SIEM Reap-based Bekka Shadoan loves her motorbikes, which is why she has become a fully-fledged biker babe and this year had the honour of being named the Ambassador of Cambodia for the Women Riders World Relay, a major effort to “unite and excite” female motorcycle riders to get out and get noticed.
But for Bekka the biker babe, it’s all about her bikes.
“My first bike was Luna the Estrella. She’s a vintage Kawasaki BJ250 and the best learners-bike ever. I slowly taught myself how to ride safely through the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap,” Bekka says.
“Luna has a sister, Carmen, a modified Phantom. They compete for my attention constantly but just recently I snagged a CB400cc, my current heartbeat.”
Bekka says she took her time in learning to ride a motorbike and at first used a bicycle to learn how to ‘stand’ on two wheels.
“I rode a bicycle for over a year before buying my first motorbike,” she says. “I’d never ridden in my life, but since my parents were both quarter-mile stock car racers who taught me everything they knew about auto mechanics, I was confident that I could easily learn how to care for a motorbike.”
This month, the highlight for Bekka in her role as ambassador for the Women Riders World Relay was to ride as guardian and at times sole guardian of a baton at the centre of the relay, a baton that gets passed from rider to rider and from country to country.
Bekka also designed a 1,200-km route across Cambodia for the relay run from August 2-5.
She was also charged with recruiting female riders to act as guardians of the baton by helping to carry it on parts of the route, but this proved difficult.
“I had a very hard time attracting Khmer women to the relay, not because women here don’t ride big bikes, but because their commitments for work, studies, and family being the number one priority,” Bekka says.
“A woman is naturally inclined to maintain the status quo within her community — whether that be the one within the walls of her home or the greater community surrounding her home — and tasks to maintain balance and order within her community will always take precedence over hobbies of any sort.”
In fact, three of the pledged guardian riders backed out in one day, leaving only one other female motorbike rider committed to carrying the baton within Cambodia – Sydney Smith joined Bekka from the Laos border crossing to Stung Treng, but Bekka was the sole guardian from Stung Treng to Siem Reap to Pailin.
Bekka collected the baton from the Laos guardian on August 2, then rode with it from Stung Treng to Siem Reap – where a meet-up event was organised – and then rode it to Pailin where she handed the baton to the Thai riders at the border on August 5. Overall the ride was trouble-free although heavy rain made the going tough at times.
“I was riding through rain so hard that each drop felt like rocks beating against my leather jacket, turning my helmet into battle (gear) protection,” Bekka says.
“I rode exactly 1,369km from start to finish, between August 1-5, the longest leg being 350km between Siem Reap and Stung Treng. On average, due to varying speeds, road obstacles, and weather challenges, each day was about 10 hours in the saddle, with plenty of short pit stops for leg stretches and fresh coconuts to rehydrate.”
Bekka describes collecting the baton from the Laos guardian, hence beginning the Cambodian leg of the adventure.
“We coordinated distance and road conditions with the Laos Ambassador to time our meet-up at the border just right, as she was coming from Pakse.
“We left Stung Treng at 9am with a guardian who joined for this leg only. She has a Honda Win 110cc that she had ridden from Kampot across half of the country, searching for the next town to call home.
“That little Win was a trouper, embracing the loose gravel, sandy dirt patches, massive potholes, and resurfacing work that threatened to delay us as trucks carrying hauls of fresh red dirt laid and smoothed their loads while we slowly crawled past them.
“We couldn’t get above 55kph on this road, but I already knew this from the reconnaissance ride we did a month earlier to check the conditions.
Meg and Bekka with our companion riders at the Thai Border. Supplied
“After receiving the baton from the Laos Ambassador, we crawled back to Stung Treng along the same road. The baton, safely nuzzled in my pannier, was now in my charge. I donned a Cambodian flag as a cape and proudly rode back to Stung Treng, honking and waving at curious kids along the road, giggling to myself in my helmet about what they must be thinking of me.
“About 3km from the bride across the Sekong river, I could see a wall of rain heading our way. We decided as a group to power through it, being so close to our destination, and got royally soaked.”
While riding on another leg of the relay, Bekka notes, “The usual living obstacles challenged me as I led the pack, and a new one cropped up – live fish flopping out of a truck in front of me. I had to pull over immediately to laugh hard.”
Finally, on the last day of the relay, the baton was successfully handed over to Thai riders and Bekka and her crew headed home.
“Rolling along the sleepy streets through small villages and whizzing our way past vast expanses of greenery, we took our sweet time heading back to Siem Reap,” she says.
“I am now in contact with several Khmer women who love big motorbikes and are curious about planning safe trips across this gorgeous nation, and a goal of mine is to pass along my passion and abilities to my Khmer sisters.”