Shyni Rajkumar is the founder of “Dauntless Royal Explorers” the first women’s bullet & riding club in the state. She has organised numerous riding events for social causes over the years, both for the state government and other organisations. Shyni is settled in Trivandrum with her husband and son.
“When you talk about the fun side of riding, it’s important to mention the losses too. If I go on a year-long ride, maybe my best friend will no longer be so once I am back.”
In 2016, Shyni Rajkumar had an epiphany.
Shyni had been riding for more than a decade by then and was an active member of several bullet & bike clubs across Kerala. She was well-known within the riding circles and had been using her stature as a rider to be a part of several social organisations and events over the years, most of them involving women’s empowerment. A good number of female students were learning driving from her, mostly within Trivandrum. And, the idea to form a bike-riding collective for women had been in Shyni’s mind for a while.
Thus, “Dauntless Royal Explorers”, the first women’s bullet club in Kerala & South India, was established.
“I was that kid who went around socialising with everyone. I wasn’t told to form boundaries just because I was a girl.”
Shyni grew up in Venganoor, Thiruvananthapuram, the birthplace of the great social reformer Ayyankali. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that questioning the tide of social and cultural conventions was imparted by virtue of the land she was born into. She excelled in sports and athletics throughout her academic life, representing the state team in Kho Kho and becoming a national level cricket player during her pre-degree.
“My parents gave me the space and freedom to evolve as an individual, right from my childhood.” She recollects her atypical childhood as a girl in a conservative society. “I can’t say the same about the other ‘well-wishers’ around me back then though,” she adds with a wry smile.
Shyni moved to UP for a few years after her marriage, during which time she taught herself to first ride a bicycle and by 20 had learnt to ride a motorbike too. Her adoration for bullets also set in at this stage. She travelled quite a bit during her time there, going as far as Nepal on a bike ride. Shyni returned to Kerala for good in 2007 taking along the first bike she had bought – a 1983 model Royal Enfield.
“My struggles started then…”
Shyni smirks slightly when she reminisces about her return home.
It wasn’t about drawing comparisons between UP and Kerala though, she says. Her family was never bothered when she started riding in Trivandrum and her husband, himself a passionate rider back then, only encouraged her more and rode along with her. But for her, there was a lot more freedom in UP than in her homeland because of the absence of judgement from the “well-intentioned society” around her. All sorts of narratives started emerging soon connected to her riding, including how a “bike-riding woman” was likely to be morally corrupt, Shyni looks back with amusement.
“I was determined to not let that get in the way of my love for riding and my free-spirited nature. Being accepted and acknowledged in my homeland matters a great deal for me,” she says.
“Patriarchal notions creep in everywhere at some point, but you cannot let them affect your own goals and passion.”
For the most part, Shyni herself never felt out of place as a woman in the male-dominated space of riding. As for those men who are offended by women-riders, she feels that it could be because something that the male population had monopolised for so long, slipping out of their hands, makes them insecure. But her journey so far hasn’t been devoid of sexism either.
Her first cross-country trip was in 2016, from Kerala to Ladakh, spanning over 42 days. This trip gave her a taste of the observation she made earlier. Shyni had set out from Kerala with two other riders, both male. But several conflicts along the way forced her to soon ride solo and she completed the trip successfully. When a travel magazine that interviewed her wrote about it exactly that way, it didn’t sit well with the two guys.
“I faced a lot of ‘trolling’ back then,” she remembers. But experiences like these only made her more resolute. In 2018, Shyni did an “Iron Butt ride”, from Bangalore to Pune and back – 1680 km in 24 hours. Not too long after that, she went on a 6-girl trip to Goa as well.
Shyni adds laughing, “This has become a recurring philosophy for me. Whenever I get trolled for something, I go on a long ride.”
While she enjoys riding with her club members and others, solo rides give her a special kind of satisfaction. She figures she has been on more than 20 solo rides by now within South India. Of all the places she has ridden across so far, Shyni prefers her native place itself the most. Wayanad and Ponmudi are a couple of her favourite destinations.
“Every time I am about to lose my cool for something during a trip, I remind myself of a philosophy…”
If she was already well-known within the riding circles, the birth of the Royal Explorers made Shyni even more popular. When Royal Enfield launched the Himalayan Offroad model, Shyni was called by a popular showroom to encourage her to take a look at it. “A far cry from the time this same showroom wouldn’t even allow me to register the first bullet I bought here in my name,” her face breaks into a pensive smile as she recalls.
It wasn’t such an easy ride down the road though. The financial aspects she had to solely take care of as the club’s founder was one part of it, apart from the many responsibilities that came along.
