Ain't No Man's World

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If there's one constant that runs through the powersports world, it's that things are a bit testosterone-heavy. From motorcycle imagery right down to the very nature of shop talk and bench racing, males rule.

Much like with professional sports and sexual dysfunction drugs, the powersports business rose and flourished free of the feminine touch. Motorcycles are manly. Riding gear is macho. We go fast and ride hard and God knows women don't know how to ride. Right?

Uh, no.

Sure, women have always been riding, but a scan of any Southern California cycle crowd would seem to indicate that the number of women motorcyclists has likely surged upward from the stale industry estimate of 10 percent.

Granted it's a smallish and unscientific sampling, but around the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, Calif., I saw groups of females flying club colors, lots of women riding into the parking lot, and plenty of interest from the other sex (for the machines, not me).

Look at the popularity of the Femmoto all-women's track demo weekend, now coming up on its seventh year. Judging by the interest shown in the event by most of the major manufacturers, the OEMs know a good market when they see it.

Even the sometimes staid Los Angeles Times features weekly motorcycle reviews from journalist Susan Carpenter that get nearly equal play to Pulitzer Prize-winning auto columnist Dan Neil.

We at Dealernews have also recognized this growing consumer base by publishing a monthly column, "Selling to Women," which is written by Genevieve Schmitt of Women Riders Now.

So what's this all getting at? Despite all indications that women are a serious factor in the powersports equation, it's still a bit too much like a male fraternity.

Open most powersports publications — be they dirt, street or V-twin — to see what scant attention advertisers are paying to the female customer: Save for brands like Icon, River Road and a smattering of others that feature actual gear for actual women, very little is in the offing. Even among groups of riders the idea of a woman on a bike is a novelty.

Now I'm not saying there will ever be gender neutrality on two wheels — women are women and men are men, I get it. We're different. I also know it'll be a long time coming before the T&A is completely removed from the P&A, but if we're talking sales and attracting new customers, is filtering everything through testosterone the best way to reach them?

Jessica Prokup doesn't think so. As director of emerging market communications for Discover Today's Motorcycling, Prokup was behind the DTM's Women's Studio at the Long Beach show. The walled display was a women's-only area designed to give beginning, novice or even experienced riders a look at what motorcycling has to offer.

Showgoers could try on riding gear, size up different entry-level bikes and talk shop in a relaxed (read: no guys) atmosphere. There were even makeovers to see how they'd look decked out as a motorcyclist.

"The response from the women who came, and even the men, was amazingly positive," Prokup says. "There were women who had never ridden before and were maybe thinking about it, who by the time they left they were telling us they were going to take the [Basic Rider Course]."

In addition to being popular among show attendees, the Women's Studio got some great mainstream recognition. It also points to a need for trying something different. Says Prokup, "We need really fresh, innovative ideas to draw the women that we're not currently reaching. I think that existing marketing strategies are not reaching this potentially enormous audience."

We're all drawn to riding for similar reasons. Only for men it seems like a birthright. For women it seems to be viewed as more of a privileged entrance to a private club. As many of us know, women are essential in balancing the ever-devolving male ego. If it weren't for that balance, it'd be all grunts and scratching (much like your service area ...).

Dennis Johnson Senior Editor dennis.johnson@dealernews.com