By Fred Parvaneh
A motorcycle ride across 45 countries and seven continents, with no back-up vehicles or support teams: that’s the bold 18-month adventure that Iranian-born Maral Yazarloo began in Mumbai, India, on 15th March with her biking partner Pankaj Trivedi.
The project, called “Ride To Be One,” is a chance for the two riders to connect globally with people from all races, and to chronicle their experiences in a documentary that will be released on completion of the journey.
Kayhan Life met Maral Yazarloo on a recent stopover in Los Angeles.
What is “Ride To Be One,” and how did you get involved in this project?
“Ride To be One” is basically a survival road trip on a motorcycle. Pankaj Trivedi is my riding partner. Originally, I was part of a group of five riders, but the other three didn’t view the trip as a life experience and were only interested in setting records. My desire in participating in such a long and arduous journey is to learn about different cultures and to connect with every nationality. I also want to document this journey for future generations, and since my Mom did not want me to travel alone, I decided to leave the group and ride with Pankaj.
I met Pankaj at the annual India Bike Week. This is an event where all of the famous bikers and biking aficionados gather to promote biking as a sport. They had called Pankaj and I to do a photo shoot for their gallery. In India, I am known as the “Queen of Superbikes,” given that I have set records and was the first female owner of Ducati and BMW bikes. Pankaj is also a well-known long distant rider, as well as a photographer and a documentary filmmaker. He has won awards for his short movies, and spends seven months of the year on his bike while shooting films. He seemed a natural choice as my ride partner.
Where did you grow up, and how did you get your nickname ‘Maya’?
I was born in 1981 and raised in Kelarabad, which is between Chaloos and Motel Ghoo on the Caspian coast in Iran. I lived there for 18 years, then moved to Tehran to get my Bachelors degree. After graduation, I moved to India and received an MBA and then a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Poona (now called Savitribai Phule Pune University).
Indians have a habit of shortening names. As they had difficulty pronouncing my full name, Maral became ‘Ma,’ and Yazarloo became ‘Ya.’
Do you still live in India, and what do you do there?
When I’m not on the road, I call India home. For the past 11 years, I’ve worked at Panchshil Realty, one of India’s largest construction companies. I was vice president and head of their communications and retail departments. I joined the company as a management trainee while getting my Ph.D., and they hired me on a full-time basis after I got my doctorate.
You’ll be crossing some fairly inhospitable areas such as Antarctica. Any special preparations? What about Iran – any hesitations about riding there?
For the Antarctica portion, we have booked a special 50-foot sailing boat, because we cannot take our bikes on large cruises or on aircrafts. There aren’t that many people that take motorcycles to Antarctica. I spoke to a lady who made it out there on a 200cc bike, and she said that she had to charter a private boat as well.
I have no hesitation riding in Iran. My parents still live there, and I visit them every year and enjoy my time with them. My riding partner has been to Iran on several rides. Once, he was there for 14 days, and during 12 of those days, he stayed at strangers’ homes. He kept asking where he should stay and they kept inviting him into their homes.
The hospitable nature of Iranians is legendary. Lois Pryce, a friend from the U.K. who has travelled by bike in Iran and has written a book [‘Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran‘] told me she found Iranians to be the most hospitable people.
I understand you are also a painter and a fashion designer?
My close friends always say that there are five or six Marals, and they never know which one will be showing up. Is it going to be Maral the painter, the fashion designer, the biker or the corporate executive? All of those careers and interests are an integral part of my life, and I’ve never had difficulty balancing the time and effort that goes into them.
My painting career started in Iran. I was a student of Nami Petgar, who is very well known internationally, and then continued with his daughter, Didar. She and I became best of friends, and we were featured in a series of group exhibitions.
When I moved to India, I had a number of solo exhibitions. One of my most successful was for a large commercial real estate and hotel company. They ended up buying the entire collection. My paintings currently hang in the JW Marriotts in Mumbai and Pune, along with a number of other cities.
Ever since I was a small child, I wanted to be a fashion designer. After I received my doctorate in marketing, I enrolled at the European Institute of Art and Design, and did a short course in fashion, in Milan. I then established a factory in India and launched my own brand in Paris, followed by Rome, Dubai and Mumbai. I have hosted several fashion shows in Dubai with Fashion Forward, which is the premier fashion event coordinator in Dubai.
What attracted you to motorcycles, how many do you own and have you had any bad falls?
I’ve had several falls, but I don’t consider them bad, since I’m sitting in front of you in one piece. The worst injury I suffered from a fall was a broken elbow. I currently own four bikes: two Harleys, a Ducati and a BMW. Each of those bikes is built for a specific purpose. The Harleys I use for long distance rides. The Ducati and BMW are mainly for racing and I love the way they look.
I remember the first time I got on a bike was after a bet with a friend. He claimed that I couldn’t stay on the bike for more than a couple of meters. I proved him wrong, and was immediately hooked. When I bought my first bike, I traveled 150 kilometers from Pune to Mumbai. Gradually, I went on daily rides of 1,500 kilometers or more on Indian roads. I currently hold the women’s record in India for the highest mileage on a superbike.
The type of biking I do takes a heavy toll on your back, legs and arms, and does require you to be both physically in shape and mentally sharp. As such, I take physical fitness very seriously. In college, I was captain of the volleyball and swimming teams, and played softball at state level. I also have a black belt in karate.
Long-distance motor biking is a sport dominated by men. Why do you think that is?
I think there are a number of social factors. Women are mothers and wives and caregivers to children. If I had children, there would be no way I could leave on this journey. I also think that many family members discourage women from participating in the sport, because they don’t consider it as “feminine.” I’m happy to say, though, that the ratio of women to men bikers is slowly increasing, and I hope that more young women will take it up in the years to come.
How do you think your travel log will inspire others and what do you hope to achieve by taking this journey?
My story is different from most women who have undertaken journeys like this. In most cases, a dramatic event like a breakup or a divorce causes them to want to go on a soul-searching adventure. None of these events happened to me. At the time, I was single, making a lot of money, living a luxurious lifestyle. I had my own company and I was at the height of my professional corporate career. What was lacking was a personal ‘me-time for myself.’ I was getting up at five in the morning and working until late at night, with nothing exciting to break up the daily routine.
I thought there must be more to life than what I was doing. I wanted to experience new thrills, new cultures, and attain new goals. I had backpacked in 67 countries, and found the solitude of traveling attractive. Every day was a new challenge and a new experience.
What’s next for Maral, and do you have a message for our readers?
I’m now 35 years old and engaged. After this journey, I want to get married and start a family. I’m really looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life as a mom. My message to your readers is to repeat a code that I live by, which is: never give up. Your goals are attainable if you put your mind to it. I am an ordinary woman with perhaps extraordinary dreams, but if I can do it, so can everyone else.
How the riders met