Do Women Really Need A Specially Designed Factory Model?

glamour4Is it marketing hype or reality? Since I am doing this business, every year or so I hear about a shop proclaiming that it is building a model to be mass produced just for women. The manufacturer or shop making this claim can be managed by men stating that they have an acute understanding of women riding needs, or a woman managed entity because, as you are supposed to know, only women can understand women…What are the main justifications advanced for these claims?

Women are shorter, have less strength, want a more comfortable seat, don’t want to burn their legs on the exhaust, want everything adjustable, etc. My first remark will be that some men are short and shorter than many women (it’s what lowering kits are made for), have also more or less strength than others, may want a comfortable seat as much as women do and, as far as I know, nobody has ever wanted to burn some skin on exhaust pipes. But first, let’s not confuse a woman motorcycle model to fit ALL women with 1- A feminine motorcycle which is a factory motorcycle getting its UNIQUE touch mainly through the choice of accessories and of a custom paint job. 2- a one-off custom motorcycle built from the ground up or customized by a custom builder with only ONE woman in mind.

The same way car manufacturers don’t build cars for women (no the Mini Cooper is not a female specific car, and yes women are at the origin of the SUV’s success because providing a greater sense of security), I don’t believe in a mass produced model for women (no, the Sportster is not and has never been a woman bike whatever some may think). Ladies, I don’t care your average height, weight, hip width (I am always polite), inseam length, etc. Like all custom builders I care only about you the rider, male or female, and only you as a person with a unique morphology and personality. I have built a few custom bikes at the request of women. I didn’t build them a motorcycle for women, but a motorcycle custom tailored for you a specific woman. None of these women wanted a bike for all women, and none would have accepted what I built for another woman client. And that’s the way it should be. All women making a living as Custom Builders (and I know them all) build bikes for either sex because they build custom bike personalities.  All female riders I know, like male riders, have customized or will customize their bikes for their own style and taste. It’s what the after-market parts business is all about.

I always confided to my industry friends that I wish there are more female custom builders. But I don’t believe in creating one bike model for all women (not until 50% of riders are female!?!). Until now there is no success story coming from a mass produced woman motorcycle venture. I think that the marketing proposition is very deceptive. I just believe in riding education to push more women to ride and improve their skills, and of course in customization because all men and women are different individuals.  A Brenda Fox, Sasha Mullins, Genevieve Schmitt etc, all very feminine riders, are able to handle any bike, even supposedly “men” bikes, because they know how to ride. Of course it doesn’t exclude that they adapt/adjust their own bikes to their morphology, needs and taste. We just need more experienced women like them on the road. And guess what? They never burn their legs on the exhaust (not more than us!) and never refuse to ride because of the thickness of the seat. And the reason is, they are bikers. Both men and women, let me know your thoughts.

32 Responses to “Do Women Really Need A Specially Designed Factory Model?”

  1. 1 wyndryder Apr 27th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Harleys or any motorcycle for that matter are not gender oriented, they are just machines. As such every rider male or female must change them to suit themselves if needed and desired.

  2. 2 MetroGirl Apr 28th, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Amen! As a woman rider and a woman that is 5’11”, I have always resented the marketing campaign of women only bikes. Women, just like men, come in all shapes and sizes and what works for one may not work for another. Personally, my Bultaco Metralla is perfect for me. But, I have been fortunate enough to ride handshift Indians, vintage trials bikes, a BSA chopper, modern S&S custom, and several flat track bikes. All have been fun, but at times not the right fit for me. This sport is not ONE SIZE FIT ALL. So find what fits and enjoy it!

  3. 3 Mike Greenwald Apr 28th, 2009 at 6:53 am

    The trap that automotive marketers stepped into decades prior to the was marketing a vehicle to a gender specific audience rather than an ergonomic specific audience. When a bike does not fit a rider for height and weight, the quality of the ride may be reduced to fatal. Additionally, the marketing of a specific vehicle to a gender specific market of women carries the stigma with it as the bike being a “wussy” bike. This designation,often, greatly denigrates the value of the bike for resale to a much broader market.

