Girls gone hog wild

The motorcycle industry discovers women.


Thomas Rogers
July 26, 2007 8:35PM (UTC)

How do you sell a motorcycle to a woman? If you're Harley-Davidson, you get your dealers to groom their hair, decorate their showrooms with a houseplants and show off some dazzling biker gear. At least that's according a piece in Wednesday's New York Times, which reported that the proportion of women buying motorcycles has tripled to 12 percent since 1990 and that Harley-Davidson has not let the new demographics go unnoticed.

Why a biker-babe boom? And why now? According to the article, bigger paychecks and decreasing marriage rates are drawing women into the market and turning them into choice consumers in an industry that's otherwise struggling to maintain its late-'90s growth rates. To cater to these new clients, manufacturers are making cycles that are lower to the ground, shrinking seats and softening clutches. Harley-Davidson now also sells feminine biker attire (read: "bright colors and rhinestones") and sponsors Femmoto, a "female-focused" biking event in Las Vegas.

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Anybody who has seen Marlon Brando in "The Wild One," or been buzzed by Hell's Angels on the highway, is keenly aware of motorcycles' phallic (and, well, sort of gay) connotations. But since the '50s, the "motorcycle lifestyle" has gone from being a genuine expression of male rebellion to the dominion of gay-panic ensemble comedies starring John Travolta and graying men looking for noisy proof of their undiminished sexual virility. In fact, it's a mildly surprising testament to the industry's small-mindedness that it has taken it so long to clue in to the women's market.

Though these are hardly the times to celebrate the growth of any industry that thrives on carbon emissions and (according to the president of Women Riders Now) sees women as merely a "transitional group," it's still nice to see an obnoxiously masculine plaything brought into the feminine sphere. Not to mention, as anybody who has seen the Dykes on Bikes at a gay pride parade can attest, there's just something totally, weirdly transgressive about a woman sitting on a motorcycle, revving her engine.


Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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