In the past six years, Southern California-based Anya Violet and Ashmore Ellis have hosted more than 8,000 women on motorcycles in 15 separate gatherings worldwide. They’re friends with a shared love for riding adventures and first moto-camped back in 2013. The wheels kept turning, more women got involved and last year the largest “Babes Ride Out” event to date hosted 1,700 women in one dusty California desert camp (the smallest was their first, when a 50-person turnout was 40 more than expected). In addition to Joshua Tree, their no-boys-allowed campouts have taken place in Narrowsburg, New York, Hungry Valley, California, and London. Up next, Tennessee. Each event revolves around the two-wheel lifestyle that happens to look great on Instagram, which may have something to do with their huge fan base.
But as they explain here, it’s always been as much about the getting out there – “girls getting out doing shit” – as the mode of transportation. Violet and Ellis don’t take credit for changing the demographics of motorsports (many insiders would argue otherwise) and it’s evident they’re not motivated by the need to prove anything to anybody. In fact, you get the feeling they’d simply stop doing this if it weren’t fun. As it turns out, motorcycle camping is a really good way to cover more ground with your friends.
We talked with them about their passion and what it’s like organizing dozens of fellow women riders out sleeping under the stars.
AJ: Both of you started riding at a young age. Did that continue seamlessly into adulthood or was it something you’ve stopped and restarted over the years? Can you talk about transitioning to different disciplines (from street to dirt and dirt to street) – was that when you were an adult, and if so, what was it like to learn something new as an adult?
Violet: I started riding when I was 7 years old on a 50cc dirt bike. I rode dirt bikes continuously from age 7 to about age 16. I sold my dirt bike to use the money when I went away to college. During college years and starting my career I could not afford my own motorcycle so that was the time I wasn’t riding. In my early 20s, I met a group of people that rode motorcycles and was inspired to go back to my roots. I bought my first street bike off of Ashmore, actually, and the rest is history.
Starting on dirt helped me so much when riding a street bike. I already knew the mechanics of shifting and braking, etc. and was very comfortable with body positioning on the bike. We always recommend people start on a dirt bike. Smaller, lighter bikes are a lot more forgiving when you crash, and navigating off-road terrain is a lot harder, which makes transitioning to pavement easier than the other way around.
Ellis: I started later in life. I grew up outdoors in a rural farming area so my childhood was spent a bit differently. We didn’t have TV so my childhood was spent outside with my imagination and a few stray pets. My parents got us a 50cc four-wheeler to let us explore our property on at a young age and we quickly learned how to take the governor off. I would pack my stuffed animals into the front grill and spend all day riding around. I remember it wasn’t the speed I loved about it but the independence and freedom it gave me. Weird to think you can identify that at three years old, but kids pick up on that sort of stuff if they have the imagination and the right environment to do so. Fast forward to adulthood when I moved to California and saw tons of motorcycles on the road. I knew I wanted to give it a try so I signed up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes and dove in with zero expectations. As a rider, you are constantly learning and improving (street and dirt). You’ll gain confidence but it takes time, dedication, and patience (like anything worth a damn these days). For me, both street and dirt opened up that feeling of freedom and independence that I was able to experience during my childhood.
What makes a motorcycle the ideal adventure vehicle?
Violet: Being outside and in the elements is a far more visceral experience than being inside a car. All of your senses are heightened and you can really feel the changes in temperature as you go over a mountain pass or down into the desert. You can smell the pine trees as you ride through the woods and the ocean as you cruise down the coast. Operating a motorcycle is really not hard but it takes skill and focus, and being focused on something like riding really clears your head. It’s quite therapeutic. Off-roading is a whole other amazing adventure because the trails you can ride on your bike can take you to some absolutely beautiful and remote places. Some of the most amazing overlooks I have ever seen have been at the end of a singletrack trail in the mountains. It is an amazingly adrenaline-infused way of experiencing nature.
Ellis: The bike is 50 percent of the fun and the route and destination make up the rest. There are some absolutely stunning back roads, national parks, preserves, BLM areas at our fingertips that are accessible for motorcycles and off-road vehicles. When in nature, the minimalist approach has always been the most rewarding, and when on a bike, you pack in and out with limited space for unnecessary items. Most of my gear is from Big Agnes as they have some of the most durable and lightweight tents, sleeping bags, mats, and stuff. They just got into off-road camping gear and are coming out with even more stuff that can safely and efficiently pack down onto the bike. To have the right bike, the right gear, and the park systems readily available has taken our adventure game to a whole new level. We are able to push further to take it a bit more remote and be 100 percent on our own.
