MY PILGRIMAGE TO PETROLETTES by SONIA STEGEN, MOTO, BELGIUM
I HAD A HUNCH
When I noticed Sonia posting some fabulous pictures of her journey to, and time at, the Petrolettes Festival, I wondered if there was maybe another side to her journey, something else going on which might be worth exploring. I sounded her out and, sure enough, turns out her trip was a journey of discovery in many ways. Petrolettes is Europe’s first Female Motorcycle Festival which takes place at Ferropolis, an open-air museum, venue and theme park all in one, in Stadt Aus Eisen in Germany. From the pictures it looks imposing and impressive! For Sonia, the experience represented a turning point in her life and she tells us all about it here….
FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE
Last year, I wasn’t in a happy place. My marriage was slowly falling apart, my mum had declared a second breast cancer, more aggressive than the first one, and I had the feeling that my life was slipping through my fingers. The year before, I had done my motorcycle license and was mostly riding alone through the forests and countryside wilderness. This was, and still is, a way of clearing my brain of negativity and gaining back some sort of independence. When I felt the weight in my stomach wouldn’t go away, despite the efforts I had put into making it all work and solo rides, I decided to turn my life upside down and took a risk. Starting all from scratch.
I took the courageous decision to end this doomed relationship and started to do more and more things for and by myself. Including riding to events. I started to chat and network with people who were also into motorcycles via social media. I travelled to meet some of them in person at events such as “The Bike Shed Show” in London or the “Bikes at C-Mine in Belgium” and that’s when I heard about “The Petrolettes”.
TURNING THE PAGE ON THE PAST
When I read about this all women motorcycle event, I thought it would be a great opportunity to connect with other girls who developed the same passion as me for bikes, who were keen on sharing their knowledge, and above anything else, affirm their freedom. It became a kind of initiatory journey and it soon transformed into the focus of this year of changes. I saw it as a milestone, a goal to reach, in order to go forward and turn the page on the past.
So two weeks ago, after waiting patiently for half a year, the moment arrived. I decided to take to the road one last time with my old VW van T3 (named Ozzy) which would soon become the sole property of my ex-husband (yep, divorce deal…) and my light, but so much fun, 125 cc Mutt Motorcycle (named HellMutt) attached to a trailer. The trailer that I rented and had absolutely no experience on how to strap the bike to , never mind drive with it! But I managed to do it on my own, like a grown up girl, and I drove for 11 hours at an average speed of 80km/hour, which gave me a lot of time to think about life in general, what I want for the next chapter.
I arrived at the awesome site of Ferropolis on the Friday afternoon which was very impressive. Kind of a Mad Max movie set. Then I saw the entrance of the event and all the bikes aligned and I thought “Holy Shit, that is so cool to think all these belong to women!”. You could find everything from Triumph Scramblers, to Harley Davidson 70’s choppers, to old vintage Yamaha’s, Royal Enfield’s … you name it!
I parked my van, unloaded my motorcycle and went for a tour of the site which is again fabulous. This old industrial site is surrounded by a magnificent lake where you can bathe or chill on the sandy beach. I saw a few girls over there, busy following a lesson on how to pick up your bike from the ground when it fell. It was actually a full workshop on motorcycle balance training given by Astrid Althoff.
Then I went to the area of the event where the main stage was. A conference was ongoing called “One Woman, one motorcycle, one world”, led by Lea Rieck, a woman who travelled the world alone on her motorcycle. I stayed there, listening and dreaming about all the adventures she went through and thought that this was going to be next on my list.
Soon after this conference, concerts started and I was thrilled because one of my favorite band called “Thundermother” from Sweden was playing! Just before them, “Velvet Two Stripes” coming from Switzerland opened the gig and it was awesome. Such a cool musical discovery!
“Thundermother” followed and these girls, I can tell you, know how to rock! I danced and sang surrounded by all kind of women, with different styles, age and sexual orientation, but with all one thing in common: motorcycles!
I went to bed exhausted from this first day, but ready for the next, as a Ride Out was planned at 10.30AM.
READY FOR THE RIDE OUT
This Ride out on the Saturday was perfect. Well organized, secure and leading us through the beautiful half island where the site is situated. We, 350 women on bikes, passed through villages and forests which provided a bit of shadow and well needed coolness, considering the 40 °C temperatures! It felt good for once to ride with a group of people and not just by myself. There is a sense of belonging in the motorcycle community which I never found anywhere else.
After the ride, the afternoon was very quiet, so I went shopping in the little market place, where I found some handmade treasures by pretty cool artists, such as my new riding leather jacket from “Bikers and Babes” that I am completely in love with, or the gloves from “The Throttlesnake”.
Around 4PM, the 1/8 mile sprint races started! We got some show over there but I thought it would have been great if more people registered, including a wider range of engines and bikes. That is maybe one of the little disappointments since the riders were mostly sponsored “Instagram famous” and not many of the regular girls.
The day went on with a pretty relaxed evening including a “Raffle Winnings” where I actually won my first ever prize! A Tshirt from the “Amazons Womens Motorcycle Club” which is a non-profit, 501(c)7 woman-only motorcycle club based in North America. Membership is open to ALL women regardless of age, race, color, creed, nationality, sexual orientation or brand of street-legal motorcycle. Their purpose is to provide support and encouragement and promote and foster friendships between and among women motorcyclists.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Concerts and shows followed with “The Gasoline Freak Show”, “24/7 Diva Heaven” and “Badass Bitches on Bikes”. But I missed all of them as I spent the evening with the super rider Bella Litinetski, known on Instagram as “thebella.lit” and her partner and photographer Idan J Grünberg “Idangrun”.
Let me tell you that she is far from just being an “Instagram” girl showing off. She is the real deal. She can ride. She can wrench. She is an industrial designer. And she is friggin’ cool and fun! So is Idan! And you know what, that’s this exact moment where I thought that it was a shame that it was a “women only” event as Idan couldn’t join the party as he was … a man!
I thought I was sad, as he is actually supporting Bella in her everyday job, taking her pro pictures, encouraging her in what she does, providing help and guidance on her wrenching when needed. Well, basically, being a super awesome partner.
This made me think that actually, any event being too exclusive may not be on the right track. I would have loved to be in a place still organized by women, promoting motorcycles women enthusiasts and artists… but opened to all. Because after all, it’s only when you share it that the word spreads and that men get to know better what the community of women riders is about. Keeping them out of the door is maybe not what will change the mindsets.
But hey, don’t get me wrong! This event is still a great idea and should go on! Just maybe with a little twist to it since diversity comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and genders!
Because after all, you meet the nicest people on motorcycles… including Vinnie, my new boyfriend who I count on to travel the world with!
I really enjoyed reading Sonia’s story. It’s so easy to stay stuck in the face of adversity, for many it’s definitely the path of least resistance. But removing yourself from a bad situation, a life no longer serving you, takes strength and guts, especially for a woman, and if the Women’s motorcycle scene and all that it brings was the catalyst for Sonia’s decision to just get up, get out and move on, then she should be applauded for that. What an inspiring story. Give Sonia a follow on her Instagram here.