Celebrating the Female Rider…If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right.

By: chesshirecat

Apr 22 2009

Category: Uncategorized


I’ve visited a few other blogs lately, where people have made comments regarding Harley Davidson’s declaration of May being Female Ridership Month…or something like that. I’ve tried to put into words on these other blogs the way I see things, and I guess I’m failing miserably, because I get all the wrong feed back from the readers. So…I’m here, in my own blog space to clarify my position regarding Harley’s Declaration of May as Female Rider Month, and I think I shall put this to bed there after.

Women have been riding the motorized version of the bicycle since the late 1800’s. The engine size grew and so the designs changed to reflect the need for a stronger frame. Because of these changes, the world saw a change of the kind of women who rode the motorized two wheeled contraption. No longer was it considered a mode of transportation for the gentled society woman. Now, it was the black sheep who rode these noisy, dirty, unsafe and undignified modes of transport.

In the early days of motorized bicycle’s you could find ads where the product sales pitch was aimed at the woman. But as the motorized bicycle grew into the motorcycle, the gentile woman was not permitted to operate this machine by herself. At least not without strong disapproval from her family, her social circle, and society as a whole! In the early part of the 20th century, if you were a female and enjoyed the thrill of motorcycling, you were more often than not looked upon as an outcast of your family and social framework. As a woman, you didn’t have your own cache of disposable spending money…and you answered to your father, your husband, your brothers….and the whole of the community for any untoward behavior such as the operation of a motorcycle.

But throughout the short 100+ years of motorcycling history, there are female riders who braved the elements, the scorn of their families, of their communities and rode the motorcycles of their dreams! These women are the real heroes and champions of female ridership. I am at a loss to explain why the Motor Companies of today feel the need to try to make what we gals are doing today to be “special.” It isn’t.

We today, no longer have to buck the family, the community, or face social out casting because of our choices to ride motorcycles. Today we gals have jobs that allow us the freedoms to spend our disposable funds in ways that please US! It wasn’t until the latter end of the 20th century the Motor Companies started to see us female riders as a true commodity, rather than as fender candy for our men and their rides. The motor companies are a bit on the slow side recognizing the female riders of their machines, and the way I see it, it’s not because they didn’t see us…it’s because we weren’t a large enough group with large enough disposable funds to direct advertising campaigns at us. Women started working more and more outside of the home by the 60’s. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 20th century women actually made enough money to have something left over at the end of the month to start looking for credit of their own and buying big ticket items such as houses, cars, and luxury toys like boats and motorcycles. It’s taken the motor companies much too long to honor the female riders. I see this as not honoring us, but rather as a marketing ploy…trying to catch up with the times…that women do have a say in the market place, we always have…

I don’t mind the fact there is a month dedicated to the female rider. I am offended by the mentality of the Motor Companies, who seem to be disregarding the pioneer women of this sport and concentrating on selling me this newly designed bike, or that cute little accessory. I feel that if you’re going to have a celebration of the female ridership, if you’re going to have a rally centered on the female rider, then why not donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of your branded items at these rally sites (Colorado)?

I made this point once before. Someone replied she wasn’t stupid enough to be sucked into spending her money on things she couldn’t afford. Well it’s got nothing to do with stupidity. When these women attend these rallies, they have budgeted so much for souvenirs. These souvenirs will be branded items that will cost way more than they should…because of the brand…and the profits will all go into the pockets of the MoCo…huge profits…without a single dollar going towards safety education or other type of programs dedicated towards the enrichment of the sport of motorcycling for women…or for anyone else for that matter.

The women of today’s motorcycling scene are not being celebrated for and of ourselves….we are being used as advertising for the growing market of female disposable cash. AND THAT IS WHAT OFFENDS ME.

The motorcycle manufacturers want to celebrate the female riders? Start then with a campaign that honors women like Vivian Bales, who at age 20, set out to discover the USA on a Harley. In 1929 she covered 5000 miles on her bike. Those were days when road surfaces were often little more than hard packed clay or mud bogged passages of two stripes through a vast land of wilderness. Vivian Bales took her adventure alone.

