I’ve always been impressed by those blessed with the courage hop on the two wheeled death machines known to most as motorcycles.

And while I often complain about the obnoxious revving of engines or fearful moments on the highway as a heard of bikes blows by me at break neck speeds, deep down, I know my rage stems from misguided jealously.

Ever since I saw a clip of Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers cruising through the Hollywood Hills on his glistening silver steed, wind blowing through his savage early 90s mullet, I’ve longed to be that big of a bad ass.

Now, while I never managed to summit the mountain of anxiety standing between me and my own chopper induced moment of glory, nor became all that much of a bad ass, I still respect (and envy) those who have.

Recently, one such group has snared my attention. They call themselves The Dahlias, and they’re a passionate group of female riders who’ve united to form Metro Detroit’s newest riding club.

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I caught up with The Dahlia’s co-founders Hayley Suder and Valerie Jones to learn more about the club, biking culture, and living life on two wheels. All quotes edited for clarity.

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Pictured are Hayley Suder (left) and Valerie Jones (right)

Daily Detroit: Introduce yourselves. How long have you each been riding? How did you get into it?

Haley Suder: I’m Hayley, I’m 25 years old and I’ve been riding for about a year now. For almost seven years, I rode on the back of my husbands bike, but it started to get boring after a while. Not to mention that my husband didn’t enjoy riding with a passenger as much as he did alone — and I can’t blame him. He eventually hinted that I should get my own bike and learn how to ride. I had always thought about it and decided to give it a shot, and it just kind of went from there! I bought my bike, took a motorcycle safety class, got my license and the rest is history.

Valerie Jones: My name is Valerie Jones and I am new to riding. Hayley introduced me to the moto world.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 2.45.00 PMDD: What’s are your respective roles in the organization? Is this your first time getting involved with a riding club?

HS: I’m the Founder of The Dahlias and Valerie is our co-founder. Neither of us had ever been involved with a riding club before starting The Dahlias.

DD: Where did the inspiration for The Dahlias come from?

HS: When I first started riding I was really disappointed with the lack of female riders in the area. I remember searching Google for female riding clubs close by and did find a few, but to be they all intimidated me and I felt like I wouldn’t be welcomed as a beginner rider, or because I don’t ride a Harley, though I will someday!

I had been really inspired by this new wave of female motorcycle riders you see on social media, specifically Babes Ride Out, which is a really rad all women’s motorcycle camp out in Joshua Tree, California. It was amazing to see women like me come together for one reason — to ride motorcycles and have a good time doing it. That’s really what The Dahlias are about. We’re a group of like minded women who want to ride motorcycles in a safe and comfortable environment.

VJ: Hayley and I knew a lot of guys that had bonded over riding and I think we were just looking for that same kind of experience. Hayley was really supportive of me when I started riding. I was unsure of myself on a bike and she was there for me. With the right motivation, overcoming that fear felt good, and I knew I wanted to pass that feeling to other riders.

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DD: Do The Dahlias have a home base or headquarters? Are there other arms of the organization outside of Detroit?

HS: We don’t have a home base or headquarters yet. However, we do have two other branches of The Dahlias — one in Portland, Oregon and the other in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both are still very small but they’re growing and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for the organization as a whole!

DD: Albeit short sighted, many people, myself included, may see biking as a kind of a macho culture. As a female club, do you ever face discrimination from the male side of the road? 

HS: Actually, most everyone so far has been really accepting of us, though there has been some discrimination. Occasionally, guys will make stupid comments like “Come talk to me once you ride a bike bigger than a 600 (cc)”, or, “You just pose with your bike, you don’t actually ride it.”

That bothers me because I feel like men would never say those things to one another. It’s frustrating because I conquered my fear and learned how to ride, and instead of respecting me as a women rider, it’s “oh, well you’ll probably never really ride” or “how many times have you dropped your bike?” and stupid comments like that.

I’m proud to say that in my first year riding I’ve put almost 4000 miles on my bike! A lot of men will never see us as an equal, and that’s OK. That’s why we have The Dahlias.

VJ: I’ve been stunned by the amount of support that I’ve received from male riders. Most have been all about The Dahlias! I can be pretty feminine, so when I started riding I felt like I needed to toughen up just get respect from the guys, but that hasn’t been the case at all. The only discrimination that I’ve had was from a male family member that told me I’d have get a bike bigger than a 750 before I could ride with him. Oh well.
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DD: What’s it like being a dahlia? How often do you all meet? What sort of things do you do? 

HS: I absolutely love The Dahlias. It’s an amazing feeling, especially when we’re all riding together and you look back and see 15+ women behind you. The best word I can think of to describe it is empowering. I will never forget our first big ride and the feeling of us all riding together.

We meet as often as we can; usually a couple rides a month if possible. We’ve done a Sunday morning ride where we went to Detroit for brunch, and last week we rode out to the cider mill.

Our rides are generally female only, but we do coed rides, too. Since we are open to any age, bike, or experience level, our rides are well suited for any type of rider. We don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or intimidated. The Dahlias are all about inspiring and empowering!

VJ: Being a Dahlia has been the most rewarding experience. Seeing women empowering each other is such a beautiful thing, and that’s what this is all about. We don’t have a regular routine for meeting yet. So far it’s been about once a month for larger, planned rides.

