Why aren’t there more women in motorcycling?

Because I am too lazy to come up with original content this morning, I’m going to reprint a post I made last night to the Motorcycle-USA forums.

The thread began by talking about the Femmoto track day and eventually, someone asked the ubiquitous question “why aren’t there more women in motorcycling?”

Here was my response:

Now, to the question of “why don’t more women ride?”. I’ve put a lot of thought into the general question of “why don’t more women [whatever]” over the past 10 years or so, originally as it pertained to computer programming (one of my degrees is in Computer Science; my college thesis was on Women in Computer Science — available here, for those interested).

To make a very long set of theories and thought processes short, I don’t think it matters one single solitary bit why more women aren’t riding.

Ask a group of 10 women riders, and you’ll get 10 different answers. You’ll hear why this particular woman didn’t start sooner, why that particular woman is ashamed not to love riding more than she does. You’ll hear true stories about women being told that “girls can’t ride”, that “moms who ride are bad parents”, that “women aren’t strong enough/tall enough/quick enough” to physically handle a motorcycle.

All of these reasons — and more — are valid, and they’re real, and they’re true. But they also don’t matter.

Every time someone sees a female motorcyclist, we get the message across that we’re not different. A woman riding is just like a man riding. I don’t do anything spectacular or brave or incredible by slinging a leg over a bike. I vote; I work outside the home; I own property; I ride a motorcycle. There is nothing intrinsic about riding a bike that requires a penis to operate it. To me, my riding is no different than my boyfriend riding. I haven’t overcome some huge hurdle or stigma in order to commute in the rain with car drivers trying to plow me over. I just love to ride.

I enjoy discussions about women riders, and I adore events like Femmoto that bring us all together, but fundamentally, there is no smoking gun. There is no one (or three, or fifteen) reason(s) why more women aren’t riding. Every woman who doesn’t ride a motorcycle is like every man who doesn’t ride — maybe they’re afraid, or maybe a family member was hurt while riding once, or maybe they just never really thought they’d like it.

A much better question, in my humble opinion, is “why isn’t there money in women’s motorcycling?”. Manufacturers of motorcycles and of gear aren’t neglecting the women riders because of some conspiracy — they’re neglecting us because they can’t make enough money catering to us. So my question is “where’s the money?”. Why aren’t more women buying leather track suits? Why aren’t more women buying smaller sized helmets?

I think a lot of this is education — women may assume that gear will be ill-fitting, so they may settle for a men’s cut jacket or a slightly too-large helmet, for example. And this goes back to just meeting more fellow riders. This weekend, I learned about at least two or three gear companies that I hadn’t heard of before, not to mention new (to me) magazines, products, and bikes.

I appear to be rambling, so I’ll summarize.

1) Focus your energy. Write to manufacturers, stating what you like about their products and what you wish they did differently. Like your rain suit but think the legs are too long? Send ’em an email.

2) Fill out every single survey you lay your eyes on. Make sure to proudly circle that “F” under “sex” (or write it in if they don’t ask!) and be honest about what you buy. Let them know you’ve got a wallet and aren’t afraid to use it!

3) Spread the word to other women. Print up some business cards with your name, email address, website, and the name/site of any women’s riding organization you belong to. Hand them out whenever you see another female rider — at the gas station, at a scenic vista, at a track day. We’re all foot soldiers.

Power to the people, kids.

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11 Responses to Why aren’t there more women in motorcycling?

  1. Dave Vaughan says:

    Perhaps you’re right; the reasons why the ratio of male to female riders is 10:1 don’t matter. But if you’re a company trying to define a customer base to sell your product, the actual figures matter. There are about 6.6 million riders in the US. About 10% are women. So a company that sells men’s gear has about 6 million potential customers. But women’s gear only has 600,000 potential buyers. Factor in the significant Harley factor (to say nothing of economies of scale), and you can see why there aren’t a lot of off-the-rack women’s track suits or full-face helmets.
    Frankly, I’m curious why the many reasons why a person doesn’t ride (fear, preference, ignorance, etc.) seem to apply ten times as often to women as to men. But smarter people than I have asked that question about more important topics than riding (career choice especially), and haven’t reached any obvious conclusions.

  2. Laura says:

    My reason: children. I wasn’t comfortable getting into a relatively dangerous sport while my daughter was still dependent on me. Hell, she’s still dependent on me in a lot of ways but at least she’s grown and can make it on her own now. I’m not sure it was ever a conscious decision, but something I realized after I started riding, that I had never really felt free to have my own life before. Most women are the primary caregivers for their kids, even if they’re married. And I meet so many women who wistfully talk about wanting to ride but feel tied down by family responsibilities.

  3. carolyn says:

    >I realized after I started riding, that I had never really felt free to have my own life before.
    I’ve heard this before from a lot of parent-age women. I think that I’m very lucky to have started riding prior to popping out any potential spawn, so that I know that it can be an option.
    More and more women are waiting to get married and start families these days, so maybe the number of women riders will really take off (ditto for women sailors, rock climbers, horseback riders, whatever; “adventurers” in general, I’m meaning).

