If you type the question "Why don't more women ride" in Google, most articles that seek to answer the question have been written by men. Their effort to shed a little more light on this reality is commendable but I thought it was about time a woman answered the question—beyond the usual “oh, it must be the booth babes!” conversation.
Frankly, there’s a lot more to this matter than a possible latent jealousy for the prettier specimens of our gender getting paid to flaunt what they mama gave ‘em for marketing purposes. Saying booth babes deter us from buying bikes is diminishing the issue or making it something superficial when really, it’s not. Fiat still uses models to pose with its cars at auto shows and women love the 500 nonetheless.
It's Not All Bad
The good news is that the industry is changing. I am noticing more advertisements that put women in the saddle. Last year, encouraging numbers showed that more women are getting in the saddle in the United States, now representing close to 20 percent of the riders in the country. In the automotive industry, women are now buying more new cars than men according to JP Morgan Chase & Co.
There’s a significant rise in the number of events and rallies and shows for women and an increasing number of brands that cater specifically to a female customer base. The times, they are a-changing but there’s still a long way to go. At least on the motorcycle side of things.
So why exactly don’t more women ride motorcycles? I tried digging a little deeper than just the usual culprits. Some of the reasons usually brought up as an explanation for the dichotomy are rather a result than a cause. That includes the proverbial “sausage fests” and the lack of women-specific gear. You guys definitely have the coolest gear out there, by the way.
So What's The Answer?
So, I had a chat with my colleagues Janaki and Kate to see how we all experience being women riders and what we think factors in the lack of women on motorcycles—as riders, not as pillions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to ride at the back for the record, but we’re focusing on license holders here.
Of course, there’s the whole “Oh honey, let me show you how it works” from the sales guy when we visit a dealer and the part where we’re viciously underestimated whenever conversations about bikes come up, followed by “Oh wow, you really know your stuff!” and also the fact that we’re having a hard time finding a jacket that fits our physiology. But if more women got their license and bought bikes, these things could actually come to change (wishful thinking?).
No, what we realized in our brainstorming session is that a lot can be said about early conditioning. I was lucky: I grew up with a dad who dragged me to motocross events and took me on motorcycle rides as soon as I was big enough to reach the footpegs. Motorcycles have never been inaccessible for me. Not everyone can say the same.
Barbies And Bikes
I think in a lot of cases, adults don’t always think to offer young girls the possibility to get interested in motorcycles. I don’t believe it’s a conscious decision resulting from an inner discourse about how girls shouldn’t be interested in that kind of stuff. I think it’s just a natural thing to assume that they simply aren’t interested in dirty bits of metal and that they’d rather play with Barbies and with kitchen sets.
In some cases, parents don’t ride or don’t like motorcycles which makes access to the passion more challenging, likely more so if the kid is a girl. When one or both parents are gearheads, then it’s all about their perception and while I’ve encountered some truly open-minded parents, others either don’t think about introducing their kid to their passion or choose not to do so out of fear or prejudice.
There is truth to the whole Barbie thing—I loved dolls growing up. But I also loved riding with my dad and had he been a wrencher, I’d likely have spent a lot of time in the garage watching him. My grandfather had a basement filled to the brim with tools and gadgets of all sorts and I wanted to snoop around all the time. My grandmother sometimes obliged and allowed us to go but she didn’t like my sister and I to spend too much time down there, in case we gouged an eye on a screwdriver or something. I was fascinated with tools and loved Disney Princesses. Sue me.
Heck, I only have to think about the pictures Director Jason shares of his kids proudly straddling glorious pink bikes with sparkles and wearing all the colorful dresses. Those same little ladies also occasionally show up in pictures in which they can be seen hanging out in the garage with their dad while he works on one of his latest small bike rescue, actively interested in what he’s doing. They’re not my kids and it makes me mighty proud to see that, both of the girls and of dad Jason for encouraging their curiosity.
Our writer Jacob races motorcycles in his free time and he proudly brings his daughter along on racing events every chance he has. She loves it! She’s also a massive book nerd and loves kitties.
Does it mean that these lovely little ladies will automatically grow to become enthusiasts? Of course not and that’s perfectly alright. At least, they are given a chance to figure out whether they like it or not on their own. Their options aren’t limited. After all, dolls and bikes don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that riding a motorcycle has more to do with passion than convenience, at least here in the U.S. Driving a car is convenient. Nobody has to love cars to drive them when all they need is to get from point A to point B. Let’s be realistic here for a second; bikes aren’t nearly as convenient as cars in many regards.
So even if a woman doesn’t grow up to become a car aficionada, chances are she’ll still get a car for its practical aspect which explains that there’s a significantly higher percentage of women who buy cars compared to the number of women who buy bikes. Motorcycles require a little extra passion if not for the vehicles themselves, at least for the thrill of the ride. Chances are then that women who don’t get to develop a love of riding don’t see motorcycles as a necessity, ergo fewer female riders.
I'm not saying that conditioning is the only reason more women don't ride nor am I dismissing the fact that some women out there are deterred by pretty pillions or by the suffocating machoism they encounter—that's still part of the reality. I just think that on a bigger scale, getting the motorcycle bug bite early on is one of the more important contributing factors in spreading the passion.
So how about you give that little girl in your circle a chance to get excited about bikes? It can be as easy as going for a ride around the block or having her try your really badass-looking helmet on. Maybe then will there be a better selection of lady gear, fewer booth babes, and a whole lot less “Oh wow! You really know your stuff!”