However, we try to communicate with each other when one of us is out riding. It’s great to be able to say “Hey, I’ve had a crappy day, who wants to meet up for ride?” You don’t have to talk about your bad days, but you can be there for one another in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When this season is over we hope to have regular meetings to stay connected and plan for the next year.

The Dahlias
The Dahlias

DD: I’m terrified of motorcycles. It seems like it takes a lot of courage to do it. What’s the best part of riding for you? What keeps you interested in it? What does it mean to you?

HS: Riding means a lot to me. Although I haven’t been doing it for long I feel like it’s something I was always meant to do. For me, its freedom…the ability to just hop on my bike and go is amazing. Everything feels different when you’re riding a motorcycle — the curves in the road, the hills, everything is exhilarating and fun. It’s scary, too, so I can understand why people would be terrified of riding.

Still, the best part of riding is probably the friends I’ve made. I’ve made more friends this past year than I have in the past five, and that’s all thanks to riding.

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VJ: I was terrified of motorcycles at one point, too, and that’s part of the reason I ride. I’ve dealt with anxiety and irrational fears my entire life. After a series of life changing events, something clicked in me and I decided to conquer my fears and start living — and riding helped me do that. It makes me feel alive. It’s the best stress relief and I’m always smiling when I’m doing it.

However, the biggest reason I ride is that it’s first thing I’ve ever done just for me, and not for a man. As sad as that sounds, I was in a relationship for 10 years and sacrificed a big part of myself during that time. When it ended, I had a beautiful son to show for it, but I hadn’t truly explored myself outside of that relationship, and riding has helped me begin to do that.

Lastly, another thing that I love about riding is the friendships and connections I’ve made. The Dahlias is such an eclectic group of amazing women, and it’s really special sharing this experience together.

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DD: There are stories in the media about other motorcycle clubs — or maybe biker gangs is a better term — being violent. What are your thoughts on that? Have you ever run into confrontation with your club? 

HS: I was naive to the whole “biker culture” and wasn’t really aware of the etiquette of riding clubs or motorcycle clubs. A friend of mine from another club explained that some clubs claim territory and that some clubs get along with each other and others don’t. I’ve never had any personal confrontation with any other clubs, but I have witnessed another club hassling someone about their back patch, and they made him turn his vest inside out for the rest of the night. I also heard of one local motorcycle club basically running a female riding club into the ground.

I certainly respect motorcycle clubs for their legacy and tradition, but we started The Dahlias to steer away from that. We have no politics and no BS. We’re simply a group of women that want to ride motorcycles together and inspire other women to do the same. We wear patches as a way to unite us (plus they look cool) not to claim territory, make enemies, or anything like that.

I certainly hope that I never run into a confrontation and I hope that other clubs can respect us and what we are about. I’ll also say that, in general, bikers are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met!

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 DD: What’s been the best or most meaningful part of being a Dahlia for you thus far?

HS: Without a doubt it has been the messages and comments from other women saying that we’ve inspired them to start riding; or that they used to ride but had an accident, and that we inspired them to start riding again. That is exactly what we mean by empowering women; making them feel like they can do anything. I love when someone tags me in a photo of their first ride or new people sharing their stories with me. It inspires me and makes me want to become a better rider.

VJ: For me, it’s been the chance I’ve had to help others. Whether it’s through a charity ride, encouraging a new rider, or motivating someone that’s had an accident to get back on two wheels, giving back has definitely been the best part for me.

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DD: What would you tell other women that are interested in riding? How can they find you and get involved? Are there fees or special guidelines to become a member?

HS: I would tell them that if they’re interested…do it!!! One of the things I get asked the most is “where should I start if I want to ride motorcycles?” I always recommend starting out on a small dirt bike or motorcycle so you can learn how clutch shifting, braking, and everything else works. Do it somewhere you feel safe, with someone you’re comfortable with, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

After that I recommend taking a motorcycle safety course. I learned so much from mine and it definitely made me a better rider. I wish I could go back and thank my instructors from that class because they taught me so much.

Riding motorcycles is scary; you’re literally putting your life on the line every time you get on your bike, but it’s the best feeling in the world to conquer that fear.

If other women or riding groups want to get involved with The Dahlias, they can contact us through our website or follow us on Instagram. We don’t have any special guidelines (aside from being female!) or fees. We welcome all ages and experience levels.

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DD: What does the future hold for The Dahlias? Are you looking to grow and expand? Any special events planned?

HS: I am so excited for the future of The Dahlias! Sadly this riding season is coming to an end, but we are going to be planning lots of events for next year. We definitely plan on growing and we’re always looking for women that want to come and ride with us! We have our end of the season bonfire coming up at the end of October which is open to anyone that would like to come and hang out with us. We will have T-shirts for sale pretty soon, too. Next year will be filled with a lot more rides, and we will be throwing a coed ride/camping trip next July, so stay tuned!!

VJ: We definitely hope to expand! We are already planning events for next season, including a Breast Cancer Awareness collaboration with Biker Bob’s Harley-Davidson, a weekly ride, and a huge camping trip. I would really like to develop our involvement in fundraisers as well. I am hoping to organize a few for next summer.

Pushing Detroit's Conversation Forward on the Daily Detroit Podcast