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Meet the bad-ass Black female bikers Rihanna champions in her latest campaign

The Caramel Curves embrace sexy clothes and high heels as they ride their enormous motorcycles through New Orleans.

Meet the bad-ass Black female bikers Rihanna champions in her latest campaign
Shanika “Tru” Beatty, left, and Nakosha “Coco” Smith, cofounders of the Caramel Curves Motorcycle Club. [Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]

If you’re in New Orleans and happen to see a group of women in sexy dresses and perfectly coiffed hair riding enormous motorbikes, don’t be surprised. They’re members of the Caramel Curves Motorcycle Club, a 10-woman Black biker gang that cruises the streets, sometimes stopping by the parades the city is famous for.

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If you can’t catch them in person, you can get a glimpse into their world in the latest campaign from Rihanna’s lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty. The two-minute video feels more like a documentary than a lingerie ad. It features six members of the group speeding through a warehouse district in New Orleans, the air filling with dust and smoke, and sitting at a bar describing the sisterhood of their group. In the voice-over, they talk about what they love about their city and how they’re proving that women have a place in the testosterone-filled world of motorcycles. But perhaps the most striking thing is how thoroughly they own their sexuality. In each shot, the women wear risqué bras, panties, and fishnet stockings—and it’s only in the last shot that the Savage X Fenty brand appears on the screen.

[Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]
The Caramel Curves story goes back to 2005, when Nakosha “Coco” Smith and Shanika “Tru” Beatty met and discovered their mutual love of biking. Smith learned to ride from a boyfriend when she was 16; Beatty watched her father ride his motorcycle and wanted to learn as she got older. The two decided to start a women’s motorcycle club in New Orleans, but shortly after, Hurricane Katrina hit the city. A couple of years later, the two got back together and redoubled their efforts. This time, they were able to get other female bikers in the city to join them.

The Caramel Curves crew in Savage X Fenty lingerie, from left: Tierra “Choosy” Thomas, Nakosha “Coco” Smith, Kimberly “Karma” Gilbert, Andrea “Hoodpriss” Shepherd, Dezel “First Lady Foxy” Haynes, and Shanika “Tru” Beatty. [Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]
From the start, Smith and Beatty dressed in sexy outfits when they got on their motorbikes. While male bikers tend to wear hyper-masculine leather outfits, the women of Caramel Curves wear miniskirts, booty shorts, and tank tops. Many wear high heels while riding. “I’m the kind of girl who always wears heels, and I saw no reason to stop when I started biking,” Smith says. “It just feels so good to be looking cute and also feeling the adrenaline rush of riding. People already think it’s unexpected to see girls on motorbikes, but then to see us in sexy outfits, they don’t know what to think.”

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[Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]
The women of Caramel Curves are very deliberate about putting their sexuality front and center, but Smith and Beatty say they haven’t been harassed or felt uncomfortable. Beatty thinks this might be because some men feel intimidated by the strength they channel through their enormous motorcycles and the skill they demonstrate while riding them. “Some people think that we go to motorcycle meetups and there are men just like slapping our butts,” Smith says. “That has never happened to me before. And there are some single members of our group who are a bit frustrated because men just never come up to us to ask us out.”

[Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]
To become a member of Caramel Curves, first and foremost you need to be a woman with your own motorcycle. (“You can’t be borrowing your boyfriend’s,” Beatty says.) Then, the members ask prospective candidates to join them on a number of activities to see if they can keep up. And since Caramel Curves also has a philanthropic component, Smith loves hearing each prospective member’s ideas for a charity event. In the past, they’ve held kids’ clothing drives for homeless shelters and done bicycle giveaways; they also throw an annual party where they raise money.

Part of the appeal of being in Caramel Curves, Smith says, is going directly into spaces that weren’t designed for Black women. In traditional motorcycle gangs, if women are present at all, they tend to perform supporting roles, wearing sexy outfits and clinging to the male riders. The women of Caramel Curves take pleasure in flipping the script. “We do the opposite,” Smith says. “We sometimes take men for a ride, sitting behind us.”

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[Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/courtesy of Savage X Fenty]
The Savage X Fenty team first came across Caramel Curves when they saw an article about the group in The New York Times. (The members didn’t meet Rihanna, who wasn’t on set when Smith and Beatty filmed the video.) But before collaborating, the team wanted to know whether the women would be comfortable being filmed in the brand’s lingerie. “They were really concerned about whether we would be comfortable, but we told them this is basically what we wear anyway,” Beatty says.

As they made the video, the members were fitted with pieces from the brand’s latest collection, which includes lacy bra and panty sets, strapless plunge bras with matching tights, and mesh teddies. Savage X Fenty has made an effort to be size inclusive, ensuring that each piece fits regardless of the wearer’s body shape. Smith liked how well the line fit, even while the women were in motion. “I’m a plus-size woman,” she says. “We’re all different sizes in the group, but the lingerie fit really well. We weren’t spilling out of our bras, and they stayed on even while riding.”

Over the course of her 15-year career as a pop icon and entrepreneur, Rihanna has embraced sexiness and frequently appeared in racy outfits. But in the worlds she creates on stage or through her brands, women are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own sexual experience. They dress for themselves, not for the male gaze. The members of Caramel Curves seem to be exactly on the same page. They take pleasure in their own bodies and feel sexy in their own skin. This only enhances the power they feel when riding on their motorcycles. “Once, a guy said, ‘They look cute and sexy, but don’t get distracted: Those girls really know how to ride,'” Smith says. “It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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