  4. 4 Conrad Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Motorcycles are basically meant for any gender. Doesnt matter who you are or what you are, you can have a bike built that will suit your needs. But my theory behind this is, why would you build a specific bike for a woman if there is no specific bike for a guy? What is the difference here? Maybe the woman should ride the “big ole Baggers” since they like the “big ole SUVs” for safety? I know if my mom rode a lot I would wanther to have the biggest bike around just in case,

    I saw a lady a few days ago on a crotch rocket, looking around as she was riding thinking she was cool, go down at an intersection because she didnt put her feet down when she stopped????
    And not long ago at our local Harley shop, not going to say a name here, my buddy and I watched 2 ladies on Sportsters drop both of their bikes because, again, they tried to stop via no feet. So, maybe automatic training wheels should be an option on some peoples bikes, male or female.

  5. 5 Marilyn Stemp Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Let’s celebrate what we have in common, not what makes us different. Every rider, no matter what size, shape or gender, faces the same challenges on the road.

    As a friend told me recently: when he and his friend (a woman) were riding and saw a sign that advertised “Motorcycles Built Just For Women” she turned to him and said, “You know, I think I’m insulted by that!”

  6. 6 Woody's Apr 28th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Gender specific bikes-no, accessories-yes. No guy (and MANY gals) will want to buy a “chick bike”, and if that’s how it’s marketed, but common sense would tell a mfr to include options on all their line that have a wide appeal. Lots of women put pink stuff & tassles, and female oriented drby cover graphics on their bikes, but would cry foul if the MoCo did it (kind of like the n-word double standard). For years though, mfrs have ignored shorter riders and that has got to cost them sales in the female market. I’m 5’8″ and can barely stand flat-footted on many sport bikes. I put an aftermarket seat on several of my bikes over the years to get a narrower saddle than stock. H-D handled the situation for many shorter riders quite well with the Hugger version Sportys, A Hugger option on other bikes might pay off well for them. Take an inch or two off the forks, pulback risers, shorter rear shocks, and a narrower seat and it would ave the rider a lot of coin over taking all those things off a new bike.

  7. 7 Genevieve Schmitt Apr 28th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I totally agree with you Cyril, but it’s much easier for you to say this than me, being a female leader in the industry. As with men, there are many different body types of a woman – and no bike could be a one size fits all. What I advocate — and what is happening in our industry now — is an offering of a larger variety of motorcycles with lower seats, smaller frames, as well as a larger assortment of aftermarket parts available to modify a stock motorcycle to adjust it to one’s dimensions. For those of us who’ve been in the industry for 20 years or more, this is happening. Unfortunately, those new to our industry don’t see how far we’ve come. I’m grateful to the industry for stepping up to the plate and offering more and different styles of motorcycles with a variety of seat heights, foot peg and handlebar reaches, etc.. And the aftermarket has exploded in recent years making every kind of part to modify a motorcycle to one’s specific dimensions. Thanks for your post Cyril.

  8. 8 Rodent Apr 28th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    A Sportster is a girls bike….I ride one and when I say “Hey little girl, wanna go for a ride?” They invariabley jump on behind me. The Sporty has gotten me more girls that a solo seat garbage barge costing big bucks will get.

  9. 9 Bobfather Apr 28th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    As a custom builder I would agree with Cyril’s position. I don’t and never have built a “girl’s” specific bike. I will and have custom built bikes for women. I do the same for every client though. I always tailor each bike to that specific client, their stature and their taste, it’s what custom building motorcycles is all about to me. My partner in my shop happens to be a woman, my wife. She rides one of my bikes and has since the beginning. I have also customized Harleys to fit women, their stature and their tastes. On my web site’s FAQ page we have a question asking if we build a woman specific model. The answer is no but we can and will custom tailor any of our styles to fit a woman or any size male rider as well. We would like to see more female riders on custom bikes though so we do have a page on our site explaining our position and how we can and do custom design bikes for all of our clients so building a bike for a female client is something we’re more than happy to do.

