This woman biker-entrepreneur with 40 pc hearing ability aspires to zoom around the globe on her motorcycle

Intrepid biker Archana Timmaraju hasn’t let her hearing disability stop her. As the co-founder of Silent Expedition, she also helps other people with disabilities find opportunities to explore varied paths.

Archana Timmaraju is hearing impaired but has not let her disability weaken her enthusiasm and optimism for life.

Born with only 40 percent hearing ability, 35-year-old Archana cannot hear the sound of motorcycles completely. However, this did not deter her from completing an 8,400 km long, cross-country ride from Bangalore to Leh along with her colleague in 2018, which took her 30 days to complete.

What’s even more heartening is that Archana is also the co-founder of Silent Expedition, a startup that helps disabled people with travel and exploration opportunities. Through Silent Expedition, she wants to motivate future generations, and dismiss stereotypes regarding disability, especially disabled women. 

Armed with a BFA and an MFA, Archana also teaches art and metal sculpture at Aditi Mallya International School in Bengaluru.

Over the years, with the help of consistent speech therapy, she has been able to improve her sign language skills and speech. She “speaks” only English, lip reads, and uses sign language with people who have hearing disabilities.

Girl on a motorcycle

“In 2004, when I was in college, I saw boys and girls coming in on their motorcycles and this really fascinated me. I too wanted to experience the same thrill of riding a two-wheeler and the freedom that comes along with it. At that time, I did not know how to ride a bike and neither did I own one. So, I asked a friend if I could borrow his RX100 motorcycle for a couple of months to learn and he happily obliged. That’s how I learnt to ride motorcycles,” recalls Archana.

“In 2016, I started riding out with my friends for shorter trips from Bengaluru to the Western Ghats in Karnataka. This is when I was intrigued by the idea of becoming a biker and changing the lives of deaf people,” she adds.

For the next few years, Archana used a series of rented bikes and took a two-year break from motorcycling due to personal reasons. In 2018, she decided to bounce back into her passion and bought her first motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350cc.

The biggest struggle for Archana was procuring a driving licence. It took her numerous visits to the RTO, constant follow-ups, and a lot of persuasion to finally get it.

Of the experience, she says, “Unfortunately, the hearing-impaired community is faced with much humiliation and rejection when it comes to taking driving tests or submitting their applications. Although all states and union territories are directed to consider the applications of hearing-impaired as per the Motor Vehicles Act, in reality, it still remains a big challenge for hearing-impaired people to get driving licences and I really wish things change for the better in the near future.”

Following the unknown

After getting her Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350cc, Archana’s felt like she’s grown wings, enjoying the freedom that came with being on the road.

In 2018, she embarked on her first long-distance motorcycle trip from Bengaluru to Leh, Ladakh, along with her colleague Daniel Sundaram.

“While I was planning this trip with Daniel for a few months, I wanted to keep it discreet and only broke it to my family once the dates were finalised and everything was sorted. As I never rode in the mountains before, I was quite scared in the beginning but with the help of some pep talk from Daniel, I let go of my fears.”

The duo spent 10 days in Jammu and Kashmir exploring the rich culture, meeting the locals, trying out different cuisines. They explored Khardung La, Pangong Tso, Turtuk, Chang La Pass, among many others before finally making their way back to Bengaluru.

As a hearing-impaired woman biking her way across India, Archana has often been told how disadvantageous and risky it is to not be able to hear while riding a motorcycle.

“I have also been looked at oddly since I am a woman riding a motorbike, which is apparently a male-dominated passion. Besides this, my disability leaves everyone in shock and a surprise when they learn about my travel experiences. In the beginning, my family was very scared for me but with time, they have lent me their full support in pursuing my passion. They are proud of my positive outlook towards life and seeing me going places, quite literally,” she says.

In 2018, Archana started Silent Expedition with Daniel as a co-founder to further the cause of inclusivity by spreading awareness about different forms of communication, non-verbal language, art, sculpture, travelling, riding, and driving. Its aims also include giving people with different disabilities opportunities to explore varied paths, and for women riders to shine in a man’s world.

During their journey to Ladakh, the duo also visited many deaf schools to spread awareness around the mission and vision of Silent Expedition, spoke about bringing in inclusion for the hearing impaired, and encouraged more women to take up motorcycling, travel, and explore.

Around the world in 650 days

Her most ambitious project is yet to come. Archana is planning a 650-day motorcycle tour around the world in 2022-23, covering 70 countries and seven continents. “My aim is to spread awareness regarding sign language and also various forms of communication through this journey,” she says.

According to the 2001 Census, there are over 21 million people in India suffering from one or more kind of disability. Archana believes that though the government has taken several measures for the disabled community, there still lies a huge gap in terms of ensuring that every disabled person gets access to the right facilities and infrastructure.

“For example, with regards to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we all are well aware that persons with disabilities (PWDs) are more vulnerable to the virus because of their physical, sensory, and cognitive limitations. While the government has taken steps to ensure that all information on the virus is made accessible to the PWDs, little progress has been made in implementing the guidelines, thereby leaving people who are differently-abled to rely on second-hand information, which could be diluted and/or misinterpreted and misleading at times,” she says.

According to her, the lack of captions and sign language communication in media coverage further exclude people with hearing impairments. Moreover, those with inaccessibility or people with hearing dysfunction, who depend on lip-reading, are unable to communicate with doctors and health workers in this time of crisis.

“Besides my world tour, I also want to start my own school for the hearing-impaired to create more opportunities in education and jobs for PWDs in the country,” Archana adds.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta