Moving the Soul

Finding a community and yourself in the motorcycling subculture

WORDS BY: NICK MCNAMARA
PHOTOS BY: WILLIAM ODIS MARTIN

After experiencing the road on two wheels – feeling the texture of the road, the rumble of the engine working beneath you, the alternating patches of warm and cool air rushing past – Jayme Dougherty knew she was hooked.

“It’s a completely different feeling,” she said “That first moment of going 40 miles per hour with that wind against my chest was awesome and weird, and I wanted to go faster. I fell in love and never looked back.”

Two years have passed since that first ride, but the 35-year-old co-founder of the all-woman motorcycle group Litas Long Beach has only seen her love for riding grow in the culture of California.

California is known among many motorcyclists as the place to ride. California’s weather and relatively lenient motorcycle statutes, which can be seen in the state’s official legalization of lane splitting in 2016, have created an encouraging atmosphere for riders. In fact, California leads the nation in registered motorcycles at nearly 850,000 and has more than 1.7 million licensed riders, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Long Beach is no exception. Hosting one of the stops of the annual Progressive International Motorcycle Show, as well as the monthly SoCal Cycle Swap Meet at Veteran’s Stadium, Long Beach has fostered an approachable riding community that Jayme experienced when she began riding.

“No matter what bike you have, people are pretty welcoming; they just want to talk to you about your bike, and that’s great,” Jayme said. “It’s an immediate ice breaker.”

Dominic Dougherty, Jayme’s husband, agrees, though he feels this is an extension of the everyday friendliness between motorcyclists.

“That’s just one thing you see in motorcycle culture in general – you wave to each other as you pass by,” Dominic said. “I’ve never waved to another motorist as I was driving my Jeep to work.”

Non-riders may look at motorcyclists and still see the stereotyped image of “leather-clad pirates,” as 31-year-old CSULB student motorcyclist Ryan Mages puts it, but gone are the days of vest-sporting outlaws dominating the two-wheeled world. Some may still cling to that aesthetic, but people from all walks of life ride motorcycles now, and the culture and community reflects that.

“Our friend Tammy is an engineer for Disneyland, [my husband’s] a social worker, I do paper work for a mental health industry,” Jayme said. “It’s not like we’re all just sitting around wrenching on our bikes [and] drinking beer all day.”

Not only has the image of the motorcyclist community changed, but the demographics have as well. The United States has seen an increase from 600,000 women riders to 1.2 million, a 100-percent increase in in the last 10 years, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Even so, women still make up just 14 percent of all motorcyclists, the Motorcycle Industry Council also reported. For women just starting out riding, Jayme said these facts can be discouraging.

“Motorcycling is a male dominated thing, so when you’re a woman and you’re new to motorcycles, the last thing you want to do is jump into an all-male group or co-ed group – it’s scary as hell!” Jayme said. “[Then] you’re nervous and you’re on this machine, and that’s not going to help you ride any better.”

Amid this growing trend, Jayme and a few others co-founded the Long Beach branch of the international all-woman Litas motorcycle group. The Long Beach branch was born after Jayme organized a group ride to the Babe’s Ride Out event in Joshua Tree. She reached out online and found nine local women interested in riding out with her who became the core of the new club after bonding on the trip.

“We’re all very different girls, but our love for motorcycles and riding was something we all had in common, so we decided to start the Litas Long Beach, and we’ve been going since Nov. 3,” Jayme said. “It’s just a big ol’ social network of women who like to ride motorcycles.”

Jayme almost exclusively hears positive messages when she rides in person from the community, though she does note that micro-aggressions within the motorcyclist community do occur – especially online.

“[Jayme’s] had some girlfriends who’ve stopped for gas, and some guy will call out, ‘Oh, your boyfriend let you take the bike out?’ Dominic recounted.

The Litas Long Beach has grown to more than a dozen members who organize social rides every month together.

“I feel pretty awesome by myself, but, man, when I’m with a group of like 15 of my just-as-awesome friends, I feel powerful,” Jayme said. “I mean, I don’t wanna go and run people over or anything, but we make a fucking statement when we roll through Belmont Shore on our way to San Pedro.”

Though the bikes and people are diverse, there is one unifying feeling that keeps motorcyclists coming back despite the danger – the liberty found on two wheels. Mages began riding four years ago after his divorce. He found motorcycling was a sensation he couldn’t  live without.

“It’s totally life changing,” he said. “I know it sounds cheese ball, but it’s like I was caged and now I have the bike and I can do whatever I want and go wherever I want. It’s mind clearing and freeing – and it’s a lot of fun.”

Dominic has similar views, being more of a solo rider compared to his partner Jayme, and relishes the opportunity to just tune out of his head and tune in to the road for a time.

“I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s experience. I don’t have to think about planning a ride or leading a ride. It’s just me in my helmet with my own thoughts,” Dominic said. “That’s one of my favorite things about riding together – we ride together, but we’re separate. We’re in charge of our destinies, but we’re doing it together.”    

More than just finding an escape, Jayme has found motorcycling gave her a new insight into herself and provided her with a newfound self-assurance that she struggled with before.

“I’ve suffered my own anxiety and depression over the years. [Now] that’s my anti-depressant. I don’t take medication or anything; I just have my motorcycle, and it makes me happy,” Jayme said. “I just have this whole different level of confidence I’ve never had.”

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find Jayme singing or making engine noises to herself while riding her bike to run errands, roll out with the Litas or just cruise the city with Dominic. It’s become an integral part of her life and she encourages anyone thinking about motorcycling to take a training course and experience for themselves what made her fall in love with the lifestyle.

“When I look around at people in cars, I’m like ‘Fuck, you are missing out, this is so much fun,’” she said. “Anybody thinking about doing it - just do it.”