Some people refer to the women’s motorcycle market as the fastest growing demographic in the industry. Depending on how you shake the numbers, that may be true. When I look around, I see the women’s market as an opportunity that is ripe for serious double-digit growth.
The Motorcycle Industry Council’s owner demographics are getting stale and should be updated soon, but for now we rely on figures from 2008. Over three years ago, about 12% of all new motorcycle buyers were women. Considering the purchasing power of women today, that number seems far too small. According to the 2009 Shriver Report as described on womenmovingmillions.org, women in the U.S. are running more than 10 million businesses with combined annual sales of $1.1 trillion, and are responsible for making 80% of consumer buying decisions.
On the up side, we know that more women are actually riding motorcycles and may account for up to 23% or 5.7 million of the motorcycling population out on the road. Okay, almost a quarter of the total. That’s a little more impressive.
When we look ahead, it’s nice to know that if you drill down into female buyer statistics within the younger age groups, like Gen X and Y, the percentage grows to 15 and 14% respectively. It’s no secret that the average age of a sportbike enthusiast is younger than the average age of the cruiser rider. This trend seems to apply regardless of gender.
So with an increasing number of women graduating into the ranks of sportbike ownership, we thought it quite fitting to test a handful of sporty bikes on the street.
In case you missed the 2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout posted in late May, this project started with a clear plan. We wanted to create a team of experienced female riders to test and write about a collection of bikes that women would be inclined to consider for purchase. We didn’t set out to define a “women’s motorcycle” or to insinuate that all women should stick to smaller bikes.
In order to narrow the sample pool for this project, we split the test into two separate shootouts: cruiser and sport/street. To further define our objective, we established some additional ground rules. We wanted to target beginner to intermediate female riders (short and tall) and we established an MSRP ceiling of just over $10,000.
We also determined early in the process that the smaller and significantly less expensive bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 250 and Honda CBR250R would not be included. There is a ton of great information available on these two models, foremost being Motorcycle USA’s CBR25R vs Ninja 250 Comparison. Truth be told, many women do start on a 250, but a good percentage of them are likely to upsize to a larger bike for the street once they acquire a moderate amount of real world experience.
Keep in mind our group operated with the knowledge that most motorcyclists understand that most women are not looking for special motorcycles built specifically for them. For instance, if you conducted a demo ride for two 5’5” motorcyclists of approximately the same weight, one male and one female and they shared similar experience levels and bike type preferences, the bike being tested may likely occur to them in a similar manner.
The value of a shootout targeting female enthusiasts, conducted completely by female test riders, written by a female editor isn’t so easy to explain to the masses. In simple and general terms, the world and other people occur differently to everyone and women tend to see things and process information differently than their male counterparts.
While it may not be obvious to the naked eye, projects like this are sometimes more likely to resonate with the female audience, since it is a collection of thoughts and ideas from a diverse group of women, just like the ones reading the story. It’s all about using words to connect with the readers. We hope that the female audience will be inspired and can picture themselves on one of the bikes described in the story.
After scouring the Internet, five machines representing four countries of origin were selected. Our quintet of test bikes included: BMW F800R ($10,840), Ducati Monster 696 ($8,795), Kawasaki Ninja 650 ($7,499), Triumph Street Triple R ($9,599) and Yamaha FZ6R ($7,690).
The Fortunate Four
This test team was a slightly different roster from the cruiser shootout crew. We shipped in retired Canadian Road Racer Vicki Schouten from Ottawa, Ontario. Vicki’s most recent on-track accomplishments include a 3rd Place Overall in the Canadian National Amateur Sportbike Championship in 2009 and a 1st Place in the Women’s Cup Challenge Expert Championship during the same year.
Sportbike Cast of Characters
“Jet Ski” Jan Plessner is a first-generation motorcyclist who was specifically warned as a child to stay away from firearms, tattoos and motorcycles. She started riding street bikes in 1990 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 moto-related adventures including accepting the position as Editor of LadyMoto.com.
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. Tania recently completed the AIDS/LifeCycle 545-mile seven-day pedal from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
“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 to accommodate a women’s higher cheekbones and slimmer facial structure – the Schuberth C3W.
Vicki “The Crazy Canuck” Schouten was born and bred somewhere near Ottawa, Canada, also known as the “Centre of the Universe,” “O-Town” and the “Capital City” if you believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Vicki started racing motorcycles after she attended a Kevin Schwantz school. Before motorcycles, she successfully competed at both the provincial and national levels for mountain bike racing. She is one of the few female Canadian road racers ever to achieve professional status. Recently, Vicki retired from a career with the Canadian government to launch her own marketing and promotions company called Vinyl 21 Communications. No surprise her clients include moto-centric businesses and organizations.
The sportbike ride covered a wide variety of terrain. We enjoyed 80 Southern California highway miles, plenty of surface streets
with and without traffic, lots and lots of curvy canyon roads and a very exhilarating spin to the top and over Palomar Mountain. Countless bike swaps, photo stops and videotaping took place throughout the day.
Testing and Scoring
The Motorcycle-USA.com team is well versed in the way of shootouts. The four test riders would focus on the ten subjective categories, while the Moto-USA.com experts carried out the technical objective tests in advance of our ride.
All the first place finishers in each of the 20 categories received 10 points. Eight points was awarded for second, 7 for third, 6 for fourth and 5 for fifth. Test riders were required to explain each of their scores in every subjective category. It’s important to understand why the rider may have liked or disliked a certain characteristic of the bike.
In the end, we tallied up the scoresheets to reach our final bike rankings.
The result is a collaborative effort by a diverse and passionate group of women who love to ride. I hope you will enjoy the shootout and maybe discover your next bike on one of the pages that follow. I think I have.