Chantal Simons is not new to riding. Born and raised in Netherlands, she has seen most of Europe in a 10 day bike trip as a youngster. Having worked in Australia she is now on her way back to the Netherlands on a bike. This journey of a lifetime is proving to be as thrilling as she expected it to be. Here she is in a exclusive email interview with Solorider:
- How and when did your passion for riding start?
My passion for riding started very young, maybe when I was about 4 or 5 years old. My dad has always had motorcycles and he would take me for rides on the back of his bike. I loved it! For me it was always clear that I would be riding my own bike some day.
- Did you find it difficult to fuel your passion initially, particularly the support from family?
Not really. Going for short rides on the back of my dad’s bike, reading his motorcycle magazines and joining him on trips to the bike shop just became things I loved to do as a little girl. When I was old enough to ride myself, my Mum was sceptical at first. But she had seen me grow up into a persistent (some might say stubborn) young woman. The urge to ride has always been there and she knew I would ride with or without her approval. Now, although she still worries about me, she is also quite proud of what I’m doing.
- Were you anytime skeptical about the opinions of others, physical requirements or fear of failure?
To be honest, not really. Although I listen to the opinions of family and friends I make my own decisions. Opinions of people I don’t know, and who don’t know me, I care about very little. Growing up in the Netherlands the stigma about women riding bikes is much less than for example in Asian countries. So this has played no role in my decision to ride or my decision to go on this trip.
When it comes to the physical requirements for riding I have one simple rule. You have to be able to pick up your bike, in case the bike falls over. If you can do that, you’re fine to go.
Fear and bike riding have a close relationship. I think everyone who rides has fears at some point. Let’s face it, two wheels just aren’t the most stable means of transport. This may sound a bit arrogant but I was always confident that I could learn to ride. My fears have more to do with the traffic around me.
- Most of the Asian people are still getting acquainted with the concept of women riders. How have you dealt with people ogling at you, especially the roadside romeos?
All throughout Asia I have been pleasantly surprised by the support people have given me. When starting this trip I was expecting quite some negative response towards the concept of a woman travelling long distances on a motorbike by herself. I couldn’t have been more wrong! People from all countries are curious to hear my stories and eager to help where they can. The only challenge I’ve had is when it comes to bike maintenance. Many mechanics in Asia have never worked on a bike like mine. Often when I tell them what is wrong with the bike they don’t believe me or simply don’t listen. Therefore I aim to do most of the bike maintenance myself. People seem to encourage female riders, but women who know about mechanics might still be a bridge too far.
- What is the most enchanting experience you have ever had on bike?
During my ride in Australia I have seen many wild animals. One early morning I was riding on a gravel road, the surface had the typical red colour of the sand in the middle of Australia. The landscape was vast, stretching out many kilometers in all directions. I could see the road I was on as a straight, dirt-red line, disappearing on the horizon. Just then, a flock of cockatoos, big white birds, appeared out of nowhere. They flew above me and in front of me. They flew with me, following me, for as much as much as a minute. It was such a magical moment.
- Why did you choose Yamaha XT250 with mere 250 cc, for an extensive ride back to the Netherlands from Australia?
The choice for the Yamaha XT250 was quite straight forward. For a ride like this I needed a bike that could handle all terrain, road, gravel, sand, water crossings etc. Most of these kinds of adventure bikes are very big and tall, while I’m only 160 cm tall. What I needed was a small, reliable bike that I could reach the ground on easily, pick up when it falls and take to every terrain. The Yamaha XT250 is absolutely perfect for that.
- Any specific precaution that you take before commencing the ride?
The most important precautions to me is to wear protective gear. When I ride I always wear a helmet, jacket, gloves and protective pants. It doesn’t matter how good of a rider you are, if one person isn’t watching out, it can be enough to affect you for the rest of your life. This notion will never stop me from riding, but I will make sure that I am appropriately protected whenever I ride.
- What according to you are the perks as well as challenges for women riders?
Female riders face many of the same challenges men do. Motorcycles will always have a stigma of danger attached to them. Getting into riding will usual trigger some negative response from parents or other loved ones. This might be more for women than for men, depending on where you grow up and your parents’ view on riding. But in my experience the challenges for women who want to start riding are more practical. Finding a bike that isn’t too big for you, finding a jacket that fits, boots, and gloves is. There is some women’s gear available but it is often very expensive. As long as the motorcycle industry mainly caters for men, the challenge for women, especially if they are of smaller statue, will be to find affordable, fitting equipment.
- Apart from riding, what are the other things that fascinate you?
Oh wow where to start! People fascinate me more than anything. Getting to meet new people, from different cultural backgrounds, is one of the greatest joys of travelling. Food also fascinates me, how people all over the world can create such a variety of dishes and flavours. Furthermore I love nature, whether it is beaches, mountains or deserts, being surrounded by nature just really recharges me. With that comes a love for camping, hiking sports in general and I also love dancing. But my biggest passion is to inspire people by sharing my adventures with them. Inspire them to follow their dreams, discover their own passions and to help them be a better version of themselves.
- Any suggestions/advice you want to give to your fellow or aspirant riders
To aspiring riders I’d like to say: “Just try it, you will see that riding isn’t as hard or as scary as you might think it is”. When you are already a rider, but you want to start travelling more, start of easy. Go for a weekend ride, then a week, or maybe two weeks. The world will look different, seen from a bike. Appreciate the small things that you otherwise don’t notice. Enjoy the freedom a bike gives you, the opportunity to ride anywhere you want to. And most of all, enjoy the time you spend with your thoughts in your helmet. The combination of adventure and introspection is what makes riding unique, it is what makes riders unique, and solo riders even more special.