Anya Violet: A Fearless Pioneer for Women Who Ride
Words by Maggie Gulasey
Within a lifetime, there are limitless paths laid before us, and we often choose (or avoid) the ones we believe to be the most rational, responsible, or admirable. However, there are some roads we simply cannot resist, and even if we wish to ignore them, it is a guaranteed uphill battle to deny what flows through our veins.
Whether it is the hardware with which we are made, the environment in which we are raised, or maybe a mixture of both, there are some things we are simply born to do, and then there are other talents we develop along the way. It is how we use those innate abilities and acquired skills in conjunction with one another that chisel us into the individuals we are today. Anya Violet cannot refute that motorcycles run in her blood – that and a love of adrenaline rushes, a general optimism toward human beings, and an overall appreciation for life. However, it is what Violet has done with her predispositions that have set her apart from the rest. She has become an entrepreneur in the motorcycle industry, an ambassador for women who ride and an inspiration for carving your own path in life. Whether she wishes to be or not, Violet is a pioneer for women who ride.
The environment in which we are born and raised has a way of laying the foundation for who are to become. For Violet, growing up in the small town of Atascadero, California, nurtured her love of the outdoors and optimism in human beings. She explains,
“I think that growing up on the Central Coast played a huge role in making me who I am today.
Being a small-town kid, to me, meant spending a lot of time outside. There were no arcades, concert halls or amusement parks near my town, so we spent our time enjoying the natural environment on the Central Coast. My love for the outdoors and my creativity were born in my hometown for sure. There is always this really great atmosphere where everyone kind of knows each other and grows up together. It was a very happy and welcoming environment all together. I am a ‘yes’ person before I am a ‘no’ person, and I consider everyone to have good intentions until they prove otherwise to me. These are two specific characteristics that I think I adopted from where I grew up that I don’t always see outside of small towns.”
If growing up in a small town laid the groundwork for Violet’s desire for being active outside, then it was her family who acted as the catalyst for her motorcycle passion and racing dirt bikes at a young age. She was born into a household that not only embodied an undeniable love for the two wheels, but also an everlasting support system, always encouraging Violet to go after whatever it was that excited her. The fact that Violet was a young girl participating in a traditionally male-dominated sport was insignificant to her supportive family and community – it only mattered that she was pursuing something she loved: “I do think, in general, that women tend to be more careful with themselves than men and not participate in dangerous activities as much. This probably does have biological links that could be traced back, but I am no scientist.
There have definitely been adventurous, adrenaline-fueled women since the dawn of time, but they didn’t always get their chance to leave their mark on history.
For me, it was never really a big deal that I was a girl that raced motocross. No one ever made a big fuss about it at all. There was a solid group of girls and women that rode and raced in my community. I never gave it much thought as a kid; all I knew was that I loved the feeling of racing and pushing myself as a rider. I am a really competitive person and I do my best when I am on the edge of my comfort zone, so I think I just tried to get to that point as often as I could, and racing was a great outlet for that.
Another big factor for me was how supportive my family was. My dad didn’t ride dirt bikes, but he would come to all my races and was super proud of me in all the activities I did. The fact that my mom rode and raced too only further instilled in me that it was just not that rare or special that I was a girl that liked to ride. My parents never pushed me into traditionally feminine or masculine activities.”
Fueled by a mother who raced motocross, Violet could not overlook the fact that motorcycles lit the fire within. She recalls, “My mom rode dirt bikes as a young kid, and it was her that got me in to it. After not riding for many years, my mom got back into riding dirt bikes with her then-husband. We would all go camping and riding together; my sisters and I all shared this 1980s Z50 and took turns ripping it around the campsites. Neither of my sisters were really that interested, but I instantly fell in love with it. For me, it was the feeling of independence and adventure. My mom and I started racing motocross in a local circuit, and I just really enjoyed the adrenaline that comes with racing a dirt bike. I quickly graduated from the 50cc to a 1989 Honda CR80, then a 125cc.”
Growing up racing dirt bikes instilled an unwavering passion for motorcycles, and despite an intermission in her riding, Violet eventually took to the streets. She explains, “I sold my 125cc dirt bike when I moved away to college and did not ride a motorcycle again until I was 25 years old. Those years of going through college and trying to start a career don’t really leave a lot of room for expensive hobbies. I have always wanted a street bike. I will never forget the first time I saw a Triumph Bonneville when I was, like, 16 years old visiting San Francisco. I was in love. By the time I was 25 years old, I was pretty well into my career and was able to afford to buy my first bike: a 1978 Yamaha XS 350. His name was Jimmy, and I outgrew him very fast. But it was buying that first bike that reignited my love of riding. I also had met a great group of people that rode, including my boyfriend, Evan.