  10. 10 Peter Sentry Apr 28th, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Rodent is bragging.

  11. 11 Jeff Nicklus Apr 28th, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Rodent ….. You are a dirty ol’ man …. congratulations!

    Over & Out,


  12. 12 Shifter Apr 28th, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Cyril. As usual, you got it right..

  13. 13 Bobberiz Apr 28th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Does a fat baby poop, does a bear shit in the woods, does beer have a head on it. Absolutly bikes should be built specialy for women.

  14. 14 Jeff Nicklus Apr 28th, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Ridley said they addressed this problem years ago and the problem was solved ??????????????

    I want you ladies to know, before you set out to kill me, I totally disagree with Ridley!

    I have in the past, and continue to this day, to build bikes specifically designed for a lady … one bike at a time.

    Over & Out,


  15. 15 Knucklehead Apr 28th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I’m 5’7″ 165lbs and no Harley was disigned to fit me. They are set up for a 6 ft 185lb man. So for 45yrs I’ve made each one fit me. That is how it works. And if your 6’7″ you do the same.

  16. 16 blammo Apr 28th, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    thanks rich- i was wondering when this was going to get chimed in on. how many pats on the back can one give themself? must be a female thing….

  17. 17 T Apr 28th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    What’s a matter with all of you??
    You just lower the bar going down the middle

  18. 18 Sasha Apr 28th, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Oh I’ve got a couple of perspectives on this…some will like it hot some will not…. kisses and friendship nonetheless. All of the comments in response to your blog surely have a solid place from the perspective of each one posting. Cyril, it is an interesting post. Here is my long commentary.

    A ,motorcycle moves the soul. If the bike fits, wear it no matter who you are. Yes.

    With that in mind, I think of biker ladies like Effie Hotchkiss who crossed the country in 1915 on a three speed Harley-D with mom in the sidecar. Or Gloria Struck-Tramontin who hauled butt to Daytona Bike Week from chilly New Jersey on her Harley-D nearly every March for several decades. There was no gender specific bike for these riders. And in the case of Effie, there were also no roads built during many episodes of her journey!

    A motorcycle moves the soul and females love dress up time and claiming their independence.

    Accessories for the female rider are great for those of us with a need to show off our feminine prowess with groovy, fun items for the bikes. I love the variety of choices available to make a bike ergonomically comfy for any rider regardless of size, shape or gender, too. However, I really dig attractive looking girlie accessories mixed with bold tough stuff, too. Just like the way I like to wear fun clothes and accessories, I like my bike to also wear fun accessories and be ergonomically comfy and stylish…. can you say comfortable stilettos? Well, one can make stilettos ergonomically fit.

    In the early days of the bicycle, a women’s design was the step-through frame which was created to easily mount and dismount with those IMPOSSIBLY poofy dresses. In other words, lowering the bar down the middle ; ) Then later on that design became beneficial for both genders (i.e., the elderly, the physically challenged, delivery personnel for fast dismount and as a great utility bike in general.) But, by then, women had broken social code and were wearing bloomers so they could ride any kind of bicycle : ) and they rocketed all kinds of bikes.

    To this day, there are still bicycles specifically marketed to men or women for a number of reasons including size, weight, ergo-placement, etc. I was an avid bicyclist for many years before I was able to afford my beloved “motorbike.” My premium choice was a Shimano race bike (which they no longer build) and that was not gender specific but the model I chose was built for a petite, light-weight rider. I zoomed on that puppy until some misfit stole my beloved bicycle from my apartment building.

