Salt Lake City-based motorcycle collective The Litas gives women and nonbinary riders confidence, community

Riding motorcycles has “showed me that I can do these hard things,” said member Katy Manch.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ashley Alvey pulls on leather gloves before getting on her motorcycle for a ride up Emigration Canyon with The Litas, a Utah-founded motorcycle collective for women and nonbinary people, May 12, 2023.

They don’t wear large back patches. They don’t have a president. They don’t even call themselves a motorcycle club. But branches of The Litas, a Salt Lake City-founded motorcycle collective for women and nonbinary people, can now be found around the world in about 30 countries.

Motorcyclist and global Litas founder Jessica Wise started the collective in 2014, after breaking up with the man who would later become her husband. Needing to “put my creative energy into something” and craving a motorcycle community made up of women, she got the idea to start her own group, The Litas, while hanging out with a friend at Dick N’ Dixie’s, a bar east of downtown.

“I think only one other person came to my first meetup, but it was winter,” Wise said. “It was still a really fun night.”

Wise founded the group to help break down barriers for women and nonbinary people interested in entering the male-dominated world of motorcycles.

“I wanted it to be somewhere where you didn’t have to try and be cool,” she said. “And you didn’t have to know anything. It didn’t matter. It was like, we’re just these humans coming together to connect. And we both happen to love motorcycles. And because of that, we can enjoy each other’s company and have fun.”

For Litas members, riding motorcycles is more than an adventure. It’s a way to form friendships, gain confidence and test their mettle.

“The level of confidence that happened in the second six months that I was riding was the wildest thing I’ve ever taken part in with my own body on my own journey towards self-confidence,” said LC Casey, a founder of The Litas’ Salt Lake City branch.

“I felt like a bad--- all the time,” she continued.

Undoing the ‘conditioning’

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jessica Wise, global founder of The Litas, works on her Harley Davidson motorcycle before an organized ride, May 12, 2023.

Before a woman can get onto a motorcycle, “I think there’s a lot of conditioning that needs to be undone,” Wise said. “Whether we’re aware of it or not.”

Casey said, “I do think that for a lot of people, there is that kind of patriarchal wall in the way, of ‘I am not supposed to be on a motorcycle because it’s dangerous, and it’s for men, and it’s not something that women or “ladies” do.’”

“But women have been riding motorcycles since the early 1900s, riding across the whole country,” she continued. “There’s so many women that have paved ways before us.”

Litas member Katy Manch said she never saw herself as someone who’d ride a motorcycle. “I came from a really risk-averse family,” she said. “I grew up on the East Coast; we were not outdoorsy at all. We had a neighbor that had a motorcycle, and my mother was terrified of it.”

When she moved to Salt Lake City from Virginia, she bought a road bicycle. One day, Manch rode her bicycle to a bar downtown, where a couple of people she knew were working.

When Manch walked into the bar, she told her friends that she had locked up her bike down the street, and “both of them thought for some strange reason that I meant motorcycle,” she said.

They ran to the window, Manch said, wanting to catch a glimpse of her “bike.”

“That was the minute the lightbulb went on,” she said, “that I could ride a motorcycle. It never even crossed my mind that that was something I was capable [of] or that I would do.”

Manch bought her first motorcycle in 2013, and started going on group rides with Wise and the other Litas in 2015.

Fighting ‘imposter syndrome’

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) LC Casey, a founder of the Salt Lake City branch of The Litas, welcomes a new member before a motorcycle ride on May 12, 2023.

Before Manch joined The Litas, the biker women she’d meet seemed to reflect certain stereotypes.

“If I wanted to ride, I had to be tough and dirty,” she felt. “And ride just as hard or even harder than the men. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m tougher than you,’ because they expect you not to be.”

But when Manch started riding with The Litas, she realized she didn’t have to prove herself.

“I really began to feel comfortable being a woman that rides, meaning it was OK if I wanted to wear makeup, it was OK if I didn’t,” she said. “If I wanted to be pretty and ride a motorcycle, that was fine. And that was not something that I had ever felt.”

Women go through life with an “extra layer of sh-t on top of you,” Casey said. “... Imposter syndrome is so much worse in people that are assigned female at birth.”

Casey started riding in February 2020, spending about three or four months practicing in the Salt Lake Community College parking lot in Liberty Wells. When she became comfortable enough, she joined The Litas for a ride, which went up through City Creek, to the Capitol, and back down to the old Sears parking lot.

“We just got tacos and sat on the asphalt and talked and hung out,” Casey said. “And from that point on, I was sold and hooked in both the motorcycle aspect and The Litas.”

Finding a community

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jessica Wise, global founder of The Litas, listens as LC Casey gives riders a safety briefing before a motorcycle ride on May 12, 2023.

There are three requirements that prospective Litas have to meet in order to join the collective: They have to be women or nonbinary. They have to be over 18. And they have to ride a motorcycle — “but I say that kind of loosely,” Wise said.

If someone doesn’t ride yet, they just have to be interested in learning. And The Litas are there to provide support.

“I think what motorcycles did was just give me this out to [find] that final puzzle piece, taking that last step towards who I have always wanted to be,” Casey said.

Wise said 30 to 40 women now come to the monthly events — either a group ride or a meetup, depending on the weather. In Utah, the most active branches of The Litas are in Ogden, Logan and Salt Lake City, although there are also branches in Utah County and Park City.

Manch said learning to ride a motorcycle has made her stronger. She’s since ridden to Arizona by herself. She’s fixed “all kinds” of problems on her bike. “It just showed me that I can do these hard things,” she said.

Casey said her family moved around so much when she was a kid that she wasn’t able to make friends back then. But she’s since found the social network she needed in The Litas.

“When you have that place to turn to no matter what, there’s also confidence in that, that you’re not alone,” she said. “... And I think that’s a pretty common thread through almost any biker community, but it definitely thrives in The Litas.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Six new members prepare to ride up Emigration Canyon with a core group of 14 motorcyclists during a ride organized by The Litas, a Utah-founded motorcycle collective for women and nonbinary people, May 12, 2023.

To join The Litas, follow The Litas and your local branch on Instagram: @thelitas, @TheLitasSLC, @thelitaslogan, @thelitasogden, @thelitasutahcounty. Also, download the Collective app, find your location on the map, and join.