If you happen to be traversing the scenic coastline of St Lucia, there’s a strong possibility you’ll run into a gang of bikers with various Muppets from the beloved children’s classic “Sesame Street” emblazoned on their helmets. No, Jim Henson’s iconic creations have not gone rogue. Instead a group of pioneers are blazing a trail for female riders on the island.
Sesame Street Bikers and Friends is celebrating their third anniversary this year. They came into existence on February 13th, 2016, with goals of revolutionizing the public’s perception of bikers by promoting safety and responsibility when operating a motorcycle, strengthening biking camaraderie, serving as positive role models in the community, and of course having fun while doing it all. The club is the brainchild of Stacy Nelson, a riding enthusiast who longed to break into an activity which has traditionally been male dominated.
“Riding was something that I always wanted to do,” she recounted. “I was in Paris and when I came from work, I sat in my hotel window. There was an area packed with bikes. I just happened to be at the window when people were coming from work and I sat and watched young females coming from school, work, and people hopping on their scooter. I thought, wow this would be awesome in St Lucia. Why can’t we have females riding?”
Although motorsport has enjoyed a strong foothold on the island, Nelson only knew of one female rider as it was considered taboo at the time for women to ride motorcycles. Nelson returned from France emboldened and determined to learn how to ride. Her enthusiasm was quickly tempered by the tepid response she received from her male counterparts.
Undeterred by the dismissive reception, Nelson invested in herself — acquiring her own bike and starting the licensing process. After a few false starts in which she received the license, allowed it to expire, and had to re-sit, Nelson was approached with an opportunity she could not refuse. Another female biker, who rode sporadically, offered to sell Nelson her motorcycle with the condition that other women should be able to use it when they needed to get licensed. But a bolder plan began to take root. Nelson was now on a mission to open her own riding school.
“When I started it was for a general field, but my focus was on getting more females to join the bandwagon of riding a motorcycle.” Armed with a license, a bike, an idea, and renewed vigor, Nelson quickly went about laying the groundwork for her passion project. She travelled to the United States where she completed a basic safety course, applied to become a riding instructor in St Lucia, and started developing the newly minted business. Nelson wanted to keep costs low to make her program accessible. She started canvassing the city to promote the new venture.
During a stop at one local establishment, she met Julie Bonnett, an accomplished boxing and basketball referee. Bonnett was enamored with the idea and decided to give herself an early birthday gift of riding lessons. This was Nelson’s first pupil. Over the course of the tutelage, Nelson shared her vision with Bonnett, who quickly offered support. “She said, whatever you want Stacy, let me know. This is a fantastic idea which will basically change the face of riding in St. Lucia from a male sport to something anybody can do.”
One student turned into two, which grew into three, and before she knew it Nelson’s students were spreading the word to other aspiring female bikers. Bonnett partnered with Nelson and the group soon formed a close-knit community with informal meetings at the latter’s home, eventually morphing into a club. They christened themselves Sesame Street, born out of their tagline of females creating a family to have fun and borrowing the moniker of the eternally popular children’s show. Each member was assigned a Muppet character which suits their personality, but there was also a subtle strategy at play.
“We are mothers, sisters, aunts, and what we wanted to do was attract the attention of younger kids and portray something that kids can relate to rather than go biker chick,” Nelson explained. The club operates with the credo of “Ride safe, Ride smart — All members must be licensed — and have pledged to assist marginalized and vulnerable groups. They participate in ‘Smile for a Child’, a massive playdate organized by a local disc jockey for children in rural communities. Members teach bicycle safety in schools and the importance of wearing protective gear.
In the past year, they adopted a youngster from an underserved area and have funded his education and meals, in addition to hosting a birthday party in his honor. They also started their own program called “Breakfast with the Needy” where they prepare and share a meal with the underprivileged. They have also notched small victories. Sesame Street has travelled to biking mecca St Vincent and are believed to be the first female bike club in the Eastern Caribbean. Perhaps most significantly, Nelson has seen an increase in the number of girls and women who are learning to ride. They outnumber the men in the classes offered by her riding school Kickstart. Their impact is already being felt.
Despite being female driven, there are guys associated with the club who account for the “and friends” portion of their name. They help with brainstorming activities, bike maintenance, checks, and provide guidance on special projects. But typically, it’s ladies only. And every second Sunday of the month they ride a new route chosen by their road captain, creating a path for other women to follow.