The ranks of women riders in the motorcycling community have grown steadily in the past decade. It’s an industry trend that has not gone unnoticed by the major motorcycle OEMs, which have developed and marketed models specifically for female riders. MotoUSA has asked industry insider and long-time advocate of female riders, Jan Plessner, to evaluate the latest crop of motorcycles from a feminine perspective. The former PR and marketing maven for Kawasaki USA, Plessner brings more than 20 years of motorcycle industry experience in a series of motorcycle comparison reviews for MotoUSA readers. The following 2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout is evaluated for, and by, women riders, with a follow-up test of the most female-friendly Sport/Street offers on the way. Enjoy! – Motorcycle USA Editors
After munching down a bean and cheese burrito at our favorite Mexican joint, I asked Motorcycle USA Digital Media Producer Justin Dawes if MotoUSA would be interested in a “Women’s Motorcycle Shootout.” Considering I had just come off an 18-year assignment where I really only sampled one Japanese brand (Kawasaki), I felt I was overdue and anxious to experience what the rest of the industry had to offer.
I told Justin I would go online with the mindset of a novice or intermediate average-height woman and pick out the top five bikes that piqued my interest. He said it sounded like a good idea and ran the concept up the MotoUSA flagpole. Before I knew it, we had the green light.
I didn’t want to spend time on the super small entry-level platforms. We were looking for the bikes in the next class up; the motorcycles a woman with riding experience would appreciate. Next up was a night on the Internet I will never forget. Some people play fantasy football or baseball online. Well, this was more like fantasy motorcycle shopping, and it was a blast.
I made a list of all the motorcycle manufacturers that offered bikes in this fantasy class, including all the metric bikes plus Ducati, Harley Davidson and Triumph. For the next few hours, I studied the complete model line-ups of each brand and eventually zeroed in on things like seat height, curb weight, engine configuration and general styling. I figured if I could reach the ground at 5’3” (okay, five foot two and a half, plus puffy hair), then for the most part the majority of women out there should be able to appreciate and relate to our model selection.
Wow – What a Surprise!
There are a lot of motorcycles that are potential choices for women who are really getting serious about motorcycling. Oh darn. In order to really do the MotoUSA readers justice, two separate comparison tests were necessary. We would test cruisers one day and sportbikes another. As both model lineups developed, so did a natural MSRP ceiling of $9,999. For this review we will deal exclusively with sub-$10,000 cruisers suitable for female riders.
After some checking on product availability in Southern California, the cruiser mix was determined. We would be testing four models: Harley-Davidson SuperLow ($7999-$8,499), Honda Shadow Spirit ($8,240), Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom ($8,699) and Triumph America ($8,299-$8,599). It should be noted that MotoUSA did attempt to secure a Yamaha scooter and a Suzuki Boulevard to add to the mix, but the loan pool gods were not shining upon us this time.
Within a few weeks, the bikes would arrive at the MotoUSA offices in sunny Southern California and the next step was to determine who would would be our test riders.
Selecting the Lucky Ladies
I don’t know about you, but if someone called me out of the blue with the offer to sample $40,000 worth of sparkling new motorcycles, I would have no trouble clearing my schedule. As predicted, the responses I received were quite positive across the board. It was very important to recruit a good cross section of female test riders and we didn’t want to just have racers, stunt riders, or anyone currently associated with a particular motorcycle brand. We wanted real world riders with a few miles under their belts.
The Cast of Characters
As it turned out, we managed to round up a terrific collection of riders, each with many years of riding experience. While we all shared a serious passion for two wheels, we all owned a very different point of reference.
Jody “Shark Bait” Hemingway is a four-foot, eleven-inch graphic artist, expert Scuba diver and now ultrasound technician. Jody started her riding career on a moped when she moved to the West Coast from Philadelphia in the mid 90’s. She had the least amount of inseam and experience, but she had little trouble keeping up with the group.
Vickie “Captain” Norton is a second-generation motorcyclist who has been riding since before she could drive. A tall, unassuming blonde and Michigan native, she enjoys riding on and off the road. She is a Captain for a major U.S. airline with nearly two decades of commercial experience. She does aviation accident investigations in her spare time, loves the water and plays in a band.
“Jet Ski” Jan Plessner is a first-generation motorcyclist who was specifically warned as a child to stay away from “those dangerous motorcycles.” She started riding street bikes in the 90’s after joining Kawasaki’s Government Relations Department. She served as the PR manager at Kawasaki for the past eight and a half years and has since moved on to tackle a variety of other industry-related adventures.
Tania “T-Satch” Satchwell started riding with her older brothers on the farm in New Zealand where her father quickly realized she was fast for her age. They started racing as a family and after a few years of hard work, she earned the 2001 U.S. Women’s Motocross National Championship and a stack of trophies. Now retired from women’s motocross racing, Tania is competing on bicycles, teaching dirt and street MSF motorcycle classes and studying to be a personal trainer.
“Super” Sarah Schilke is the first female to serve on the Motorcycle Industry Council’s elite Board of Directors. She has held several key posts around the industry and is now the U.S. PR and marketing director for Schuberth North America. Sarah’s company makes the only motorcycle helmet specifically designed for women – the Schuberth C3W. I am looking forward to testing this gem down the road and a couple of the gals were fortunate enough to test one of the Schuberth helmets during this shootout.
Our riding weekend included regular stops to switch bikes, take notes and soak in the experience in our search for the best female-friendly cruiser. We started on the Southern California freeways before transitioning to a nice two-lane highway that curves though Northern San Diego County. The best stretch of riding included serpentine mountain roads surrounded by stunning green backdrops and ample blue So-Cal sky. Unfortunately, on the way back, we hit our share of congestion during the Friday night return rush hour – a perfect opportunity to sample these bikes in their real-world commuting roles.
A lot of joking around, plenty of laughs, an abundance of photo stops and video captures, smooth asphalt and sunshine made for a near-perfect day of testing.
Testing and Scoring
The Motorcycle-USA.com crew know how to conduct a shootout. I’ve put on press events for nearly a decade and these guys know their stuff inside and out. Each of the four cruisers would be graded first through fourth-place in nine pre-determined subjective categories by each of our five female test riders. In addition, each motorcycle would earn a similar position and score for the nine preset objective categories.
All the first place finishers would earn 10 points, second would earn 8, third place translated to 7 points and 6 points was awarded for fourth.
Each test rider was also asked to back up every score with a written statement about why they liked or disliked that particular characteristic of the bike. Some test riders had a lot to say about a lot of things, while others were more prone to keeping it short and sweet.
We tallied up the scoresheets to reach our final bike rankings. I hope you will enjoy the read and find the information useful.