Female motorcycle riders are becoming more common, as this segment is quickly growing. This is clearly a positive sign for the industry and gender equality, but imagine being a woman living in a society where simply going outside alone is frowned upon.
For some, this isn’t a dream. Four years ago, Zenith Irfan had never ridden a motorcycle. Today, the 21 year-old student from Lahore, Pakistan, has explored the vast landscape of her home country on two wheels, shattering stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a female – let alone a female motorcycle rider – in the conservative country.
“I discovered the sheer force that existed within me,” she told us via email.
Her inspiration for even attempting the feat comes from her late father, who passed from cardiac arrest when Zenith was only 10 months old. His dream was to travel the world via motorcycle. In 2013 Zenith’s brother purchased a small motorcycle, and it was her mother who encouraged her to learn to ride, with the ultimate goal of completing her father’s dream.
Learning to ride wasn’t easy, but after a few local trips running errands around Lahore, she made the decision in June 2015 to try a six-day solo trip to the Kashmir region to the Northeast. Following a successful journey, that August she set her sights even bigger – traveling nearly 2,000 miles, north to the Khunjerab Pass on the border with China.
Along the way she experienced Pakistan’s beautiful landscapes while visiting villages which are rarely visited by outsiders. Most of them were accepting of her and her journey, though that’s not to say she was accepted everywhere she went.
“When it comes to security, I don’t focus too much on it,” says Irfan via email. “I believe my country is safe enough for me to travel without any harassment. I recently bought a small Harley-Davidson pocket knife and I am hoping to take it with me the next time I go on a tour.”
Typifying her positive outlook, when asked about her biggest challenge during her journeys, she doesn’t give a thought about any potential danger she might have faced from other people, instead mentioning the brake failure she experienced while traveling from Saif-Ui-Mulook to Naran Kaghan. “I had to come down with the help of a gear [using engine braking only], and it was the most scariest yet challenging experience for in me in the whole tour.”
Overcoming that challenge of a failed brake helped Irfan to realize she was capable of far more than she thought. “Before I departed for my journey,” she told us “I did not undertake any physical training for my tour. Once I was on the road, I could see my body not giving up to anything and I could see how strong my willpower was.”
Becoming an inspiration for other motorcyclists was never a goal of hers, but as she’s gaining more notoriety from her travels, she’s happy to accept the role. She’s even been invited to speak at Tedx talks. And for those looking to achieve an unconventional goal, heed Irfan’s words of advice:
“If you’re thinking how society will look at you, know that society will always be critical. They’ll call you a crazy breed. All you have to do is prove them how happy you are in your craziness.”
Ultimately, exploring Pakistan on two wheels has been the perfect medium for Zenith Irfan to connect with her late father “on a very spiritual level,” she told us.
“At times when I wanted to give up, I could feel his spirit beside me wanting to ride further into the wilderness. For me, it was the most liberating experience. I saw a new Zenith being born from my soul, a Zenith who was much more wiser and free.”