    I bought a Sportster as my first motorcycle not because it was considered a chick bike, or it was lower than another or anything like that. I bought it because it was the only new Harley-Davidson that I could afford. I had this theory of wanting my first bike to be brand new without any other rider’s energy attached to it. I really loved the Softtail Classic but was unable to come up with the dough for that bike as a first bike. I’ve ridden bikes that were so impossibly tall for me that I had to ask a friend to help me get the kick stand down. At stop signs total tip-toe more like a ballerina in point shoes trying to keep the bike up during a test ride. But with any of these bikes, if I was keen on adopting any one of them into my moto barnyard, I’d rock them to fit well….and look pretty and tough.

    I’m not at all offended that companies or builders want to make a female specific motorcycle for production. It’s not being done to divide the genders…it’s more to service the desires of a specific female. A niche market. I say rock on with the mission if you want. Motorcycles are pure art and soul. If a builder is artistically moved to design a mass niche motorcycle that is more suitable or attractive for a female aesthetically, ergonomically, or just for the hell of it…hey, go for it. However, the market right now for a specific female motorcycle design company is a tiny blossom, it’s moved way beyond a seed, yes…but it’s a tiny blossom with lots of room for growth.

    The motorcycle is not like the car industry to me. I see it paralleling the bicycle industry. 4 Wheels move the body…2 wheels move the soul.

    Kathy at Roar Motorcycles is also creating a community with her mission to create motorcycles for women. I haven’t experienced her products first hand but her mission sure seems fun. So fun, that it makes you want to know more about the product… Besides building bikes she’s expanding her vision to be more full service for the female motorcycle marketplace overall.

    In a way, she’s just like Georgena Terry, founder of Terry Bicycles for women. In the world of bicycles…Georgena’s an inspiration to me. She builds high-end bicycles for the serious rider. Her mission statement is: “We want women to have fun cycling. That’s it in a nutshell. Consequently, we make things that fit better, look better, perform better and make for happier riding occassions.”

    Like a Schwinn bicycle, “…guaranteed to get your heart racing and your spirit soaring” they service everybody — they build gender specific and non-gender specific models.

    I say our industry ought not be fearful to venture out and create a niche production model that a female may want to purchase be it a major company or a builder or a modest shop. This emerging opportunity would be considered a niche market, by the way because while there is a mass market out there there would be a niche market that would desire such a product.

    What would those things be that would attract a female to want such a specific product? Price. Fit/Comfort. Aesthetics, and badassness performance, and bonuses such as community, accessories, a sense of belonging to a secret windsister society…a team…a club…uniqueness. Yeah, this may be a small group of women that would want to “be” with such a brand or model motorcycle. A niche….with potential to push past the tipping point.

    Like the Harley-Davidson brand has that certain mystique…why couldn’t a female motorcycle company end up with such a phenomenon? Again, the vibe of a mass produced bike is really a niche produced bike. If big bro manufacturing comes out with a female designed motorcycle, by golly, please don’t be so corporate about it all and define the image of the actual rider…stop it!

    We have some really cool female builders building for both genders, based upon specific customer request. If a female builder came up with a design that she realized was most chosen from individual female customer requests, well, then, by golly, she’d have herself a base model for a female designed motorcycle with retail power. And the model concepts would grow from there, and the entire vision could be expansive and embracing and loads of good times and business result from it in the future… this reasonably priced coutre line. (I should extend that to say if a male or female builder came up with such a concept that ended up as a base model for a female specific motorcycle, how fun!)

    A motorcycle moves the soul. Don’t tell me how to be…

    On a side note, if I may digress a bit but related there to…..Marketing motorcycles to women is not to stronghold the concept or image of who or what a female rider is supposed to be which is what is being done in some marketing programs now and in the industry. That sucks. Most of it is so corporate now. There’s no edge. Nothing organic or real. It’s gotten so serious and it’s like the FUN and sexy joy of just plain ol’ ridin’ and opening up your soul out there on the open road is lost. It’s like it has to be “this way” or no way. The culture of riding is about being free to be yourself and joining in the fun of it all with like-minded individuals men and women. Wild abandonment which leads to good life changing moments and forever friendships. Fun, freedom, journey, celebration and contemplation in a nutshell. And if a niche brand of motorcycle designed for women reflects that and MORE! Dig it. The image of a girl rider cannot be defined to some safe corporate image as if selling a minivan. No, riding embraces ALL kinds of different females and it brings out the pack wildness of the female. And therefore, out of all those different kinds of female riders, there are probably riders who would dig a production model motorcycle geared towards females.

