The Gundi on the Night Rod
Maral Yazarloo, India’s most devoted female Harley-Davidson riders
An American touring the world on his Harley-Davidson some 24 years ago had no idea that his stopover in the small north Iranian town Kelarabad would make such a lasting impression. The seven-year-old girl with bright eyes checking his bike out never forgot the wonder she felt at the sight and sound of that super machine.
Two decades later, MaralYazarloo, who now lives in Pune, got a casual email telling her about the setting up of a local Harley-Davidson dealership. It led to her buying her first Harley, a Forty-Eight. She has since become one of Harley-Davidson’s most committed female riders, having clocked close to 50,000 kilometers on long rides across the country in the past three years.
Yazarloo spent her childhood waking up at sunrise to the chants of Hare Rama Hare Krishna in her home, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Sandwiched between two brothers, she grew up rough and tough with a myriad of hobbies and activities, including yoga, meditation, playing the ‘tar’ (a stringed long-necked Persian instrument), swimming, volleyball, water skiing, karate and travelling.
Not only did she lead her university swimming and volleyball teams, she is also a black belt in karate and a national softball player for Iran. Her mother, who was a rider herself, is her role model. Along with her brothers, she was brought up to be independent and strong. Lots of reading and travelling with just a backpack and a sleeping bag was great training for her later years as a biker. “My mother was a strong woman and is the reason I have become the person I am today. I was never allowed to act girly or spoiled. My family is very women-centric, but it is about being strong and holding your own. We were allowed limited television, no video games or computers, but we had a lot of books in our home. Travelling, backpacking and widening our horizons were very important.”
After finishing college, Yazarloo moved to India to pursue her MBA at Pune’s Wadia College, where she turned heads not just with her looks, but also with the lavender Royal Enfield Bullet that she rode. She then did a PhD in marketing at Pune University before embarking on a successful corporate career. Panchshil Realty, the well known Pune based property developer, was her doctorate case study, and she eventually ended up working there. She is currently the head of retail and corporate communication. “I have been with Panchshil for seven years now. I was supposed to move to London, but decided to stay on as I found them one of the best companies to work with. I also feel it is so true when they call it Incredible India, as I love living here in my very own Incredible Pune.”
Yazarloo was among the earliest female buyers of a Harley in India. Besides the Forty-Eight, she also owns the more powerful Night Rod. Riding almost entirely with male friends, she has crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country over the past few years. “Maral’s got more balls than most guys I know. She is an excellent rider,” says Youhan Mubaraki, fellow member of the Harley Owners of India (HOI), a members-only club. “We ride together, and often, it is just the two of us from Pune. I am very comfortable riding with her, though sometimes it’s hard keeping up with. I once had to slow down returning from Ahmedabad, as my Cruiser is not made for the speeds her Night Rod can do. The kind of long rides she has done to Bhutan, Kutch and Amritsar, no woman has undertaken, in India at least. Riding with her is like riding with any of the guys, except, as I said, she probably has more balls.”
“The ride to Bhutan was two weeks long, and I was the only woman among 75 riders,” says Yazarloo. “We rode from Pune and crossed the border to Bhutan. I am very lucky as my respectful and caring HOG group (the larger Harley Owners Group) and my HOI group are always a support to me. These guys are perfect gentlemen and friends for life. We treat each other like family. Everyone is an achiever and passionate about riding, which is what unites us. As time passes, we share more and more and gradually become a part of each other’s lives.”
One of the more experienced riders in her group, Yazarloo can ride 12 to 14 hours a day, covering upwards of 1000 km a day during long overnight trips. She can rough it out, eat at dhabas, get dirty and stay anywhere along the ride. This is in stark contrast to her life of luxury, fashion and diamonds — her three indulgences, she says — when off the bike. Many of her friends from HOI and HOG drove to Pune recently for the inauguration of her new fashion store, Maya, at Pune’s JW Marriott hotel. Yazarloo is also an accomplished painter, with five exhibitions so far.
Among the perks of being a woman rider, she says, is that she gets the best room and best parking along the ride. She is called ‘gundi’ and has the admiration and protection of her inner circle, called the ‘gundas’, known for their high speeds and good riding. She was perceived as a ‘hot chick’, but once they rode with her, this sentiment was replaced with serious respect for her as a rider. In her riding gear, it is hard to distinguish her as the only woman on the ride.
“I do miss another strong female presence on my rides,” Yazarloo says. “Why I’m saying strong is because by nature I’m very protective, and my level of care is higher for women. If I feel they are not confident on the road, I automatically slow down and will go into protective mode, which, in a short ride, is all right, but in a long ride can tire me out. Riding with a bunch of cool ladies is my dream, which will hopefully come true soon.”
A recent 4-am Goa to Pune ride ended with Yazarloo getting out of her gear and into her high heels and a business suit before she headed into a high-powered meeting at Panchshil headquarters. The only giveaway was the mark the helmet had left on her forehead after the ride. The downsides of being a biker, she says, are the hair-fall caused by long periods of helmet use, the heat inside the top-to-toe gear and the skin exposure over time.
Her most recent ride was a solo 1000-km journey from Italy up to the Swiss Alps on a 1600cc Harley Fat Boy. “I was in Italy setting up things for my couture brand, Maya, and getting a certificate in design when I decided to go on a ride and took off on a rented bike.” The two-day ride across mountainous terrain was an adventurous one. “I got a little lost as my two GPS devices showed different directions. I found myself on a steep incline with very little room to manoeuvre. These bikes are heavy — around 350 kg — and not easy to handle. I was unfamiliar with the bike, and there was no civilisation around, so, if I went down, I would have to get up myself. The road was one-and-a-half metres wide and had a steep fall on one side. It was a moment of great pride for me when I managed the turn and stayed on the road with no mishap. I rode 11 hours one way, as I lost my way, and eight hours on the way back. On a ride, sometimes you feel this is really bad and it can’t get any worse. Then, you keep riding and it gets better. It’s the same in life; you have to keep riding.”
For Yazarloo, riding her Harley is more than a thrill. It is her zen, her meditation. After 40 minutes on the bike, every thought, worry or attachment recedes, and she is free.