Watch out Honda, Harley’s new Street 500 and 750 models mean women who dream of riding a Harley no longer have to start out on your little Rebels. During my 15 years with Harley, I lobbied hard for smaller bikes. It’s about darn time. These bikes will change the landscape for women riders.
Many people I meet these days look quizzically at me when I say I ride a motorcycle. “You don’t look like a biker chick,” they say. I then ask what they think a “biker chick” looks like. Silence. I tell them women have always ridden motorcycles, and a beautiful Vivian Bales even rode across the country in the 1920s.
Negative stereotypes are just one barrier for some women who want to get their own Harley. An even bigger reason has been that the bikes were just too big. Yes, even the Sportster, for some. Sure, I’ve seen petite women ride Harley’s biggest bikes across the country. But most don’t start out on them.
Why start small?
Many women prefer to gain their confidence on a less intimidating machine, then move up to a larger steed. The Buell Blast was perfect for that. I was involved with prototype testing for that model and helped launch it and the Rider’s Edge New Rider Course while in PR at Harley. Unfortunately, the transition from riding a Blast during the course to commandeering their first Harley didn’t always go so smoothly. Many times I saw tears and frustration.
I bet there are thousands of Harleys in women’s garages across the world, sitting there unridden after being dumped a few times. Now, I’m sure many will get traded in on the new Street models.
Even more importantly, when women start on these Street models while taking the course, they’re more likely to buy what they learned on. And then the loyalty is cemented. Most likely for life.
I’ve heard marketers refer to women as “referrals machines” since they tell twice as many people about brands they love than men do. Think about the value of that customer. How do you increase sales to her and get her to bring in others?
Advice for dealerships
Harley-Davidson dealerships can use images of women riding Street models via email, social media and ads touting “New Harley to Love. Quit dreaming. Start riding. Light and easy to handle. Heart-stirring look, feel and sound.”
Encourage your customers to share with women in their lives who have been lusting after a Harley, but hesitant to start on a bigger bike. I’m not suggesting you ONLY target women with this model, but don’t just use the images of guys when you market it.
How can other brands compete?
You could focus on price, which may convince some women to change their minds. But if her significant other rides a Harley, most likely she’ll want one as well. Or if she’s on her own and set in her mind that a Harley is the only bike for her, good luck. That’s one emotional battle you won’t win.
Another possible angle is to show that thousands of women have started on Hondas, Viragos and even the Can-Am Spyder, because they’ve felt more comfortable on them. Use images and stories of women who’ve been happily riding these bikes for years.
That said, I know from years of research and more than 20 years of riding that thousands of women around the world dream of riding. Many don’t know the difference between brands. And some are hesitant to join the “harder-core” Harley community.
Find them before Harley does. Make them into “referral machines” for your business.
A rider for 24 years, Leslie spent 15 years with Harley-Davidson (3 retail, 12 corporate) and created its marketing to women role in 2007. She spearheaded Women Riders Month and a Garage Party Campaign that drove 25,000 women to dealers. After 2 years at Trek Bicycles, Leslie now helps companies sell more to women.