Dykes on Bikes

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Dykes on Bikes
Founded4 July 1976
Founded atChicago, Illinois, U.S.
PurposeLesbian motorcycle riders
USA, Canada, Australia, UK
22 chapters
Road Captain/President
Vick Germany
Dykes on Bikes leading the 2005 San Francisco Pride Parade
Dykes on Bikes leading the Stockholm Pride parade 2010

Dykes on Bikes (DOB) is a chartered[1] lesbian motorcycle club with 22 chapters,[2] numerous affiliations,[3] and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.[4] They are known for their participation in gay pride events such as Pride parades, and significant LGBTQ+ events like the international Gay Games.[5]

The loud bikes and presence remain at the front of the parade for security and logistical reasons, and a celebrated place of honor today as a symbol of LGBT pride, defiance, liberation and empowerment.[6] The contingents are fiercely independent and self-reliant in the DIY and feminist traditions and have been studied as a social phenomenon as a "complex, multilayered form of consumption-related cultural resistance that raises awareness of social injustice and discursively informs social meanings in everyday life outside the festivals."[7]

Along with drag queens, the DOB have been criticized for not portraying a more acceptable image of LGBT culture. Supporters, however, counter that they are highly visible icons of gay pride who refuse to assimilate and conform to mainstream society gender roles, and indeed remind of the butches and queens who helped lead the Stonewall riots launching the modern gay-rights movement.[8]

The Dykes on Bikes have been criticized for using the term dyke in their name. When registering their name as a trademark in the United States, the group faced a battle to demonstrate that the word dyke, and related terms such as terms diesel-dyke, bull-dyke, and bull-dagger, have in fact been re-appropriated as self-referential terms of endearment and empowerment distinct from lesbian and indeed awards and events utilizing those names are now used by the LGBT community.[9] In keeping with the tradition of motorcyclists' rejection of the norms of middle-class, middle-America, the Dykes on Bikes teach, by example, that women can be masculine and challenge the dominant sexual and cultural expectations of what a woman is and what she can do and achieve.[9][10]


San Francisco Pride Parade in 1983
Dykes On Bikes at Reykjavík's 2004 Gay Pride parade in Iceland

The term "Dykes on Bikes" was coined at the first gathering of the 1976 San Francisco Pride parade.[11] The connection between lesbians and motorcycles, however, existed before this official naming. Motorcycles have regularly appeared in lesbian fiction,[3] and the term is sometimes used derogatorily against any woman rider who isn't with a man.[12]

According to Harley-Davidson historians, female riders did everything men did from long distance riding to enjoying lazy Sunday afternoon rides with friends.[citation needed]

World War II[edit]

1943 Painting of a World War II WAC Air Controller

As the US entered World War II in 1941, women were provided opportunities to volunteer for their country and almost 250,000 women served in the armed forces, mostly in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), two-thirds of whom were single and under the age of twenty-five.[13] Women were recruited with posters showing muscular, short-haired women wearing tight-fitting tailored uniforms.[13] Bessie Stringfield, a pioneer African-American female motorcyclist, joined a motorcycle dispatch unit of the army.[14]

Many lesbians joined the WAC to meet other women and to do "men's work."[13][15] Few were rejected for lesbianism, and found that being strong or having masculine appearance – characteristics associated with being dykes – aided in the work as mechanics and motor vehicle operators.[13] A popular Fleischmann's Yeast advertisement showed a WAC riding a motorcycle with the heading "This is no time to be frail."[13][16] Some recruits appeared at their inductions wearing men's clothing and their hair slicked back in the classic butch style of out lesbians of the time.[13]

First appearance[edit]

Dykes on Bikes leading the 2016 Cologne Pride

The first formal appearance of the Dykes on Bikes was in 1976 at San Francisco's Pride parade where the riders were placed first as motorcycles didn't always run reliably at the same walking pace as the rest of the parade and, as first contingent, they were able to move faster. Although the original group self-identified as Dykes on Bikes and were known as such, over the years they have used the Women’s Motorcycle Contingent/ Dykes on Bikes to encompass those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or any of the newer gender-bending terms like femme, androgyne, genderqueer, non-binary, gender-fluid and boi.[17]

