Vroom Mate (published in the September 13th, 2012 issue of The Hindu)
She’s crossed many milestones with ease. She’s made people sit up and take notice of her acts of daredevilry. Prince Fredrick tries to keep pace with biker Chithra Priya
People trip over small stones, not mountains: so says an unknown philosopher. Guided by this wisdom, biker girl Chithra Priya sets herself mountain-high goals and achieves them with the minimum of fuss. In December last, she rode a Honda CBR250 over 1,650 km in less than 24 hours and become the first Indian woman to pull off a Saddle Sore endurance ride of this kind (1,609.3 km in under 24 hours), a challenge offered by the Iron Butt Association. She has now set her sights on others mountains — riding on the golden quadrilateral and touching major Indian cities and towns and thereby covering the country in eight days and motorcycling around the world in 80 days.
The international ride is for the long term, but the all-India one is on the cards. “It will happen in January or February next year. Calculations have been pencilled in — I will have to ride a minimum of 800 km daily to make the distance in eight days,” says Chithra. “Circumnavigating the globe in 80 days is a passionate idea that I discuss with friends around the world. Building a network of people is essential to achieving this goal. I am on the job.”
Chithra, now 28, decided in 2010 to live by her two wheels and daredevilry. The choice required her to reorient her life to a different compass. Despite being qualified in visual communication and holding a Masters degree in digital film making and another in international business, she did not take up binding commitments in these areas. A nine-to-five job was ruled out.
Her fulltime biking career began amidst a cloud of scepticism but picked up momentum very soon. This year — and also in the previous one — her career graph has registered spikes. The chronicle of achievements in 2011 includes figuring in a multi-episode show on UTV Bindass that tracked down a group of Enfield-riding women called ‘Bikernis’ as they tackled the challenges on the bumpy road from Leh to Ladakh, being chosen as one of the top six bikers in India by xBHP from an initial entry of 20,000, going on a 15-day stunt tour of Tamil Nadu for Hero Honda and the recognition that came from the grand 24-hour, record-making, endurance ride.
Little wonder that in 2012, she was chosen by the Rotary Foundation as a cultural ambassador to Los Angeles. When the one-month programme came to an end, she extended her stay by two more months primarily to feel the pulse of the biking culture in North America. This interest led her to an international women riders festival in Toronto. Over the two months, she interacted with numerous bikers around the U.S. and Canada and hung out with some of them long enough to forge long-term friendships. Says Chithra, “When I embark on the 80-day global ride, I can count on them for help.”
When she is not exploring the treacherous terrain of endurance racing or taking on corporate biking assignments or going on exploratory tours with other bikers, Chithra trains to hone her circuit and drag racing and bike stunt skills. Her learning includes sessions with the California Superbike School and the Yamaha Racing School. From 2005, she has ended up on the podium many times.
Being committed to biking in its various forms suggests an insatiable passion for the sport, but also points to an underlying philosophy of life. She calls herself a non-conformist and an advocate for personal freedom. “People are alive when they follow their hearts,” she says. Being a full-time woman biker allows her put her philosophy into practice.
Every activity she undertakes is permeated by this thinking. While volunteering for an environment group, she hung from tall buildings to hold a poster that drew attention to a green issue. Serving another, she nursed injured snakes and owls back to health.
Chithra compares life to a journey across the unknown. Enjoying the wonders along the way is the only meaningful thing to do.
The biker girl sums it up, “The ride is the destination!”