TL;DR: it’s because we’re too busy promoting motorcycle riding as a complete-package “lifestyle” that 80% of women/men/everyone else in the United States doesn’t care about buying into. I’m not just talking about hellbound-for-leather Harleys or roid-raging BusaBros; more on that below.
There’s an Elephant and a Gorilla in the Room, and their names are Harley and Davidson
The “lifestyle” image of the guy (or gal) drenched in leather tassels flying in the wind with an open-face helmet straddling a big fucking Hawg is, thanks to American global cultural dominance, the prevailing image of cycling around the whole world (including in many parts of commuter biking-dominant Europe and especially WWII occupation-legacy Asia - though more on that later). I don’t need to tell you how problematic that image is - it’s a double-edge sword of pushing for bikes that are simply beyond the capability of most riders (female and male) and pushing for a certain lifestyle, down to the aesthetic of the rider his/herself, that isn’t appealing to most people because most people just think it’s stupid. I hope this sounds familiar because Wes Siler already pointed this out. To elaborate further: the big-ass Road Kings and Electra Glides and whatever stupid sounding names with engines that can out-muscle Hyundai Elantras and Toyota Corollas in the displacement game are too damn cumbersome and heavy (something that I can back up Wes’ sentiments with personal experience). Most women who try to ride one will end up just dropping it. This isn’t a sexist statement because most men who try to ride one will end up just dropping it. This drives out many of both sexes from even trying because the Harley cruiser culture is so dominant they don’t even know of most of the other types of bikes or riding styles. Of course many men and women simply put up with it, with the attitude of well dropping your bike is just a Harley thing, you wouldn’t understaaaaaand as they say to their insurance adjuster while shelling out the equivalent of a Ducati Scrambler MSRP to the repair shop.
Women Can Be DoucheBros Too, Says The Industry
Image stolen from Wes from wherever he stole it from
But enough about beating up on cruiser culture, let’s beat up on BusaBro culture instead! If Harley culture says riding a Super Ultra Double Wide Glide (With Ribs For Extra Pleasure) mandates not only certain frivolous or subpar gear but using your bike in a certain way (riding up to Sturgis, getting drunk, dropping your bike, and having it ride on a flatbed all the way back home so it can sit in a garage until next August) then sportbike culture also dictates certain uses, certain gear (or lackthereof) and a certain lifestyle.
Take this RideApart interview with some model I’ve never heard of (yes I’m going to pick on Wes a lot here). Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Let’s start with the literal picture, topshot itself - said model straddling a Yamaha R6 (a bike which itself is contributing to the problem). The image communicated here is that real women ride sportbikes - and also look like supermodels strictly adhering to a Calvin Klein tanktop-only dress code. The interview itself is rife with committing to this image in written form, with the only forms of riding mentioned being the Harleys, the supersports, and a brief mention of Motocross. In other words, real women plonk down the same amount of money for a bike as they would a car still on the CPO warranty, fill it up with premium every gas stop, strap on racing spec gear and pretend that the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street is the starting line at Leguna Seca.
Or how about, for all its good intentions, this ridiculous article about why women on motorcycles are so much more awesome to date than other women as to make any female not on a motorcycle a total loser (because insulting them is another great way to get them to ride). The message contained therein is:
- women who ride motorcycles are sufficiently impressed with cheap beer
- women on motorcycles apparently have had their flesh and bone replaced with Kevlar(O_o)
- women into motorcycles are into leather (yeah because that’s exactly what impressed you about the Harley crowd)
- women into motorcycles will stay off her man’s back (yes because this is exactly what every feminist says is feminist)
- women into motorcycles make their boyfriend’s friends jealous (because trophy wives are feminist as long as you carefully rephrase it)
- women into motorcycles will bash the fuck out of your crazy ex-girlfriend with her helmet before said ex has a chance to shank either of you (ummm excuse me what the fuck?)
Again, the prevailing message is that women (and men) who ride sportbikes must conform to a certain lifestyle, and it’s not exactly an all that appealing one for many members of both sexes (or beyond). In fact ultimately it’s just a variation of the Harley image - women who ride sportbikes must conform to a certain body image, must buy certain gear for a certain look, and must extract the most performance out of their race-bred superbike even if it’s just going for 2% at Kroger’s. And while they’re at it, snub their nose at Starbucks for the hipster joint two miles further out, carefully craft their Yelp review of which smoothie joint serves the best protein muscle shake, and talk with other women about why Ronda Rousey getting a bloody nose from a high kick straight to the face is an achievement for feminism everywhere at their kickboxing class.
This brings up another issue that’s potentially steering women away from riding endemic to both the Harley and BusaBro culture - that riding a motorcycle must mean assuming a “tomboy” persona for your own greater good. And by “tomboy” persona what they really mean is becoming a female douchebro - conforming to all the stupid crap men do, except pretending that her vagina is a penis (while still trying to brag about its size). It might not be quite as extreme, but in at least some ways it would be like Gloria Steinem suddenly stumping for #NotAllMen.
Owning a Motorcycle Really Means the Motorcycle Owns You
Can you tell me what’s wrong with this picture?
Zenith Irfan is great and all (including having the most awesome name imaginable). What she’s doing is legitimately heroic and that’s even discounting the oppressive obstacles she’s had to overcome. Is she a legitimate role model? Of course. The problem is insisting that her model is exactly the same type of model every male and female rider must conform to in order to claim legitimacy as a motorcycle rider.