  4. Colin says:

    I think understanding the reasons for few female riders *does* matter for the same reason it matters why there aren’t many female math teachers, physicists or mechanics.
    Is it because women generally have little inherent interest in motorcycling or these careers?
    Or because social/cultural influences discourage women from pursuing interests in these areas?
    The former would be a fact of nature…but the latter would be a tragedy of nurture.

  5. carolyn says:

    But that’s my point — there is no one answer.
    Some women are legitimately uninterested in riding (or math, or physics, or mechanics), just as some men are. Some women are interested, but have been discouraged by society, culture, or some individual life event.
    There is no smoking gun answer as to why “women” as a gender are underrepresented in these fields. Each case is different.
    Thus — the answer is not “let’s find out how to welcome more women into the field” but instead “let’s find out how to market to women so that they spend more money and thus justify our manufacturing efforts”.
    I think the current trend of bringing midrange semi- or fully naked bikes to the US, instead of just leaving them in Europe, is a huge step in the right direction. And I plan on letting manufacturers know that every chance I get: at Femmoto, at dealerships, at the bike show, in surveys.

  6. Kim says:

    It’s just one more factor, but I think people overlook the social-group issue when trying to figure out why women do or don’t ride.
    I don’t think there are too many people, male or female, who decide to ride for sport just out of the blue without some sort of social connection to the sport, be it family, friends, or a significant other (the picture is probably different among people who ride for transportation).
    For better or worse, in our culture today men and boys have had more of these connections. I know I didn’t consider riding for years because I didn’t know anyone who rode (and I think not having friends who rode with me is part of why I eventually lost interest).
    There’s an element of sexism to this social element as well, I think (and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, necessarily). If a guy’s buddies all ride, it’s going to be hard for him not to ride, too. But if that guy’s girlfriend or some other girl in the social group who doesn’t have “one of the guys” type status doesn’t ride (even if she’d like to), the support and pressure won’t be the same.
    Ah well. I’m not sure I’m saying what I mean, but I need to get back to work.

  7. Colin says:

    I agree there’s a story behind every decision, just like there is for men.
    But it’s not random, nor unrelated to gender. Otherwise, the gender split among riders would be 50/50 as it is (or nearly is) for sports like tennis.
    Women have made huge strides in terms of representation in formerly male-dominated careers such as medicine, business and basic science, mostly because the social climate has changed.
    You’re absolutely right about what you can do now to increase the benefits for women in the sport.
    But I think it’s also worthwhile discovering if there are social forces that are systematically discouraging women from pursuing an interest in riding, as such forces historically have done in so many other areas.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I dunno. I don’t think it’s a shame only one in ten riders are women. I’m glad we have that much of a foothold. Like anything, progress takes time. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that women only got the vote about a hundred years ago. That was my great-grandmother’s time and I knew her well enough to hear the stories. Working outside the home only became acceptable for a married woman in my grandmother’s time and commonplace in my mother’s. Both women in ‘male-centric’ hobbies and motorcycling itself have been only lately coming into the mainstream. The fact that I can throw a leg over and commute to work each day without being thought of as less of a woman is really what it’s about for me. I think just by being out there we help set the new standard. I don’t know if women who ride will ever match the percentage of men who ride, but I’d like to hope one day the parity comes close enough that it’s no longer an issue. After all, the same questions were once bandied about for women who drove cars.

  9. Jeff says:

    So when my precocious daughter knows no different than ‘girls are supposed to ride’ it’ll be okay …
    Good. Because girls should ride. No reason they can’t.
    Dig your blog.

  10. Meredith says:

    I’m fairly new to the whole world of riding, but all my hobbies (video games, electric guitars, computers, etc.) seem to fall in the realm of “boy stuff”.
    One major difference that I have noticed in my experience between men and women, is that men are more likely to talk to other men about “man” hobbies.
    For example, I went to guitar center in SF to shop for a guitar amp, and was looking to drop about a grand or so, sales men would continually come up to my boyfriend and try to sell HIM the amp. Even though he would consistently tell them, my girlfriend is the one by the amp, maybe you should talk to her, they would still look at him while they talked!!
    Situations such as these are not a big deal on their own, but not just nothing either.
    I think the importance of developing support among women in hobbies such as motorcycling et al cannot be played down at all. I am not a feminist, but just a realist who knows its important to have a community you can share your hobbies with…

  11. carolyn says:

    >Even though he would consistently tell them, my girlfriend is the > one by the amp, maybe you should talk to her, they would still
    > look at him while they talked!
    This happens to Peter and I all the time, too. The last time was really pretty funny because it was so obvious — I’d taken my bike in to get new tires, and Peter picked me up afterwards, and the mechanic kept talking to Peter about MY bike and talking about me in the third person, right in front of me! It was so obnoxious that I couldn’t even be upset about it; I just laughed. Yeesh.

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