    A potential female rider is attracted to riding most times by just seeing other female riders mastering the art of riding and HAVING A GOOD TIME doing it….Highly divine yet wild and free edgy adventure like no other. That’s soul. And a girl is gonna wanna get her some of that! That’s living and escaping life as you know it and just being free and living in the moment… that, and then fine tune the message to apply to a specific brand or model of bike built for the female marketplace. And again, this isn’t about saying, THIS BIKE for women only is the ONLY kind that women should ride. This is a niche within a broad marketplace and this niche, for example, can have a unique sense of style, sort of like a Bad Girls Guide to the Open Road social event in a brand model bike.

    “Happier riding occassions…” Isn’t that what it’s all about. That’s what attracts people to ride motorcycles. If the motorcycle makes you smile and s’mile…that’s all that matters in the end. Not anything gender specific per se. Just what makes you happy and fully alive in your experience riding the motorcycle that moves your soul. Maybe for some females a gender specific, awesomely designed bike would do that for her…and give her a happier riding occassion.

    Oh, it’s only a matter of time before a female motorcycle company or builder with a fabulous mototemplate successfully emerges that offers an edgy, fun, useful product that defines a perspective about the soul of the sisterhood and it will be founded upon truth and community. And maybe that company is already in our midst and maybe there are builders out there already laying that ground work. God blesses all kinds of visions upon folks, while at the same time other folks say that vision cannot be done.

    There are so many motorcycle brands, makes and models that both women and men can enjoy …indeed! But let’s embrace the visionaries who are blessed with a vision and would like to service the female motorcycle marketplace, too, just like the bicycle companies have done and still continue to do. As you can tell my perspective embraces all.

    Peace, love and embrace the beauty and soul of all who you meet. xo

    P.S. Rodent, can I catch a ride with you on your hot Sportster???? xoxooxoxo!

  19. 19 Chris Moyes Apr 29th, 2009 at 2:14 am

    We at Swift Motorcycles have been building a ladies model since 2007. I disagree with the H.D. Sporty reference as being a “chicks bike” , I have talked to many women over the years, as well as men and have learned that at least 75% of women forced to ride a sporty hate it. It is a very top heavy motorcycle that is hard for women to learn to ride on. If I were to reccomend a starter bike, #1 it would be a Honda Rebel 250, i know i know, im selling a jap bike now, but, let me redeam myself 2 fold, next, i would reccomend a buell blast, which happens to be a beginner bike that has a good center of balance and is still very affordable, #3 would hands down be a Swift Lucky Strike softtail, which is a lowered motorcycle that we have geared specific to women since it’s release in 2007. Its’ weight is low to the ground, doesn’t come in only pink, and is a real bike for real women riders. I think that the women market has grown long ago from a wussie starter bike, to a real bike that women would be proud of riding next to their men or not, and swift builds great motorcycles to accomodate any men or women rider albeit beginner, intermiddiate, or advanced, with many options to seperate yourself from the sea of run of the milll harleys.

  20. 20 harry Apr 29th, 2009 at 7:30 am

    Rodent 4 President in 2012!!! You are the man…

  21. 21 Mike Greenwald Apr 29th, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Take Hillary for a ride.

  22. 22 Forrest Frazier Apr 29th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Interesting, Liz over at Ripin Kite started this debate a while ago and now everybody is chiming in. Honestly I think its irrelevant what us guys think, it’s much more impactful to hear the woman’s perspective.

  23. 23 Mike Greenwald Apr 29th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    It is about motorcycling and profitability for the manufacturers, distributors, builders and dealers. There is no debate, just gimmicks.