For me, having a community to ride with was important and played a big role in me getting back on two wheels.”
Whether it was the dirt or street, Violet was immersed in a community of riders that cultivated a welcoming and encouraging environment for her. It is not surprising that she would then return the favor and create a similar space for other women who ride. Though it may have started as a fluke, Violet took her deep-seated admiration for motorcycles and became the co-creator of what is now one of the most popular women-only motorcycle gatherings, Babes Ride Out.
“Babes Ride Out started accidentally in October 2013. Ashmore Ellis and I planned a camping trip and thought we would invite the handful of other women we knew rode. One shitty Instagram flyer later, we found ourselves reaching out to a bunch more women and featuring them on a WordPress blog that we made as way of getting to know some of the riders who were coming to the campout. The day of the event, originally called ‘Babes in Borrego,’ we thought maybe 10-15 women would show up, and there ended up being 50 from all over. We were shocked and kind of nervous because the camp spot was a few miles down a dirt road on a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere, with no bathrooms. Needless to say, we had an absolutely amazing time! It was such a mixed group of amazing women, and they all encouraged us to keep it going. We moved the event to Joshua Tree, and five years later we are looking at nearly 2,000 women.
The idea behind the event has stayed the same. It’s really simple: good times, good friends, two wheels! It’s just about having fun adventures and meeting more riders.
As the event and community has grown, we have taken on a lot more responsibility, some we are prepared for and some we are not. It is a learning experience like nothing I could have imagined. It has definitely taken on a life of its own, and Ashmore and I are just here to help it on its way. My goals are to provide a really fun experience for women who love to ride motorcycles, encourage people to become more skilled riders, and for it to be as commonplace to see a woman on a bike as it is to see a man. We are getting there!”
Since its creation, thousands of women have participated in this desert gathering. Packed full of women who thrive in the community Violet and Ellis have fostered, the event’s success makes it obvious that the founders have tapped into something meaningful for women who ride. Because their event has struck a chord among women all over the world who share a passion for motorcycles, the ladies have been able to expand their meet-up to include an annual East Coast event, as well as a dirtbike faction called Babes in the Dirt.
Along with her fondness for motorcycles, Violet was born and raised with the knack for creativity. She says,
“At this point I am inspired by the utility and by the versatility of self-expression. I have always been a creator of sorts, and I have always liked to work with my hands. I started sewing when I was a kid and have always loved the idea of being able to wear my creations. I think that what a person wears can be a very important form of expression for people, and I like contributing to that outlet.”
Violet observed there was an area sorely lacking for women who ride: safe, functional and fashionable motorcycle gear. With her creative inclinations driving her and a strong desire to resolve this dilemma, Violet, along with two of her fellow lady riders, created ATWYLD.
Inspired by the void and built for the voyage, ATWYLD is made for the modern woman who rides. Violet explains,
“The inspiration for ATWYLD came from the community of women that we ride with. There were so many riders that simply did not wear gear or protective apparel because there was nothing that they had found that fit them or reflected their personal style in any way.
Why should someone be stripped of their personality when they put riding gear on? Myself, Corinne Lan Franco and Jamie Dempsey were on a ride up Angeles Crest, and we had stopped for lunch and got to talking about this issue. We were all three wearing fashion leather jackets and regular jeans with zero protective qualities. There was a clear void in the market, which is why we decided to fill it. There are great options on the top tier of protection but there wasn’t anything that looked and felt like regular streetwear but had Kevlar, armor or leather for protection, especially not for women. And so, ATWYLD was born!”
Violet, Lan Franco and Dempsey were not only astute enough to recognize the void that existed for female riders, but ambitious enough to do something about it. The ATWYLD team is setting a precedent for the way we perceive form and function for women’s riding gear.
On any given day, you might find Violet riding her beautiful Triumph Bonneville T100 or exploring the California trails on her Husqvarna FE 250. Or, she might be working away on planning the next Babes Ride Out event or an ATWLYD project. No matter what she is doing, though, Violet has definitely carved her own path in life. The way she was raised may have encouraged her devotion to motorcycles, community and creativity. However, what makes Violet a leader for women who ride is what she has done with her predispositions. With a strong work ethic and positive attitude, she has assembled her passions into inventive avenues that benefit and support the community she loves – qualities of a true pioneer.