls, and most girls won’t wear what they don’t like stylistically.
In keeping with BRO’s mission to promote safe riding, Anya partnered with Corinne Lan Franco and Jamie Dempsey to fill the void in women’s riding gear by creating ATWYLD. A year and change since the company’s launch, ladies can be seen all over Babes Ride Out sporting leather, kevlar and Dyneema designs from this line both on and off their bikes. The collections are sleek and stylish and offer D30 Level 1 armor inserts that are almost impossible to visually detect on the wearer. With function fully integrated with fashion, the emphasis on a culture of safety is becoming more apparent in women’s riding.
Other female-owned and run brands were also prevalent at the event. Several gals were spotted wearing Stellar Moto Brand, which focuses on “technical gear that will not assault the eyes.” This brand has made headway in the L.A. motorcycle scene over the last year and offers a 52% Dyneema one-piece jumpsuit. Jenny Linquist had a spectacular line of custom motorcycle travel goods and pannier bags on display with her company Pack Animal. Jennifer McCann was at the helm of the Red Wing Heritage Women booth, along with the designers responsible for their latest styles of durable boots. Babes Ride Out provided nothing less than a veritable cornucopia of motorcycling goods, apparel and knowledge to its attendees – a forum in which women can more safely embrace their two-wheeled passions.
If you ask just about anyone at BRO why they attend year after year, whether they opt to roll up wearing kevlar or a string bikini, you’ll get a similar answer every time. Friendship. No matter how much the event changes over the years, it retains its solid foundation of camaraderie and companionship. The flood of social media posts over the weekend served as proof of the lifelong friendships established as a result of this event. Many women have been able to leverage Babes Ride Out as a conduit to find their place in the motorcycling community.
This year, I managed to scramble my own trusty 2008 Triumph Scrambler on one of many unpaved dirt trails I ventured out upon over the weekend. Upon inspection, both the front and rear exhaust mounts sheared clean off the header and frame, respectively. Totally worth it – no amount of broken parts could dampen the fact that I felt so damn warm and fuzzy riding out of the desert at the end of the weekend.
One final thought: Babes Ride Out affords its patrons every opportunity to have a memorable and safe experience, and it does not turn a blind eye to intentionally dangerous behavior. I know I personally take a big ol’ gulp of Hater-ade and speak up any time I witness reckless riding at this, or any other, event. It is next to impossible to stand idly by, knowing full well what the ultimate consequence may be.
The most splendid and endearing trait of BRO attendees is that many choose to leverage bad examples as fuel for their fire, to push farther and faster in as many riding disciplines as possible in an effort to change the perception of women in motorcycling.
While racing the sunset back to the ocean on my way home I couldn’t help but set new goals to improve my own riding abilities, having been inspired to do so by those with whom I’d shared this magical weekend.