How about looking into the exploits of Della Crew? She is a well known motor maiden who rode around the era of the 1915’s and onward.

I have no problem with celebrating the ridership of females…I just have a problem with the motor companies who do it in such a way, that the women who came before me are forgotten and are not celebrated.


22 comments on “Celebrating the Female Rider…If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right.”

  1. WHOA! Well said! I could tell that was just boiling right out of your head! Nice.

  2. Very well written & spot on!

  3. Nicely said! Marketing is Marketing and the motor company is just starting to realize, I think, that the other half of the population, they have be ignoring for 100 years, is were they need increase their market share to keep in business.

  4. Chessie, I apologize if I am one of those who missed your primary point, and I absolutely agree that the “pioneers” should not be ignored. What I keep thinking is, just because a for-profit company proclaims a celebratory month with the intention of making money doesn’t mean that has to be the full extent of the “celebration.” There asbolutely SHOULD be celebrations of the history, beefing up of education and safety programs, etc. Hopefully, others will take those on if not this year then in the future. Anyway, I don’t mean to come into “your house” and sound argumentative – your blog is one of my favorites because you always write from the heart!

  5. Chessie, Well spoken. I also agree with Janet’s points of view to. Maybe “some” good will come of it. It’s the least we can hope for.

  6. Janet, no need to apologize for anything. The fact my point wasn’t clear was because I didn’t wish to upset anyone on someone else’s blog. It was muddied to the point that gaining a clear understanding was next to impossible. I invite all to come here and say what’s on their minds. No matter if I feel it compliments my way of thinking or not! Open dialog allows for the transmittal of information we may not of thought of…thus allowing us to make better informed decisions. I’ll be the 1st to admit when I have been ill informed, or when a fact comes to light I hadn’t considered before…and has the capacity to cause me to be swayed…or at least grudgingly admit there is room for more discussion.Your points were…are valid…I just needed to clarify mine…and I didn’t want to do it on someone else’s page…it never turns out good for anyone. I saw no confrontation, only a need for clarification. Thanks for coming…your input is valued.

  7. A good view point Chessie. I think the “Female Ride Day” is just more female empowerment crap. It’s an insult to you and other female riders to say that you need a special day to draw attention to yourself. If a woman can hold her own on a motorcycle, and her place within the biker community, she don’t need “empowerment”.

  8. Hell I think you have had a couple 5,000 mile months LOL.Sometimes we cant see the trees ha? Slow down a tad so the June Bugs don’t hurt so much.

  9. Chessie, I understand your point completely. I think I am the one who made the “stupid” comment. I do stand by that. All for the above reasons that you wrote…in a positive way. We, women, have come a long way. What women want to spend at rallies is a choice that even men make. Education doesn’t have anything to do with it. I, too, am enriched by those riders who came before me…including you. Those mentors and women who preservered before us are to be bowed down too. Grace McKean still living is one of my mentors. I don’t need a “special day” or month to want to ride…BUT my point is or was, the more attention motorcycle riders get…and the more ATTENTION women riders get is a good thing for education, including marketing women. Again, women are smart. We really do homework for our riding and if we choose to spend $$ on this and that’s it is not insulting. You should be proud and it can be read that way. That is a good thing. You can wrench, ride and have been doing it for years…something to stand by. I can only wish I knew how to change out a battery:) My reasoning is: The more attention riders get, the more we are apt get some safety backing because more riders will be out there. In the political world…the more voices count. So I will celebrate the women’s ride month just for that purpose. Awareness is good as long as I don’t have to pose in a bikini on my bike and it can be kept respectful. Its all in the matter of awareness and opinion.

