The motorcycle market has transitioned through some remarkable obstacles, specifically related to gender stereotypes. Women have defeated preconceived notions regarding their ability to harness and ride the “hog” in style. Statistically, women constitute about 10% of all riders, and contribute to roughly 25% of all motorcycle purchases. A small percentage of these women participate in competitive sports racing. Due to the rise in motorcycle popularity among women, advertisers have targeted a female audience in hopes of increasing sales. Advertisers have taken the initiative to broaden their customer base, regardless of the imposed risk of losing an existing customer base.
Early Motor Company advertisements featured women in riding attire, posed and ready to roar off on their adventures as motorcycle passengers. And for a while, this was how women were portrayed in motorcycle advertising-- as mere passengers. This was soon to change following World War II. During the Second World War, women were able to freely volunteer in the armed forces. As a result, the media began to portray women as being more muscular, short-haired, and with tight-fitted uniforms. Women volunteered as couriers, and motorcycle companies responded by showing women in the front seat, operating motorcycles just as proficiently as any man.
In 1964, Honda marketed small, lightweight unisex motorcycles through their “Nicest People” campaign. These advertisements portrayed ordinary housewives, young couples, and other members of society riding the Honda 50cc leisurely in their spare time. Honda took the extra effort to depict women independently riding the hog, rather than as mere passengers. The emergence of Honda radically changed motorcycle marketing, which exploded into rivalry's between Japanese and American manufacturers. For instance, the American riders often snarled at Japanese machines, while referring to them as “rice burners.”
In the 1970s, Norton, a British manufacturer, introduced slender, provocative women in their advertisements to stimulate sales. The “Norton Girls,” as often coined by the media, wore clothing that was unsuitable for riding. The campaign did not cater towards a unisex audience, and is known as being one of the earliest examples of the use of 'pinup girls' in advertising campaigns. Instead of portraying women as competent riders, this campaign focused on passing women off as a mere accessory to the sport. The media and other advertisers continued to portray women as sex symbols, or a prized trophy, rather than being independent and capable riders.
Kawasaki's marketing campaign that launched in 2000 took a much different approach. The advertisement's mantra summarily states, “Don't take a backseat to anybody.” This clearly defied the traditional image of women being constrained to the role of passenger. It acted as a sort of feminist retort to the idea that women are incapable or undeserving of driving their own motorcycle.
1960s Honda Advertisement: An early Honda motorcycle advertisement depicting attractive women near motorcycles; however, the models were dressed unsuitably for riding.
"Norton Girls" Advertisements: A series of pictures portraying the slender and provocative “Norton Girls” in their effort at increasing sales to a male audience.
"Nicest People" Campaign Causes a Sensation: An article detailing the historical account of Honda's “Nicest People” campaign, whereby small, lightweight motorcycles were peddled to the average family, including ordinary housewives.
Biker Chicks (PDF): An essay summarizing the history of gender roles in motorcycle advertising. It summarizes the strive for independence by women riders.
Gender and the Automobile in the United States: An informative article offering a general perspective on gender roles with automobiles and motorcycles.
Female Trailblazers: Harley-Davidson attributes a historical time-line of women who ventured outside of societal norms to claim their independence from gender roles.
From its inception, women loved the bicycle for its mobility and freedom. In fact, Susan B Anthony attributed the bicycle as the most influential invention that paved the way towards the emancipation of
women. During the first half of the 20th century, societal pressures dictated that women dress conservatively and ladylike. In fact, the first women to push the envelope were forced to wear shorter skirts in order to avoid having the hem getting caught within the wheels of the motorcycle. Society did not accept this detraction from social norms. The Van Buren sisters, sibling motorcyclist pioneers, were among the few women to encounter unwelcome gestures when the local authorities ticketed them for wearing pants.
As motorcycle popularity grew, societal stigmas developed against female riders. Early women motorcyclists, such as Avis and Effie Hotchkiss, the Van Buren sisters, and Bessie Stringfield had to
contend with unpaved roads and social mores on their long-distance adventures. More women engaged in motorcycle riding, despite chastisement, once the Second World War commenced.
Bessie Springfield joined a motorcycle dispatch unit in the army, which propelled the portrayal of the independent woman image. Many women refused to conform back to traditional gender roles after the Second World War, which led to many daredevil and sports racers among them. Early women daredevils would show off their skills in motordromes. Margaret Gast, May Williams, Jean Perry, and the Motor Maids contributed towards women daredevil spectacles.
Augusta and Adeline Van Buren: A tribute to the Van Buren sisters, who successfully completed a transcontinental motorcycle journey.
Dot Robinson: Dot Robinson is considered one of the pioneers of independent motorcycle riding for women. She was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association in 1998.
Motor Maids: Motor Maids, a women's motorcycle organization, was established in 1940 and currently has over 1,200 members enrolled.
Bessie Stringfield (PDF): A short and concise biography of Bessie Stringfield, an African American woman who defied societal gender roles by joining the army's motorcycle dispatch team.
Margaret Gast: Margaret Gast started bicycle racing and established a world record in 1900. Gast became a motorcyclist, world champion, and stunt driver during the early 1900s
Effie Hotchkiss: Effie and Avis Hotchkiss embarked on a Harley-Davidson for a cross-country adventure in 1915.
Cris Sommer Simmons: Team Effie: An informative article written by Cris Sommer Simmons about Effie Hotchkiss and her contribution to women's independence in hog riding.
Women with Motorcycles: A small collection of photographs from the early 20th century, featuring women riding motorcycles solo.
While women make up only about ten percent of all riders, the number of female riders has increased over the last decade. In fact, the number of female riders is roughly 80 times greater today than it was in 1960. Statistically, women contribute towards one quarter of all motorcycle purchases; however, most of these purchases are made by women in close association with another male rider. Female role models continue to surface throughout the racing industry, including road, drag, and motocross. As a result, casual women riders have taken rider safety courses with more than 88% of all participants passing the first time around.
Most women who enter the motorcycle community will take riding seriously. Therefore, the motorcycle industry has responded with more incentive to continue promoting apparel, accessories, and machines towards a unisex audience. Efforts continue in stride to correct ergonomic designs that cater towards women. As more and more women enter the motorcycle community, general acceptance will also continue to expand to create a competitive and welcoming image of equality among men and women motorcyclists.
Motorcycle on Wheels: A modern organization uniting all women motorcycle enthusiasts around the world for recognition and support.
The U.S. Motorcycle Market: Motorcycle Industry Research and Statistics: A resource reflecting pertinent information about the United States motorcycle market, including statistics detailing motorcycle sales, scooter sales, motorcycle registrations, motorcycle market shares, the demographics of new riders, and other motorcycle statistics.
Women and Motorcycling (PDF): A paper addressing the breakthrough from traditional gender roles in relation to motorcycling.
Written By: AndrewT