The spirit of adventure: L'équipée
Combining style and confidence with an appetite for adventure, all-female biker gang L'équipée perfectly exemplifies the Belstaff ethos, says Gemma Billington
'We're Parisian riders, lovers of old bikes, intoxicated by freedom and adventure.'
Think of a motorcycle gang and you'll probably envisage a bunch of burly, bearded Harley-Davidson riders. What you won't imagine is a group of lithe Parisian women in khaki jumpsuits, red lipstick and cowboy boots.
Welcome to L'équipée, the all-female French biker gang that has turned the traditionally macho world of motorcycling on its head. The five women came together through a shared love of vintage motorcycles just a year ago and have already ticked off plenty of bucket-list 'musts', including riding across the Himalayas and off-roading through Brazil. Most recently, they've returned from their debut appearance at the Wheels and Waves festival in Biarritz, south-west France. In between beachside barbecues, parties and taking part in a 1,000km coast-to-coast motorcycle ride across the Pyrenees, L'équipée were filmed and interviewed by Belstaff in the exclusive short film, Ride to Nowhere.
It's hard not to be drawn into L'équipée's world. Their natural sense of style and confidence, coupled with adrenaline-fuelled adventures, has provided the kind of video footage and social-media fodder of which others can only dream. It helps that every one of them looks as if they've stepped out of the pages of Vogue, but good looks and fashion sense aren't what make the group so special. The L'équipée spirit stays true to that of the rebellious nature of motorcycling, where gender stereotypes are irrelevant.
The physical exertion of riding for hours on end through vast and precarious landscapes forges an unbreakable bond, and it's this sense of freedom and camaraderie that ultimately makes L'équipée so appealing. The same values are synonymous with Belstaff, so, when Delphine Ninous took on the newly created position of the brand's vice president of women's design, L'équipée provided a natural source of inspiration for her debut apparel collection for AW15.
'The more you ride, the less you think. You're enjoying the speed, the curves, the landscapes, the lights, the sounds… And when you're riding with other people, it's so fluid it's like choreography. You're not talking, but you know your friends are living the same moment. That's a real connection,' explains Cécile Ney, a film-maker and one fifth of L'équipée.
Cécile's passion for motorcycles is one that lay undiscovered for many years. Her first taste of riding came via a whirlwind date through the streets of Paris on the back of a Honda Dax. Three years later, she acquired her own licence. Against the advice of friends and family, she invested in a vintage Café Racer CB400 and there was no stopping her. 'I was looking for any excuse just to have somewhere to go,' she reminisces, 'I would ride in the rain, the snow… whatever.'
Soon the French capital wasn't enough to satisfy her burgeoning appetite for adventure. Just as she began to hunger for more, fate intervened at a Paris motorcycle convention. There she met a woman who carried a cat in a cage in one hand and a bottle of Cointreau in the other. In that moment, she knew she'd found a kindred spirit.
After meeting Louise - the cat-and-Cointreau lady - Cécile quickly met more fellow female bikers: Cindy, Louise D and Pauline. Cindy discussed her idea to cross the Himalayas on vintage motorcycles. Though it was a very rough plan, the women shared the same desire to do it the old-school way, with minimal organisation, without assistance and across the most arduous route possible. Cécile found the idea so 'cool and crazy', she was desperate to join and document it. The others agreed and, just two months later, the newly formed L'équipée found themselves on a plane to New Delhi.
L'équipée en Himalaya is an absorbing and inspiring documentary set to a cool, rock-infused soundtrack. Following the women from Manali to Dharamsala, the film is peppered with post-adventure interviews where they look back on their experience. It doesn't shy away from the perils and low points of the journey, which also included bouts of extreme altitude sickness at 14,000ft, poor weather conditions and narrow roads with sheer drops.
'The biggest challenge, for me, is the mental and physical tiredness. And I am often scared,' Cécile admits. 'The point is to transform this feeling and push your limits. Often, when we've been riding for hours, I disconnect my brain and following the girls is like being in a trance. I feel no fear - nothing.'
In spite of the dangers, the Himalayan adventure was a resounding triumph that has spurred the women on to do more. On their travels, they attract an almost celebrity fascination, with curious locals and fellow travellers alike stopping to talk to them and pose in photographs. The spirit of adventure is one that resonates on a global scale, and theirs has rapidly become both a viable 'brand' and a way of life.
L'équipée has accomplished more in a year than many people will in a lifetime. Yet, when it comes to adventure, there is a sense they've only just begun.