Just Give A Girl A Bike

Karen Perrine grew up day dreaming about, admiring and taking photos of motorcycles. Now, she is the president of New York's Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club...a dream come true.
She had just moved to New York City from Massachusetts and only came out of the closet two years earlier. Still, poised on her delicate bicycle, she ventured solo to the Gay Pride Parade to watch the “Dykes on Bikes” lead the pack. The bright-eyed 26-year-old cautiously followed alongside the motorcycle clan, awe-stricken as they rolled on their shiny machinery.  What a thrill it was when one of the bikers noticed her and gave her a welcoming nod. Taking the cue, she pedaled up to the woman and said “I want to be a dyke on a bike,” to which the biker responded, “You already are.” She was able to convince the biker to let her hop on and ride piggy back the rest of the parade. She struck up a relationship with the woman, who was part of The Diamond Roses motorcycle club for women. Shortly, she became their honorary member and by the end of the summer, finally got her motorcycle license.

That summer of ’91 was pivotal for Karen Perrine. She was no longer the rambunctious little girl secretly in love with motorcycles, but a proud cyclist who found where she belonged. Fifteen years later, she is now the president of New York’s Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club, but her fascination with motorcycles began long before she could ride one. 

“When I was 10 years old,” Perrine said (not looking much older at 41), “I made a [motorcycle] helmet out of paper and rode my imaginary bicycle around the outside of my house.” She would also take pictures of motorcyclists on the road from the back seat of the family’s 1972 green Gran Torino station wagon. Her mother Lisa, who Perrine described as very religious, was not too thrilled about her daughter’s early interest. “It’s a bit suicidal,” Lisa said of motorcycle riding. “I told her, ‘When you can afford insurance, [you can ride].’”

But, like any thrill-seeking teenager, Perrine didn’t find lack of insurance, or lack of a license for that matter, a compelling reason to stay off a bike. “Rebellious is her middle name,” Lisa said with a chuckle, “[Her interest in motorcycles] may have been inspired by the fact I thought it was a harebrain idea.” Yet it’s clear when looking at Perrine that motorcycling is an inbred passion. Her cropped hair caps her petite stature, hugged by a black leather jacket that she wears as comfortably as her fair skin.

She began riding on the back of her neighbor’s 1971 orange Suzuki dirt bike when she was 16. “I was all over it,” she recalled with a grin, her blue eyes nostalgic. Finally she learned to drive that bike, her neighbor soon offering for her to keep it. “That dirt bike was my own secret joy,” she said. It was her first bike, but as her mother feared, it wasn’t too long before she crashed it. Not to mention she had no license, no helmet, no registration and of course, no insurance.  No problem. She just fixed it up and continued to ride.

But this tenacity is typical of Perrine. “She was always the child that did not want to take instruction in anything,” Lisa said. Her father Cal added, “If she could find a better way to do something, she would do it – and often came out the better.”

And so, at 27, Perrine decided that the best way to take a cross-country trip was on a motorcycle. For the journey she bought her first bike: a used 1985 black Honda shadow she named Night Hawk. “I got exactly what I wanted,” she said. She rode from Boston in a clock-wise loop and, to her mother’s amazement, came back alive. “My mother looked at me like she was looking at a ghost,” Perrine remembered.

This fearlessness in riding has carried over into her leadership role. This self-described shy gal recently became the president of the well-known Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club. “I’m shy. Being president is part of my therapy,” she said with a smirk. After more than 10 years as a member, she hopes to use her new influence to increase the club’s membership, diversify its members, and attract a wider age range. “I think the group made a great choice,” Cal said of his daughter’s elected position.

Now she is a graphic and animation designer for television and her parents are relieved that she has a steady job, once concerned that her lack of focus in school would compromise her future. “We didn’t worry about her independent streak, other than what it was doing to her scholastic achievement,” Cal said. But once Perrine reached college at Southeastern Massachusetts University, her artistic talent and determination fused. She now balances her professional work and zeal for motorcycling. Lisa is happy her daughter has found her true direction as she affectionately recalled, “She was always the one going south, when the whole family was going north.”

Perrine’s favorite thing to do on her 2002 Yamaha FZ1 is sit still on an empty road in quiet anticipation, and then abruptly speed from zero to 50. “First…second…third…fourth,” she said steadily, her voice growing louder with each subsequent gear shift and her hands gripped as if the handlebars were right in front of her.