Where are the farthest, deepest, most memorable corners of the earth you’ve been able to reach on two wheels that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
Violet: One of my all-time favorite motorcycle trips was eight days through British Columbia camping and riding through so many different types of terrain and in some of the most remote wilderness I have ever seen. Such a beautiful place. One of the camp spots was many miles down an off-road trail to a remote spot in this tiny little bay that you can only get to by boat or off-road vehicle. The view was breathtaking.
Ellis: There are way too many to name but traversing the Sierras has always been a favorite. We’ve done 10-day trips and weekenders throughout most of California but nothing is as moving as waking up at the base of a mountain with your best friends secluded from the world. My favorite memories are firing up the coffee as deer walk through our camp and seeing the world wake up with us. Did it matter what time it was? No. Did it matter no one had clean faces? No. It’s that reconnect of your bare self in nature that really makes what we do as campers (on bike or off) so rewarding.
How does your love of the outdoors figure into your life as a motorcycle rider and into organizing Babes Ride Out events?
Violet: Everyone has a different relationship with the outdoors and a different way they like to experience it. Through riding motorcycles, I am able to combine my passion for speed and adrenaline rush and my love for the outdoors. Off-roading in particular can take you to some amazing places. Through Babes Ride Out and Babes in the Dirt we hope to share that joy with others and promote ridership.
Ellis: Sometimes we forget how easy it is to simplify. There is a lot of noise in this world and to take out some of that chatter we deal with daily, even for the weekend, can reset your entire mind and body. Another thing we forget to do as adults is play. Seems so simple, but as we take on more responsibility, the burdens can distract us, and we forget that play is so important to incorporate. Babes Ride Out provides both. We want to empower and encourage women to explore the world on two wheels, as it allows one to simplify and brings back that sense of adventure we may have lost as we become adults. We plan every activity and destination around these important mindsets and it’s been incredible watching ladies experience it in their own way.
You’re both so busy with day jobs and event planning. How do you find time to just go out for a ride?
Violet: We as humans find a way to carve out time for the things we love. I am fortunate enough to live in the mountains and can hit a bunch of beautiful off-road trails right from my driveway so that makes it easy. I also really love riding in Johnson Valley, which is a little over an hour from my house. We are so spoiled in California, there is just so many great riding areas here.
Ellis: I am not going to lie—I was becoming overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of logistics it takes to run Babes Ride Out and Babes in the Dirt—you know, the work you do daily that goes 100 percent unseen but takes the most time and energy. Luckily, I have an incredible working relationship and friendship with Anya to balance the workload and my husband Mike helps out tremendously with the backend as well. Last year I started putting in blackout days in my calendar to allow me time to just have a moment to reset. They’ve been life-saving, as mental health and personal care are so important to us as a whole. I can’t be the best version of me without taking care of my mind and body. I’ve learned it’s okay to say “no thank you” and have to use that phrase often because we get pulled in a million directions, which can cause a detour from goals and objectives. Setting those boundaries early on professionally and with friends/family has been a lifesaver. Everyone understands and respects it and if they don’t, they have zero place in your periphery.
Why have camping and the outdoors have always been a part of your events?
Violet: That’s a good question. I think because that is how this all started! The first event we ever hosted was a super raw and rugged overnighter in Borrego Springs, miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It takes a certain kind of person to sign on to that and we just stuck with it because it has always added to the fun and sense of adventure.
Ellis: Honestly, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Riding to a hotel or resort has literally never crossed my mind as an “adventure.” Events like that already exist, and not why we ride as individuals, so the idea of camping has always been the focus.
What changes have you seen over the last six years?
Violet: To me it’s simple: It’s not as rare as it used to be to see a woman on a motorcycle. You’re starting to see manufacturers and gear companies catered to women riders a lot more now. Women have been riding motorcycles since motorcycles existed but seeing a whole bunch of them in one place has an impact. I think that women feel invited and welcome to the motorcycle community more than ever and we hope that we have played some role in that some way.