  10. KD, I agree with your assessment of what to do when handed a poker hand that is less than ideal. It’s the here and now answer to a life situation that could have been more ideal.I don’t argue that spin-off effects of this whole thing could be exactly as described. It’s called making lemon aid out of lemons. My complaint isn’t how we are handling the here and now of this, it’s how we arrived at the here and now. I want everyone to hear me on this, I’m not against capitalism. I applaud businesses whose sense of business includes the appreciation of their past as well as their future clients. I’m happy the MoCo now sees me and you as more than the pretty model who stands next to the bike in short-shorts, high heeled boots, and big boobs. But I’m disappointed in the veneer of “celebration” the MoCo is using. I know they could do better…and I know they owe the gals who made Harley Davidson their choice of bike…the gals who through their tenacity made history for the MoCo by being the first to accomplish records, and setting these records on the MoCo bikes…giving the bikes more notoriety and face time in the newspapers. The exploits of early female riders did much to sell bikes…I am disappointed of the choices made by the MoCo in their efforts to “celebrate” the female rider.

  11. Chessie..all you and everyone else said is correct, spot on as one writer said and basically hits home for all the right reasons…However, we must remember and appreciate what marketing and sale is all about… It is about SEX and POWERFood for thought

  12. How about commercials that could show the early women riders…crossing the US on the bikes of the early 20th century, stopping to change tires in a mud hole, doing the mechanical repairs needed while on the road, because there aint no tow trucks to get ya out of trouble! Then show the woman rider of today, making road trips on the more dependable Harley Davidson, riding alone across the nation…or simply riding with her sisters across the county…show the joy of motorcycling hasn’t changed…show the joys we gals celebrate every time we throw a leg over the saddle. But let us show our respect at the same time for the real ladies who should be celebrated…Why not show the women through the years and how their contribution to motorcycling has improved the health of HD…of biking in general? Like I said, I’m not against Capitalism, but damn it…be a bit less transparent…do more with the idea…actually celebrate the woman rider by including her achievements in the sales pitch!

  13. Chessie, I do understand more clearly what you are saying. I don’t feel that I have been “given”, so to speak the month of May as a female rider, to ride. I also hear what you are saying as far as women’s history in riding. I have to wonder why it has never been done before even on a different forum/level…and why women riders haven’t initiated it other than in Sturgis hall of fame? Any company will exploit and move their product the best way they can. We as a consumer will have to decide whether or not exploitation will be allowed. We allow it on all levels. I know your view is not of the marketing, but they do mix. Baron’s Life is right. Look at the Harley models still with shorts and all straddling the bikes..ridiculous. Its still geared toward men, sex, and power. Being dissappointed in the MoCo’s is one thing, but the MoCo’s is all we have. Until there is a better choice…not much can happen with that respect. So having a month of awareness of women riders is a good thing (in my opinion, with full respect of yours). I think the ladies before us would have only dreamed of a month of riding celebrating the female rider back then. They probably thought it could never happen… It has. That’s why I think, for me, its an advancement to have a month just for us to take in…in any case–MoCo’s and all,without feeling used by it.This was a good post. Got us all thinking. Thanks!

  14. While writing my post, your post just posted. I love it and that we meet eye to eye on. I have yet to see a commerical in California with a woman rider in the saddle! I still have yet to see a PSA on motorcycle safety too.

  15. Fascinating! I’ve had some connection with the world of marketing and, bar a few exceptions, most of the agencies are pretty unfeeling and are just looking for a new angle – it’s how they earn their money. The textbook example is Edward Bernays and his startlingly brilliant and completely successful PR campaign to get women smoking. With H-D in deep doo-doo, the orders were undoubtedly to seek a new untapped market, ergo Female Ridership Month. But sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you….and H-D surely didn’t hire Bernays’ successor for this one: it’s crass! People are smarter these days, and more analytical, so it doesn’t surprise me that you are less than enamoured of the programme. But some of it WILL work, and there WILL be some more women riders as a result – and that is all that matters to them. And maybe that isn’t so bad. But if you want to really shift opinion, why not get them to back up FRM with a permanent display of the women ‘pioneers’ in their museum in Milwaukee? The displays are pretty ‘male-ist’ there, so some change in attitude would be good!

  16. As time adds years toy you life You need to add Life to your years.Luv ya Chess good one…I got a Marketing buddy in Reno, I will ask him to stop by and explain.. discuss why???

