Women in Motorcycling

September 30, 2005
Kevin Duke
Contributing Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

A legend in the motorcycle industry, Duke Danger is known for his wheelie riding antics, excellent writing skills, appetite for press intro dinners and a propensity to wake up late. Once a fearless member of the MotoUSA team, the Canadian kid is often missed but never forgotten.

Although women account for one in 10 motorcyclists  we don t mind if there s one in four.
Although women account for one in 10 motorcyclists, we don’t mind if there’s one in four.

In case you hadn’t noticed, more women are becoming involved in motorcycling. Estimates now peg the number of female riders in America at 4.3 million! And of all new bikes purchased each year, 10% of them are going into the hands of a female rider. Simply put, the female market is a huge growth opportunity for the industry.

Over the next several months, MCUSA will be bringing you stories from the trenches to help shed some light on this emerging development. We’ll be looking into who’s doing it and why, what they’re riding, and what’s the best way to learn how to get into it. If your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother/cousin/aunt was ever the least bit interested in riding, we encourage you to share this series of articles with them.

Those who have been around motorcycles for a long time can remember an era in which the only women typically involved in motorcycles were riding behind their boyfriends or husbands.

Well, like Brylcreem and poodle skirts, the above conception is a relic of the past. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, fully one in 10 new motorcycle buyers is female.

At first glance, 10% of the market might not sound very significant. But since roughly 1 million new bikes are being sold annually these days, that means there are something like 100,000 new bikes being purchased by the fairer sex each year!

Although Kawasaki s Ninja 500R might not seem manly enough for some  the skinny-tired bike can actually be hustled around a racetrack at a decent pace.
Although Kawasaki’s Ninja 500R might not seem manly enough for some, the skinny-tired bike can actually be hustled around a racetrack at a decent pace.

Motorcycling has transformed in recent years from a niche activity to something that now pervades mainstream America, as TV shows such as “American Chopper” (love ’em or hate ’em) bring the subject of bikes into millions of homes and viewership of motorcycle roadracing continues to increase. Together with the broader public consciousness of motorcycles and the continual emergence of independent-minded, progressive females, it’s no surprise that more X-chromosomed riders are taking to two wheels.

These days, the sight of a woman or a girl riding a dirt bike is commonplace in many riding areas, as females play an integral part of the 300,000-or-so annual off-road market. In the world of streetbikes, it’s no longer an oddity to see ponytails flapping in the breeze from girls taking to the road.

While there is a profusion of women riding big-inch Harleys and cruise-missile sportbikes, the various physiological and psychological requirements of many female riders often lead them to smaller, more docile machinery. As you might expect, cruisers and their low seat heights appeal, as do small-displacement standards and sportbikes.

There are plenty of choices to fit that bill but, surprisingly, it’s not Honda and Yamaha (the biggest Japanese manufacturers) that offer the best assortment of female-friendly bikes, especially in the realm of non-cruisers. Instead, it’s the smaller companies of Suzuki and Kawasaki that seem to be doing the best job of reaching out to the bourgeoning female market.

Kawasaki has one of the strongest newbie- and female-friendly lineups in the industry, and this is backed up by statistics that show more than 15% of new Kawasaki buyers are females compared to the national average of 10%.

Here s Duke taking racetrack newbie Melissa Moore out for her first time at Infineon Raceway. Moore  who works for Kawasaki s PR firm  said afterward the ride was  one of the best things ever  and is planning on getting her bike license.
Here’s Duke taking racetrack newbie Melissa Moore out for her first time at Infineon Raceway. Moore, who works for Kawasaki’s PR firm, said afterward the ride was “one of the best things ever” and is planning on getting her bike license.

Among Team Green’s sportbikes, the lithe Ninja 250R was chosen most often by women, amounting to 37% of its total sales. Next in popularity among women are the Ninja 500R and the ZZR600, with women accounting for more than 20% of the latter’s sales.

When it comes to Kawi’s cruisers, it’s the Vulcan 500 LTD that is most popular with women, followed by the newb-friendly Eliminator 125, both of which garner a 40% female share. In third place is the Vulcan 800 Classic, demonstrating the increasing demand from females for larger bikes. And when you factor in the recently added Z750S and newly announced Ninja 650R, Kawasaki seems determined to cultivate its growing female market share.

Kawasaki is also doing a lot of work behind the scenes to promote the female cause. Earlier this year the Kawi crew invited a large group of mostly females to the AMA Superbike event at Infineon Raceway, which culminated in a day of riding on the track as part of a Sportbike Track Time event.

Led by Kawasaki’s enthusiastic media relations manager, Jan Plessner, Kawasaki sponsored this event with the intention of bringing together leading women in the motorcycle industry, everyone from magazine editors to leaders of female riding groups to avid racers. Plessner explained to the group they are key role models that can spread the gospel that motorcycles aren’t just for men – their current riding exploits will be the kinds of things that inspire others both young and old to take an interest in what was once seen as a “guy thing.”

During my time at Infineon with this estrogen-charged collection, one thing stood out most: No matter an individual’s level of track experience, the group proved to be a collective support system that shared a lot of advice and were very keen listeners, with little of the subconscious posturing that is a part of a male-dominated trackday. Speaking in general terms, the women were proud of the fast riders; a more common emotion among a similar group of men would be envy or jealousy.

Kawasaki s conviction to developing the female demographic shows in its diverse lineup and in the attention it gives to it through events like the Infineon trackday and Femmoto.
Kawasaki’s conviction to developing the female demographic shows in its diverse lineup and in the attention it gives to it through events like the Infineon trackday and Femmoto.

At the end of the day, a bus-full of bright and exuberant faces relayed tales of the special experience we shared. The ladies spoke about the event in glowing terms, and all seemed excited by the power produced from putting together an assemblage of smart and talented women. A palpable buzz was created within this small circle that is sure to reverberate through to others, and Kawasaki should be commended for recognizing the female market and doing something constructive to nurture this growing sect of riders.

The next big manufacturer-supported female event occurs this weekend in Las Vegas, where the fourth annual Femmoto all-women’s trackday will take place. Hosted by the ever congenial Bonnie Strawser and Monte Lutz from Sportbike Track Time, Femmoto continues to grow each year it is staged. The location this time is the Classic Road Course on the outskirts of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and no less than five manufacturers will be in attendance on Saturday to provide demo bikes: Aprilia, Buell, Kawasaki, Kymco and Moto Guzzi.

Market research shows that females take longer than men to consider their bike purchases and, once decided on a brand, tend to be more loyal to that manufacturer. One wonders if companies like Honda, Yamaha and Ducati can continue to miss the lost opportunity of not being at events like Femmoto.

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