Riders are from Mars, Bikers are from Venus?
Women are breaking out of outmoded expectations like riding pillion and claiming the throttle for themselves. Charlie Bliss opens a dialogue with the BMF’s members to discuss the new wave of female motorcyclists
Recent surveys indicate that 14% of riders in the UK are female and this statistic has doubled in the past decade. Meanwhile, over in the USA, a study from November 2018 by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) found that nearly one in five motorcyclists are women. And these figures look even more promising among the lower age ranges, and the MIC found that 26% of millennial riders and 22% of Generation X riders are female.
All of the data demonstrates a clear shift in rider demographics, proving it is an auspicious moment in the history of motorcycling for women, and these numbers will likely continue to grow. Indeed, MIC Director of Communications Andria Yu claims: “As the number of boomer and mature motorcyclists shrink and are replaced by newer riders, we could soon be looking at a solid 25% of motorcycle owners being female.”
Motorcycle Rider conducted a series of interviews to follow the pendulum of rider demographics as it swings towards women.
Caroline Shotton is a fitness coach and mother of one. After resigning from her career in business to follow a more stress-free path, her inclination to dance to the beat of her own drum is a personality trait perfectly suited to the biker spirit. But what was the catalyst for her conversion to the world of motorcycling?
“I had no interest in bikes until my husband – who hadn’t ridden for years following the birth of our daughter – bought himself a bike about four years ago. After a couple of months with him trying to persuade me, I finally jumped on the back. And that, as they say, was that.”
Caroline rides a Harley-Davidson M8 Softail Slim today and is a member of the Hogsback Chapter and an independent Harley Club, SCUK. She also enjoys attending ride-outs.
“I went to France earlier this year with 20 other women riders whom I’d never met before and we had such a brilliant time. I would never have done that without my bike.”
On that fateful trip, Caroline was lucky enough to ride alongside a legend in the history of female biking, Elspeth Beard – the first British woman to circumnavigate the globe on a motorbike.
“The trip took place in early June 2018 and was organised by Sara and Chris at Motolegends. They are very supportive of female riders and thought it would be a great idea to do a women-only weekend in the LoireValley.
“We rode over 700 miles in three days through every kind of weather you can imagine. Elspeth gave a talk on her round-the-world trip, which was brilliant – she is so brave! I can honestly say it was the best thing I’ve ever done. To spend time with like-minded, strong, supportive women was a real privilege – and hilarious too!”
Melanie Prichard is a 63-year-old medical secretary from Llanishen in Wales.
“My partner is an avid motorcyclist and through him I have rediscovered motorcycling. I took my CBT in the spring last year and purchased a Honda PCX125.”
Melanie now attends motorcycling events across the UK, including the Classic Bike Show at Shepton Mallet, the National Road Rally and the National Bike Show. She has always loved riding thanks to her equestrian interest, having bred Appaloosa horses for 35 years.
“Some of my horsey friends have questioned my renewed interest in motorcycling, with some even saying how dangerous it is. I told them I’ve spent a lifetime with horses but feel safer on a bike – they don’t have a mind of their own!”
Ruth Clark lives in Cambridgeshire and is a member of the Hinckley Triumph Owners Club. She became familiar with the BMF as an associate member through Curvy Riders MCC – a club “for lady bikers, by lady bikers” – and used to run a stand at Moped Mayhem.
“A lot of women I’ve met are of a certain age. Their children have left home or they’re divorced and learning to ride a motorbike is something they can do just for themselves.”
A study of 2,310 female motorcycle owners by WMB Pride found that the average British female biker started riding at the age of 37, with 39% adopting two wheels because “you get through traffic quicker than you do in a car” and 32% doing so because “it was something new and exciting”.
Ruth continues: “The rise of women-only Facebook groups with all their support is a great influence. When I started, I had no other women to ride with so I decided to set up a local Facebook group. In March 2019, we’re celebrating our fifth birthday and we have over 300 members.”
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
When asked what they think would encourage more female riders, our interview subjects offered a diverse range of answers and grassroots initiatives including women-only CBT days, female instructors, more female motorsports icons and female-oriented publicity, but Caroline summed it up best: “We have a long way to go before the industry wakes up to the fact that there’s a growing market of women riders out there who don’t want to see lazy, sexist, outdated advertising and want to wear cool, well-made bike gear that isn’t pink!”
MotoGirl is a UK company dedicated to putting that right. We spoke to Ina Lombard-Ogilvie and Ellen Ogilvie, the co-founders of a company capitalising on the explosion in sales of female riding gear. “MotoGirl was born just over three years ago. We purely concentrate on female riders since there is already a lot of choice for men.
“It all comes down to the age-old problem of lack of understanding in a male-dominant environment. Women want choice. Women want gear that is safe, comfortable, feminine and flattering to their figure. We grow year-on-year and 2019 represents another exiting milestone with the launch of more women’s motorcycle gear, and therefore more choice!”
THE SHAPE OF BIKING TO COME
This state of affairs certainly looks promising, with a strong market shift on the horizon if this rise in female riders continues. Modifications to marketing attitudes might not only be apparent in apparel but could manifest in the design of motorbikes themselves, including lower-weighted models, frames more attuned to different body types and so on.
There a lot of reasons to be optimistic as a female rider. All you need to do is point towards the proliferation of female-centric riding groups, apparel companies, publications, websites, blogs and global events. International Female Ride Day, which occurs on the first Saturday of May each year, and the inaugural Women Riders World Relay, which seeks to prove the extent of female riders out there with a round-the-world relay, are both undeniable illustrations of the power and popularity of this new generation of female bikers.
And this demographic should be celebrated precisely because it celebrates the same long-held biker ideals: self-determination, self-expression, adventure, companionship and freedom on two wheels.
INSPIRATIONAL FEMALE MOTORCYCLISTS
Here are seven of the most noteworthy women ever to grace two wheels.
A professional English motorcycle racer who competed in the International Six Days Trial in 1927 when the British Ladies’ Team won the International Silver Vase.
An engineer, motorcycle racer and OBE recipient, she invented Miss Shilling’s orifice – a type of fuel flow restrictor for Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes during World War II – and was one of three women to receive the Brooklands Gold Star for lapping the circuit at over 100mph.
The first woman to compete at the Isle of Man TT in 1962.
At the age of 23, Elspeth became the first British woman to circumnavigate the world on a motorbike.
The first female president of the TT Rider’s Association and was awarded an MBE in 2009.
DR MARAL YAZARLOO-PATTRICK
An Iranian superbiker, artist, fashion designer, marketing professional and women’s rights campaigner, she holds the world record for the highest mileage recorded on a superbike for a woman by racking up over 250,000km worldwide.
The first woman in history to win a world championship road race in the FIM Supersport 300 against 36 other competitors – all of whom were male.
This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of the BMF’s magazine, Motorcycle Rider
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