The drop-frame motor bicycle is the next step in the march of progress, but meanwhile, there are a few of the less timorous ladies who have not feared to make use of the diamond-framed machine and have had no trouble mastering it.
— The Bicycling World, April 27, 1907, quoted in Women and Motorcycling, the Early Years, by Susie Hollern
Are You Catering to 20% of the Market?
As you can see, women have been riding motorcycles for as long as there have been motorcycles. In recent years, the number of females with their own set of wheels has increased exponentially. In 2018, the Motorcycle Industry Council announced that 19% of motorcycle owners are female. Industry experts estimate that the percentage of women motorcycle owners is now over 20%. You have undoubtedly noticed an increasing number of women walking in your doors.
The factories and aftermarket companies are taking notice. “We expect to continue to see steady growth in women entering the sport for the foreseeable future,” says Louis Ortega, North America business development manager for Dainese and AGV USA.
“Polaris has continued to see record numbers of new customers and a more diverse mix of customers who enter powersports,” says Pam Kermisch, chief customer growth officer for Polaris. “This includes an increasing presence of women as an overall powersports industry-wide trend. For our on-road portfolio specifically, we have seen 15% growth in our number of female riders over the last two years.”
In the last three years, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) advertisements have increasingly featured women riders. Both Dainese and Polaris are partnering with women brand ambassadors. Polaris launched an Empowersports Women’s Riding Council, a group of 12 riders from various disciplines, including motorcycling, off-road/4×4 and snow, in 2020.
“This group brings their valuable perspectives and insights to Polaris and Indian Motorcycle,” says Kermisch. “This includes how we foster the dealer and customer experience for women, product insights and how to bring more women into riding.”
Given the large and growing numbers of this segment of the riding population, it is important for dealers to put some time and thought into servicing this important cohort of customers, as your OEM is undoubtedly doing. Kermisch states, “Polaris and Indian have intentional and targeted efforts aimed at supporting current women riders and helping welcome new women into our industry.”
Who Are Women Riders?
“Women riders come from all ages, backgrounds and demographics,” Kermisch says. “We tend to see a greater number of new motorcycle women riders from the states where you can ride year-long. And, we have seen a slight uptick in purchases with new millennial and GenX women riders.”
“Traditionally, the women who rode were either college age or empty nesters,” says Sarah Schilke, co-chairwoman, WomenRidersNow.com. “That gap is filling in. There is an influx of younger and post-college-age women and an increase in women’s rider groups, popularized by social media.”
Erin Sills, co-chairwoman of WomenRidersNow, also chimed in. “Women tell us that they ride because they value time spent with their friends outdoors and they want to experience life to the fullest. They may not need or want a car. Other women are getting into the sport as a family activity, primarily off-road — mom, dad and kids spending weekends together out on two wheels.”
What Do Women Ride?
In short, they ride everything on two wheels. “Some women are interested in performance,” says Marilyn Stemp, editor of Iron Trader News and consultant with the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. “Others want to go touring and are interested in long-distance comfort. I should point out that Harley-Davidson realizes that passengers are also riders and has long been doing market research on motorcycle passengers.”
Dainese/AGV is keeping track of which categories of women’s gear are selling. “From the information the industry has provided, women are not growing equally in all segments of riding,” Ortega says. “This is important to monitor when thinking about creating products to cater to these riders.”
Gear That Is Hot
“When I go to shows, I see a lot of women wearing cool-kid stuff from custom shops,” Stemp says. “I also see women wearing more practical, rugged gear, meant for adventure riding.”
Women-specific boots, jackets and logo wear, once hard to find, are now available in many styles and in different fits, from loose to snug.
“In every category that we produce a men’s garment, we produce a woman’s garment,” says Ortega. “Our riders want style and to look great on and off the bike, but they won’t sacrifice any level of protection. All our ride gear has PPE CE certification, which we know from our research is extremely important to a lot of riders but tends to be even more so for women riders.”
Ortega says that the company’s “D-Air” airbag-equipped leathers and Smart Jacket (an airbag-equipped mesh vest that fits under or over a motorcycle jacket and has a woman-specific option) have become very popular with women.
Getting These Customers in the Door
“Enlist a local woman rider who can act as an ambassador,” suggests Schilke. “Connect with women’s groups and support them.” Find out which women’s riding groups are active in your area. Partner with these groups for Bike Nights and seminars.
If you have an event at your dealership, invite the champion of your region’s women’s MX or Enduro competition to show up, give a pep talk or sign autographs. The U.S. women’s team brought home the gold in the 2021 International Six Days Enduro, and your OEM may be able to get one of the team members to appear at your event. You could also show a video of the ISDE.
Stills also suggests that rider training is an excellent way to bring more women (and men) to your dealership. “Studies show that people who attend rider training near a dealership will buy gear from the dealership. There are a lot of new riders now. The top downloads from the WRN website are beginner’s guides, gear reviews and information on riding groups.”
Lastly, Schilke suggests hiring women to work at your dealership, especially in non-traditional roles, such as salesperson or parts manager. “Women like to see a female face, and the presence of a female employee creates a different vibe in the store, easing the sense of walking into a men’s locker room.”
Ortega agrees, saying, “Create a community of women that support and encourage one another to pursue this sport in a safe and responsible way.”
Keeping New Customers Happy
It is a truism that a customer is the most important person in a business, and everyone’s money is green. Unfortunately, a very common complaint, which is often posted to online sites such as Yelp and Google, is from a woman who walked into a dealership and was ignored by salespeople. The solution is to train your staff to politely greet all people who come to the dealership and ask, “What can I help you with today?”
Kermisch explains that Polaris has developed training to better prepare its dealers to support a broader range of buyers, including women. “Our dealers recognize it’s important that women riders feel acknowledged as the buyer and time is spent understanding the type and fit of the bike she wants. With our approachable lineup, these trained dealers can recommend the appropriate bike based on their size and experience. We also encourage our dealers to support initiatives like International Female Rider’s Day, so they’re able to reach more women and form an ongoing relationship with riders in their area.”
“If a woman says she wants help choosing a bike, ask questions to determine her level of experience,” suggests Schilke. “Don’t make assumptions.” The woman in your dealership may be a novice rider, a consistent top-of-the-pack finisher at your local road racing track or a long-distance rider who has just come off a cross country tour.
“The best route is simply to use the same type of consideration you would give a male customer to understand a woman’s riding interests, level and needs,” Schilke concludes.
Ortega says, “Everyone who walks in your doors should feel like they are the most important person who has ever walked through your doors.” The effort you make to partner with local women’s groups, provide staff training and encourage new riders will pay off in an engaged and loyal customer base.