This is a relatively recent phenomenon perhaps in reaction to the stupid shit image perpetuated by the Harley and BusaBro cultures, but nonetheless it’s also being taken to an extreme that’s putting off a lot of riders, male and female alike. It’s the whole idea that having a motorcycle must involve turning oneself into a pre-mass murderer Che Guevara, that true motorcycle riding means having to strap every single piece of useful belonging you can to your bike’s rack (and sell everything else) and adopt a nomadic lifestyle hopping from road stop to road stop with all the fury 250 cubic centimeters can bring you. 4G LTE, Netflix, Viking double-ovens, centralized heating and air conditioning, showers, basic dental hygiene and whatever food that isn’t available from roadside farmers’ markets are luxuries that not only do you not need but are actively poisoning your soul anyway. Don’t worry about your ratty bike falling apart underneath your tattered, foam-poked seat because that’s totally legit, man.
These are the three main prevailing attitudes of what non-racing riders of all sexes, genders, sexualities and identities should conform to in terms of riding identity. Strap on that leather and strap on your Hawg and spend every waking moment not sleeping, eating or shitting just mindlessly eating up broken yellow lines; or strap on your $1500 Arai helmet and your Gixxer and and spend every waking moment not sleeping, eating or shitting just mindlessly racing from stoplight to stoplight while pretending that the middle-aged couple in that convertible Corvette next to you actually wants to race you; or strap on that denim jacket you found at The Salvation Army Thrift Store and your Honda CB-Some Numbers with a birth date preceding your own and spend every waking moment not sleeping, eating or taking a shit in that ditch by the side of the road hoping that your drum brakes actually still work. All that normal, every day shit plebeian women spend too much time on worrying about instead of actually riding - stuff like actually keeping a job (why you being a slave to the man, woman?), having a relationship (bikes are better than sex anyway!), having a family (why you keeping yourself ball-and-chained up like that?!) and smelling cleaner than Colorado’s oldest dispensary (that stink is a badge of honor, man, I mean, woman!) is what’s really keeping more women from taking up riding.
Stop Forcing Every Woman to be the Next Courtney Force
And then we get to the prevailing attitude when it comes to actual motorcycle racing - that is, every ride is a motorcycle race. In other words, being a BusaBro again except desperately clinging to the belief that there’s some legitimacy to the way you do it because you actually ride your bike straight to the track in lieu of all that plebeian normie stuff (see relationship, family, job and hygiene stuff discussed above).
Of course trying to get more women interested in all forms of motorsports is important, but stop trying to act like being a weekend racer is the only way to legitimize riding or automotive interests period. Not all women who want to ride or are potentially interested in riding want to do so in order to conquer track times. And guess what, #NotAllMen are interested in becoming the next Isle of Man TT champion either. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude is that you’re somehow less of a man, or woman, or whatever your identity happens to be because you’re not taking your riding skills or your machine to the max and being a role model to others as to why women kick butt in sports, yo!
Whatever Happened to the Gentleman (or Gentle...uhh...Lady?) Rider?
Image shamelessly stolen from Sean
Remember all the way at the beginning I said that Harley Hawgs were the prevailing image of motorcycling the world over, even in some parts of Europe? Are you familiar with how the rest of Europe sees motorcycling? They see it the same way you might see driving a Toyota Solara convertible.
And that’s how it should be.
Motorcycling should be a fun hobby or activity or just a means of transportation, not an entire fucking lifestyle that your waking moments must entirely be restructured around. Stop trying to turn every damn thing into a flat tracker or a GP bike just because you can; stop trying to look at whatever Harley has the highest MSRP on the official site or whichever Japanese supersport happens to put out the highest HP numbers as your aspirational bike.
Do you see that thing? The bike that doesn’t have chrome, doesn’t have any race-spec piston heads, doesn’t have any stupid fake intake plastic bits glued to the fuel tank necessary to signal this isn’t a naked bike, it’s a streetfighter, doesn’t have the words “scrambler” anywhere on it and doesn’t have a stupid beak poking from just below the obligatory round headlight? That is your aspirational bike. That is how you get more women (and men) into riding.
My favorite kind of rides are the rides I take for maybe two hours max, going down roads that look pretty, going to a little stop I haven’t been before (or maybe I have), using my bike as a means to a short journey, not as a journey itself. A short journey that’s an escape from a little boredom or a little stress, not as a means of escape from occupational, amenity-addled oppression forever and ever. A short journey where I’m still assured reliable, on-demand access to Orange is the New Black, Keurig coffee machines, my Twitter and Facebook updates and an actual bed, shower and toilet. A short journey where I don’t feel threatened by having my penis or vagina rights revoked if I’m not doing professional racing instead and proving the superiority of my penis or vagina by finishing ahead of other penises and vaginas.
We’re so busy trying to prove the superiority of one motorcycle lifestyle over another that we’ve become completely blind to the fact that it’s the very concept of motorcycles as a lifestyle, period that’s turning off new riders. Every high school student Miata owner drives his or her Miata when he or she needs to and then keeps it in the garage or parked somewhere; he or she doesn’t suddenly have a revelation that his or her Miata is some sort of mechanical Jesus on four wheels that he or she must be an apostle to.
So why the hell do we keep insisting on that for motorcycle culture?