Founding member Soni Wolf was to be the Community Grand Marshal during the San Francisco Pride parade in 2018. Although Wolf passed away in April 2018, her close friends represented her in the 2018 parade by carrying the custom-painted motorcycle tank from the bike she rode during the inaugural ride in 1976.[18]

Worldwide phenomena[edit]

At the 2009 Midsumma Festival

Dykes on Bikes have been leading marches such as Gay pride parades, Gay Games events, and protests since their creation in 1976. "Dyke Marches" have become a popular Pride event nationwide, with the Dykes on Bikes often leading the marches. The Dyke March events are generally non-commercial, often in sharp contrast to corporate-sponsored pride events, and are usually inclusive of lesbian, bi, and trans women. Contingents of the DOB have led pride parades around the world from San Francisco to Melbourne, Paris, London, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney,[19] Zurich,[20] Tel Aviv, and Greece.[21]

Legal battle to register DOB as a trademark[edit]

Dykes on Bikes contingent at the 2011 LGBT Pride March in New York City

Normally the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, will not consider registration of a proposed trademark which contains a term that is disparaging to a group of people. This presents a problem for the PTO when an attempt is made by a group to register a mark containing a self-disparaging term, as was done with DOB.[22] "On February 20, 2004, the PTO refused the registration of the mark 'Dykes on Bikes' under Trademark Act Section 2(a), explaining that a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities would recognize that the term “dyke” is disparaging and objectionable to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities."[9]

On November 13, 2006, the Dykes on Bikes won the battle to trademark the name, having struggled since 2003 to persuade the PTO that "dyke" was not offensive to the lesbian community.[23][24] In 2005, after a prolonged court battle involving testimony on the word's changing role in the lesbian community, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board permitted the group to register its name.

The defense noted that during the time period from 2000 to 2005 the PTO had approved marks for "Crippled Old Biker Bastards", "Biker Bitch", "Whore", and "Evil Pussy" as well as "TechnoDyke", "Homo Depot", "Queer Shop", Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Queer as Folk.[9][25] The Brooke Oliver Law Office that represented the SFWMC also pointed out the absurdity of the initial rejection ruling citing the PTO's own regulations that "the perceptions of the general public are irrelevant" and indeed the test of "whether a mark is disparaging and/or offensive is the perceptions of the individuals referred to and/or identified by that mark. In this particular case, it is women – or more specifically lesbians, bisexuals and transgender women – who ride motorcycles in the Pride Parades and who would be using the term."[9][26]

In 2007, after the USPTO granted approval,[27] the group faced a new challenge from a male lawyer, Michael McDermott. McDermott sued the group, calling the name "disparaging to men" and "scandalous and immoral."[28] McDermott stated his opposition against any group associated with the annual Dyke March, which he dubbed "the Annual Illegal San Francisco Dyke Hate Riot" in which he and all men are subject to criminal attacks and civil right violations. He claimed the word dyke is associated with a "deep obsessive hatred of men and the male gender."[29] The court found that men had no grounds to be offended by the term.

In popular culture[edit]

In June 2014, the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Women's Motorcycle Contingent was filmed for an episode of Sense8 during Dyke March.[30][31]