  17. sure, why not? I bet I won’t like his reasoning any better than I like my suppositions…

  18. I have mixed emotions about a designated month to honor women riders. On one side, I’m all for encouraging more women to take up motorcycling. On the other, I want to encourage anyone – male, female, young, old – to experience our passion for motorcycling and reap the benefits.Your other points – I agree. MoCo is going after the profits and women represent a much larger slice of the pie now. It still feels like we’re just what you call fender candy though. The Spring HD motorclothes catalog had these technical cooling vests featured, but they were sized only for men. Hell – I could use a vest like that off the bike for my hot flashes :)As for celebrating those who came before – our pioneers – just maybe that’s our job. And you’ve highlighted some outstanding ones. Thanks

  19. Excellent topic and discussion, as usual. I understand and agree with your message, but when I try to see this from Milwaukee’s view, it’s not unreasonable to give them a little slack here. First of all, I’d be shocked if all this came to pass without any input from the women who work for the MoCo, such as Willie G’s daughter Karen, who’s been riding since she was 9. One would think that she and other power gals at H-D would not want to be patronized, nor would they want to do so to their women customers.I could be wrong, as I have no stats to back it up, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say that women riders like you Chessie, Sasha Mullins, and many others are still the exception and not the rule. I think what they are trying to do is appeal to those very women who still haven’t come out of their shells, or found their mojo, or however the hell you want to describe it. The vast majority of women who don’t ride now but really want to probably don’t know who Vivian Bales is, and likely don’t really care – at least not right now. What I think they see in a Women Rider’s Month is exactly the message they should see, which is, “Hey, I can do this.”Is there a marketing and profit angle here too? Of course. But I really believe what they are trying to do is reach the women who are still afraid to make the move. I am just now getting to know a new member of my Chapter who just got divorced and when it was final, she bought herself a Harley, took the beginner’s course, kicked ass, and is a natural at it. She always wanted to do it but her marriage held her back. She has sought my Chapter out for soul riders to bond with and I’ve sort of taken her under my wing and tried to make her feel welcome and less nervous.You know what though? She doesn’t really need me. What she did takes balls, and though I haven’t asked her, I wouldn’t be surprised if Harley’s efforts to encourage women to ride up front may have helped steer her towards taking the big leap. All I’m saying is, those of us who are already covered with road dust tend to be a lot more critical of these “promotional” things. I think sometimes we forget that they are largely geared toward those who are still unsure about riding up front, both male and female.Personally, if it brings in more money to help my beloved H-D stay in business, more power to it. If it sends a message to women who thought they may not be welcome unless they can crush a soup can between their thighs that they ARE welcome, then it’s a good thing. If they can tweak it eventually to pay more homage to the women who paved the way over the last century, even better.If I were you, I’d email Karen Davidson a link to this post. Nice job.

  20. Chessie, Chessie, Chessie…just put on a string bikini and do a sexy bike wash for the guys….Just kidding, just kidding…just trying to break the tension  HA-ha. Great post!!! Quick question, are you doing something different when posting your last few post, I’m having trouble pulling up (blocked) your blog at work, all the other blogs work just fine. Oh yea I really was kidding above, I believe you should treat everyone equal until they give you a reason other wise.Big Al

  21. Chessie, thank you for forming the proper words to express what I’ve had trouble saying myself. I think when it comes to this subject there will always be two separate camps of pro vs. cons (and a few who maybe straddle the line).Some see these events as a “celebration of the female rider” and I think you know that I think it’s bunk. It’s just not for me. Maybe I am in the minority and not the majority, I don’t know.But I don’t need a pink bike, helmet and jacket or a special day, month or event to flaunt the fact that I’m a female rider to the rest of the world. If other ladies need that to make their point, then parade away, girls. I’ll be busy putting some miles behind me instead.

  22. A HD Woman Rider Month is great, but a better way to recognize them would be to actually provide more variety to the riding products for women, boots, coats, instead of mainly “fender candy accouterments. The last time I was at one of the HD dealers, there were two styles of riding boots for women, but a whole wall of sexy high heels, sandals, etc…Building bikes that would actually fit a woman’s height and weight would be wonderful too. If one in five people taking the ABATE courses are women, why doesn’t the market reflect that? I love my bike, but it would be even better if the reach to the handlebars didn’t strain my shoulder sockets on the long rides.

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