Women Riders

Women up Front & Welcome Back, Mrs. Bundy

Written by  September 30, 2008

Google “women’s motorcycle groups” and you will get about 457,000 results.
Women riders have been one of the fastest growing groups of motorcyclists in the last two decades. In addition to motorcycle clubs exclusive to women, periodicals, Internet forums and even bike rallies across the U.S. not only welcome women, some have become exclusive to them. Yet, women are only recently being recognized as a distinct consumer group in the previously male-dominated world of dual-wheeled cruising.

No longer does the stereotypical “biker babe” apply; today’s biker chick is in her mid-40’s, married and working in technical or professional careers. She’s a mother, probably college educated and approaching empty nest time. She’s your kid’s teacher, your preacher’s wife and probably your mother-in-law.

While the number of male riders increased over 10 years by 20%, the number of female riders rose 36%, according to many reports. Women have gained financial independence which gives them more say on where the spending money goes. Women don’t want to be content just riding along on the back and are increasingly taking their own initiative to hit the road alone.

One in 10 buyers of new bikes is a woman. According to “Motocicliste,” in 2000, Kawasaki USA made the decision to cater more to the female market after it saw its purchasing numbers increase from 11% in 1996 to over 30% by 1999, reflected in the purchasing of their line of 600cc and under street bikes. Their cruiser line sales were even more astounding--an amazing 45% of all cruisers sold were sold to women. According to the Seattle News, women now account for about 15% of all Kawaski sales, the largest percentage in the industry.

Harley-Davidson is aware of this rapid rise in our buying power as well. Dealers host “garage parties” to introduce women to motorcycling, offering babysitting along with their safety seminars. Their designers are making more bikes aimed at women, with narrower seats and softer clutches in some models, along with building those bikes lower to the ground. Back in 2004, their ad campaigns included a woman’s declaration of “I am not a backrest.” Harley-Davidson’s sales have not risen as rapidly as Kawasaki’s, having gone from 4% in 1999 to just 12% in 2007, numbers more in keeping with the general population. Suzuki has no plans to build bikes specifically for women or to point their marketing that way, using the idea that women just want to be riders, not tagged as “women motorcyclists.”

Perhaps not so coincidently, with the rising number of women riders and the median age of new riders increasing, the number of clutchless bike sales has also risen in the past decade. With the rising cost of gas, scooter sales across the U.S. have risen 23%, and Ridley, a U.S. manufacturer of automatic motorcycles, reports an increase of 140% in sales over the past decade. Ridley has, for 2008, added a 750cc V-Twin chopper to its line of eight models, including a trike. The Q-Link Legacy250 is another automatic bike and has seen a rise in sales of 35%. Honda, who has been making good-sized automatic scooters for a few years and once had the Hondamatic transmission on bikes from 1973 until 1979, has introduced its automatic street bike, the DN-01, in Japan and Europe. This bike looks no different than many other street bikes and reviews have been favorable so far. No word on whether the DN-01 will be available in the US. Honda also offers a 582cc automatic scooter capable of keeping up with highway speeds. Other clutch-free openness is offered in the Piaggio MP3, a really nice looking 3-wheeler, with the 2 wheels up front. The MP3 500 has a top speed of 89 mph and features its “Twist and Go” automatic CVT.

So what does all this mean? Nothing, if you are already one of the millions of women leaving the minivan behind and hitting the road on a nice sunny day. But if you’ve been thinking about doing just that but thought you would be labeled “crazy” by your spouse or getting frantic calls from your mother saying, “Don’t do that! Ladies don’t ride motorcycles!” you can relax and tune them out. You’re not crazy and you can still be a lady. You will just be a lady who rides.

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Sons of Anarchy

FX debuted its new series, Sons of Anarchy, on Wednesday, September 3, 2008. Starring Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and British actor Charles Hunnam, the shows tells the saga of the members of a fictional 1% MC in the town of Charming, California (also fictional).

The opener was a bit of a letdown but managed to hold my interest. My initial reaction after watching it was that it is The Sopranos on bikes. Plus, I and my friend nitpicked a few things while watching that some people might not catch. The first thing I noticed was their jackets. Or maybe they were vests, it was hard to tell, but it seemed the character Jax was wearing something he found at Macy’s then put his MC’s rocker on it.
The club supposedly is over 30 years old, but everyone looked like they got their gear last week. My friend noticed that the characters often rode with nothing on their eyes. Even the baddest dudes wear shades; grit in the eyes isn’t fun, no matter how badass you are.

I had expected to write a little review comparing this show to stereotyping bikers, but it’s another “family” drama of sorts. Little tidbits of each person emerge slowly with no explanations of the why’s and how’s. It’s a good way to hook you in, and it worked in my case. The second show was better with a lot of unanswered “mysteries” surrounding the main characters as the secondary characters fed the continuing saga without giving anything away.

Katey Sagal is superb as usual, which is no surprise since Sons of Anarchy is the brainchild of her husband, Kurt Sutter. Charlie Hunnam is a Heath Ledger lookalike who does well with an American accent, even if he does seem to mumble a lot. Ron Perlman, this time out of heavy makeup, makes for a good MC leader but needs to toughen it up a bit more. In the first two shows, he read his lines more than delivered them.

If nothing else, Sons of Anarchy proved to me one thing--Peg Bundy really was a biker chick before she had settled on Al. Welcome home, Peg.

By Louise Reeves