When the adventure is a woman: Charlotte Rochenard and her journey

Lisa Di Blas
Pubblicato in: ,

Motorbikes: when did you first realise you wanted to ride one and how did you learn to ride it? Which was your first motorbike? Please, tell us about your current bike, “Harriet”, why is she special?

I always wanted to ride motorbikes for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up my dad had a Honda GL1000 so I use to love going for a ride with him as a pillion. He restored a Honda 125SL and this became the bike I Iearnt to ride with, I was 13 years old. I grew up in the countryside and so it was easy to play in the field with the bike.I then past my license as soon as I could when I was 18/19yo. I went to India to study and bought a Kawasaki Bajaj 50cc filled with plenty of power, I was living in India at the time and it was cheap and perfect to go and explore as a student. Then I bought my first “proper” motorcycle, a 1981 BMW R65 I bought when I moved to England. I still have it but it is undergoing restoration at the moment, I enjoy working on my motorcycles as well as riding them! I bought “Harriet” specifically for the Africa trip, she is so special to me as we have shared so much going through Africa together. I have never had an enduro bike before nor much off-road experience so that felt like something really different to ride altogether at the beginning, my feet aren’t touching the floor and I felt quite uncomfortable with this at first. But I love it so much, it’s really fun and was ticking the boxes I wanted for the Transafrica journey, something light and yet though to endure the challenging roads, the mud, with not too much electronics. However, the bike I ride the most on English roads is my BMW RNineT, quite the opposite of Harriet, but I love this bike too, I have had for many years and enjoyed travelling through the UK and to France when not off road.

Where did the inspiration for your solo journeys on a motorbike come from?
I guess I have always been curious of the unknown and for me travelling and exploring is a need. I did quite a bit of backpacking but that’s when I moved to India that I realised the freedom that having your own mean of transport was bringing. Being able to go out the main road and explore the back trails, getting away from the touristic track and discover the real thing.

Which country has most marked your experience as a motorcyclist? In your experience, which was the toughest country to travel across?
West Africa offers a large variety of challenges, always requiring a lot of attention, whether it’s its traffic and chaos in cities. Tarmac full of potholes or challenging sandy or rocky tracks. But Nigeria is probably for me the one that stuck from day one as the toughest to travel across and that’s without including the accident I had which put a stop to my journey. The country and people are beautiful but heat exhaustion, traffic pollution, long hours in the saddle, lots of armed checkpoints along the way (about 200), bad roads and tracks took a toll on my body.
But I have had an amazing road trip in the south of India, I was riding a Royal Enfield Bullet 500 and the roads were just sumptuous winding in the hills of Kerala across the tea plantations and tiger reserve.

What’s the most valuable help to rely on during a solo trip?
Your instinct ! Sometimes it might feel silly but I have to come to learn over time and on many occasion that it is the most valuable help.

What is your favourite thing about riding a motorbike? And, would you say that motorcycling is a physical, spiritual or emotional experience for you?
That feeling of freedom, feeling the wind on your face. When I first left for my big trip, I was so nervous and a little scared of the unknown but as soon as I was on the bike, everything went away only to leave a smile on my face. For me, motorcycling is emotional but it can certainly become physical when you spend long hours in the saddle on challenging roads.

Riding a bike and solo journeys are often opportunities of self-discovery. What is the biggest lesson motorcycling has taught you about yourself?
Travelling on motorcycle certainly forged my resilience, but also to admit that sometimes you have to learn to let go, you cannot control everything. When I set off on my African journey I was hoping for an emotional slap in the face, I was really clearly looking for a challenge, it came but in the way I was expecting it but throughout a serious road accident in Nigeria, it forged me.

Solo journey: name three things to bring and three things to leave behind (you can also name emotions).
Things to bring : Patience, a good toolkit , one luxury item ( mine is a coffee maker)
Things to leave behind : Expectations, too many clothes, hard case luggage (though this is a personal preference, I find them quite dangerous when going off road)

During your trips, what was the reaction of people seeing a woman travelling alone on a motorbike? And how do women react when you share your solo trip experiences on social media for example?
People (in Africa) were usually very surprised when I removed my helmet and they saw a women “You are a women, you shouldn’t be dressed like this and riding a bike” or “You should be driving a car not a bike” I remember stopping by a school in Guinea, all the kids came rushing at the motorbike when they saw me, I could see eyes in a few of the little girls shining as if they were thinking “that means I could ride a bike myself too!” They had hands everywhere, wanting to twist the throttle.
There seem to be more and more women involved in the motorcycle adventure world on social platforms. Though it feels like women react more quietly on social media when sharing content, I am also not that big on social media compared to some other women travellers out there.

In general, what more do you think could be done to encourage more women into motorcycling?
Things are definitely getting better on that front with the help of social media whether this is with women involved in motorcycling sport (whether it’s Dakar or Moto GP) or travelling. There are also a couple of weekend events that I know for instance in the UK and France for women with talks, technical courses, test rides, that creates empowerment and inspiration within the community. It feels to me that this is great to share and encourage, and maybe for those not keen on travelling on their own, dedicated women road trips. Women should inspire women.

Memories that excite you for a lifetime: can you name the most extraordinary place you have visited on a motorbike and an unforgettable person you have met during your travels?
That’s a tough question ! So many extraordinary places with good memories and people. I just love it when after a long day riding with no particular plan for where to stay for the night, coming across the most beautiful spot, setting up camp, relaxing with a drink and sometimes sharing the moment with people you met on the road and sharing stories in an unlikely remote place of the world. Each memory and situation is unique, and sometimes it’s just a funny moment shared on the road that will stick in memories.

What are your future plans? Any special places you want to go to on your motorbike?
I would love to discover more of the world on two wheels including the east coast of Africa to complete the full tour of Africa.I always believe the whole planet is worth discovering. But on a different level I would also like in the next few years to participate in rallies and get Harriet to do what she’s been built for because without the luggage it’s also quite a lot of fun! I like the challenges the rallies offer and the biker spirit and community that those events bring.

Lastly, for all the women still undecided about their first solo trip, and for all the women of the MissBiker community who dream about being a free spirit on their motorcycle, what advice do you have for them?
Follow your heart and your dreams. Believe in yourself. You will never regret the things you have done but might regret not having done them. Do not listen to people who haven’t been there and tell you that it is dangerous for women. For what it’s worth, I have always found it easier to travel on my own than when I was accompanied by a man. The world will be looking after you.

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