Shyni beams with pride as she takes a trip down memory lane. “I was part of several bullet & bike clubs by then and used to go on rides and trips often. But this was different. This was me being responsible for all those who joined the club believing in my dream,” she says. The dream was to bring together the girls and women who loved riding under one roof. There were many around her, Shyni remembers, who learnt riding out of passion but couldn’t express themselves further. She wanted to change that, make them take the next big step – TRAVEL!
The first trip the explorers organised was to Brymore, near Ponmudi. Shyni refers to it as a “trip filled with blunders”, chuckling at the memory. It was an offroad trip, she recollects, characterised by a lot of falls. Nonetheless, that barely lowered the group’s spirit and they came back proud of a hugely successful debut!
The time she spent with the club and its members has been a learning curve for her too, Shyni notes, learning and unlearning things along this journey. “Some of us in this club may have become riders and followed the passion even without it as well. But for a lot of the other members, they needed the club and the fellow female riders for the confidence to do it.”
Dauntless Royal Explorers now has students spread across the state from Trivandrum to Kollam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kannur and Kozhikode. There’s no age limit, with girls as young as 18 to women in their late 40s also being members of the club.
“Everyone was a fellow rider in the journey…”
The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 suffocated her to an extent even she didn’t expect. Riding was her way of dealing with emotional conflicts too. “I went on a long ride a couple of weeks after my father passed away. It was my way of dealing with grief,” she remembers solemnly.
Shyni feels that everyone will have a different version of what riding means to them. For her, it was about travelling. And it was never about whom she rode with – what gender and age they belonged to. Everyone was a fellow rider in the journey for me.
The uniqueness of her choices has brought along some sour experiences too unsurprisingly. One such incident happened during the time she was working in Thrissur on an insurance collection profile. She was met with uncalled for rude and misogynist behaviour during a routine traffic check from the inspector. But to her pleasant surprise, Shyni woke up to a front-page photo feature of the incident calling out the (mis)behaviour of the police, in a popular newspaper the next day!
If Murphy’s law were to be applied to riding, it must be that – accidents are inevitable, no matter how careful one is. Shyni was no stranger to the theory either, like the day she skidded off the road into a construction pit while riding within the city.
“Another time, I was riding through Malappuram one time on my Himalayan offroad when the accelerator cable broke. I called up a bunch of my biker friends in the Malabar region and shared the news with them. I was flooded with calls from our riding circles within no time, asking me to share the location! And by night, nearly two dozen people turned up to give me company.” Shyni reflects on the experience with a tinge of amazement.
“None of them had an accelerator cable I could use though,” she laughs about the experience.
The two things she considers while getting a bike is the engine capacity and riding comfort. After her RE ’83, she has bought several other bullets over the years – an’89 model, a 2012 Standard, a 2014 Classic, a 2016 Himalayan Offroad and a 2018 Interceptor 650. She also bought a Suzuki Gixxer 150, the only non-bullet bike she has owned, which she later gifted to her husband. Shyni holds the distinction of being the first owner of the Himalayan Offroad in Kerala and the first female owner in India. She was also the first person in Kerala and the first woman across the globe to own the Interceptor.
“I often feel that one lifetime is not enough to see all the places I want to.”
Shyni has received several sponsorships for the longer rides, from the state government or private associations. Royal Enfield often supports by providing the vehicle. She was a part of a Kasargod – Trivandrum ride, which the hospital group KIMS had sponsored. Shyni has also organised and led several of the Kerala government riding events and promotion, associated with the Youth Commission, Childline, RTO, Police Dept., the Council for Child Welfare, etc. The latest major event she was a part of was a ride on women’s day last month.
In 2017, Shyni was part of a group that raised protests against the ban on women trekking in the Agasthyarkoodam peak in the Western Ghats. Their fight was victorious as they climbed the peak soon enough, she recalls proudly.
She hopes to compensate for all the lost time due to the pandemic in 2022 and wants to increase the club’s strength as well as hold more socially relevant activities through it.
“I do have something big planned for this year. It’ll be a long ride, my longest so far, if/when it happens. “I hope I break some records on the way too,” Shyni says, grinning.
Even when we say we are riding solo, it never is that way, Shyni muses philosophically.
There are people you meet on the way. Your family and friends constantly check in on you. You miss your family and friends; you miss the connections. These things are always at the back of a rider’s mind and one contemplates giving up halfway through a trip, she adds.
“But then, we get a phone call from someone close to us. Their encouragement and belief in us, they keep us going.”