  24. 24 Sasha Apr 29th, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Hi Chris @ Swift….

    I’d dig an opportunity to ride your Lucky Strike motorcycle…do you have any dealers here in Nashville or surrounding areas?

    : )

  25. 25 Grayhawk Apr 29th, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Might be a hidden agenda on the guys part, the lower the center of gravity the easier to hold up and balance as the older guy struggles with the big bagger as aging comes into play and yes long legged women, bless them long legged women, can handle any bike. Just a dig on us old guys and an option/reason for another bike.


  26. 26 Rodent Apr 29th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    The other chicks bike I owned back when was a “Snortin” Norton Dunstall w clip ons and rear sets..The chicks came in real handy holding a flashlight while I cursed the Prince of Darkness..

  27. 27 Brenda Fox Apr 30th, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    ^^ Rodent ~~

    I didn’t know you had such a “Vintage sexy” side…
    You just got better looking with that bike!

    Ahh the girl bike marketing topic…
    I’m so over this.

    Whatever bike gets the fairer sex out on the open ride is the perfect bike for a chick.
    I ride everything from a 9ft chopper to my favorite MV Agusta Brutale 910.
    Don’t think those are the first bikes that come to mind as a “girls bike” but they work for me.
    I love the sporty!
    What a great fun ride and frankly I think its all in how you rock it.
    The Roland Sand sporty I was riding was the so cool it was the chosen for me to ride in a music video and they certainly considered many other bikes.
    As for the Swift Lucky Strike – that could be an awesome ride.

    I don’t see gender difference, I see size and rider fitting for motorcycles and that’s whats so cool, there a different bike for every butt out there.

    Sasha – I deem you a female industry leader : )

    Nicklus – you just got better looking disagreeing with Ridley.

  28. 28 Aimed to Impress May 4th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Chris Moyes,

    I thought Swift was dead, rotten and swept away to be put in the trashcan just like Titan, AIH and soon to be the “other big guy”. Why not just call it quits and move on back into the trucking line business where you all belong? 2″ frames look like shit, basic 2001 looks died in 2001 and the fact that I have only seen 2 Swifts in public in my life also means something. I looked at the website, not a bad site at all so I will give you props there, and all I see is the basic barebones bullshit they have had since 2001.

    Oh and who the hell is Chris Moyes Designs?????

  29. 29 Chris Moyes May 6th, 2009 at 1:00 am

    First off “Aimed to Impress” I have one question for you: Have you ever been to Cincinatti? If so, you would have seen our booth their for the past 5 years straight..Didn’t think so. 2nd, what is everyone’s problem with people trying to make a living, I don’t get it. Swift has built 500 to 800 motorcycles since 2003, yet, with a market as big as it has been, how can you expect to see more then a few. Granted, if so then Swift would also lose some of its’ Prowess as a “Custom” produced motorcycle. Now I understand where you are coming from on the out dated looks, I bet you were the same guys bad mouthing us when you saw the 2″ Frame since its debut in 2001. But to say the designs haven’t changed in 9 years going on 10 you are stretching a little. Not to mention at Swift our trademark feature on our Luxury Line models is the 2″ frame. I guess we should just do what everyone else does so we can have your approval huh?

    Oh and as for the Chris Moyes Designs, its a need to know basis, and your not on the list. Maybe you should aim a little higher.

  30. 30 Meryl May 21st, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Why would we want a gender specific bike when we can’t even get proper riding attire to fit our greatly varied body shapes. Try finding a leather or textle jacket to protect a 3X body without resorting to “man’s jacket” with sleeves 6 inches longer than your fingers.Or pants – no options there. Let’s look at the important factors – bikes can be modified to fit fairly convenietly but the clothing is expensive or even impossible to change

  31. 31 Conrad May 26th, 2009 at 2:40 am

    “Oh and as for the Chris Moyes Designs, its a need to know basis, and your not on the list. Maybe you should aim a little higher.”

    Well that is real original and mature.

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