Women from Dykes on Bikes feature briefly as characters in the 2018 film The Mule, where they have a passing encounter with director Clint Eastwood's character.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "C1915232 San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Women's Motorcycle Contingent". Business Search - Entity Detail. California Secretary of State. Retrieved March 14, 2020.[failed verification]
  2. ^ "Official website: Chapters". Archived from the original on September 19, 2016.[dead link]
  3. ^ a b Boslaugh, Sarah (March 2006). "Getting Past the Stereotypes: Women and Motorcycles in Recent Lesbian Novels". International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. Archived from the original on April 24, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  4. ^ "San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Womens Motorcycle Contingent". Tax Exempt Organization Search Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  5. ^ Rowe, David; Markwell, Kevin; Stevenson, Deborah (July 2006). "Exploring participants' experiences of the Gay Games: intersections of sport, gender and sexuality". International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics. 2 (2): 149. doi:10.1386/macp.2.2.149/1. S2CID 144895422. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  6. ^ O'Brien, Jodi. "Changing The Subject". Echo NYC. Archived from the original on June 4, 2004. Retrieved 2007-08-18.
  7. ^ Kates (Monash University), Steven M.; Belk (University of Utah), Russell W. (2001). "The Meanings of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day: Resistance through Consumption and Resistance to Consumption". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications. 30 (4): 392–429. doi:10.1177/089124101030004003. S2CID 145168122. Retrieved 2007-08-18.
  8. ^ Gluckman, Amy; Reed, Betsy (1997). Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-91379-9. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
  9. ^ a b c d e Ilyasova, K. Alex (November 2006). "Dykes on Bikes and the Regulation of Vulgarity". International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. Retrieved 2007-08-21. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Epstein, Debbie; Johnson, Richard (1998). "Schooling Sexualities". Buckingham: Open University Press. p. 19. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  11. ^ "LGBT Pride: SF Historical Timeline". KQED.org website. Archived from the original on December 11, 2005. Retrieved 2006-01-13.
  12. ^ Slawinski, Kris (March 2006). "Motorcycles as Political". International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Wolf, Sherry (September–October 2004). "The Roots of Gay Oppression: The Second World War". International Socialist Review. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
  14. ^ "Explore The History: Bessie Stringfield". Harley-Davidson. 2001. Archived from the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  15. ^ Berube, Allan (1 April 2000). Coming Out Under Fire. Simon and Schuster. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-7432-1071-3.
  16. ^ Berube, Allan (2000). Coming Out Under Fire. Simon and Schuster. photo inserts, 4. ISBN 978-0-7432-1071-3.
  17. ^ "Dykes on Bikes". SF Women's Motorcycle Contingent Dykes on Bikes website. Archived from the original on January 6, 2006. Retrieved 2006-01-13.
  18. ^ Marker, Jason. "Dykes on Bikes Founding Member Soni Wolf Passes Away". Ride Apart. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Lesbian bike brigade demands trademark for club name". Pakistan Daily Times. 2005-07-28. Archived from the original on 2008-02-03. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  20. ^ "Warmer Mai Gay Festival". What's On When. 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  21. ^ "Sapphite Links, Groups & Communities". Sapphites in Greece. 2006-07-30. Archived from the original on 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  22. ^ Anten, Todd (2006). "Self-Disparaging Trademarks and Social Change: Factoring the Reappropriation of Slurs into Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act". Columbia Law Review. 106: 338. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  23. ^ Raab, Barbara (2006-04-20). "Dyke Drama: A not-so-excellent adventure through U.S. trademark law". American Sexuality magazine. National Sexuality Resource Center. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
  24. ^ National Center for Lesbian Rights (2006). "What's in a Name?". NCLR Newsletter. 2006 (Winter): 1. 'On November 13th, the Women's Motorcycle Contingent formally won the legal right to trademark "DYKES ON BIKES."
  25. ^ Cincone, Gia (2005-09-15). ""Exhibit A." Applicant's Request to Remand for Additional Evidence, Part I". Townsend and Townsend & Crew LLP. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  26. ^ Oliver, Brooke (August 2004). ""Response to Office Action." Response to USPTO's Initial Refusal. Brooke Oliver Law Group, P.C. 20". Brooke Oliver Law Group. Archived from the original on July 3, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  27. ^ Michael J. McDermott vs. San Francisco Women's Motorcycle Contingent, 07-7126. (United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit).
  28. ^ "Court rules Dykes on Bikes are not offensive, Pink News, 16 July 2007". Pinknews.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  29. ^ Lagos, Marisa (July 12, 2007). "Man has no legal grounds for objecting to 'Dykes on Bikes,' court says". San Francisco Chronicle.
  30. ^ ""The Wachowskis shoot scenes for Sense8 at Dyke March in San Francisco"". Corbis. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  31. ^ Rhodes, Steve. "The Wachowskis shoot scenes for Sense8 at Dyke March in San Francisco". Demotix. Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2018.

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