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Why can’t Johnny ride?

By Terry Roorda

It’s a busy and exciting time to be a gal on a hog. Harley-Davidson continues to ratchet up their outreach to the womenfolk, having recently pronounced May to be Women Riders Month and planning to kick it off with splashy organized rides on May 1 to coincide with International Women Riders Day. This month-long celebration of the sisterhood is in addition to the existing Women’s Motorcycling Month in July, as well as the AMA’s fifth annual Women and Motorcycling Conference being held in August with Harley-Davidson/ Buell as the presenting sponsor. Which is to say nothing of the many other fun and rewarding activities and programs for women of late; things like video production contests and targeted women’s print and web material and women-only excursions like the Get Down to Daytona promotion and the Women’s Ride on Women’s Day that just went down during Bike Week. Included in virtually all of these promotions are voluminous treats and prizes for the gals—expense-paid trips, leather jackets, video cameras, pins and the like. The activities planned for May alone include an attempt to set a Guinness world record for the most women trained on a bike in one day (there’s a record for that?), as well as another flurry of Garage Parties at dealerships nationwide where women can get schooled on motorcycle stuff in an unthreatening—i.e., no dudes allowed—environment. I caution my sisters to pace themselves. The Motor Company’s dishing up a near-bewildering plateful of activities for the gals.

For the guys, not so much. No months, no days, no conferences, no swag, contests, special rides, interactive activity booths, dedicated publications, web pages or dealer parties. The bros can thus be forgiven for feeling like Bob Uecker, locked out of the pub, face pressed to the window looking in and gushing, “Wow, they’re having a good time in there.” But despair not, my brethren, even while we man-up and gut this one out in our standard emotionally-unavailable way there are plenty of other things we can celebrate while the gals are bonding and mentoring and hearing themselves roar. May, for example, is also National Hamburger Month, which is awesome, and July is—believe it or not—National Hotdog Month. So there. We’ll have our plates full, too.

We’ll settle for that, I guess. I’m certainly not masochistic enough to suggest a Men Riders Month, knowing the chorus of “ooh, poor baby” scorn such a notion would bring, to say nothing of the predictable “every month is men rider month” response. Still, I can’t help but wonder if maybe Milwaukee isn’t pushing this whole women rider thing a little hard and might be advised to ease up on the throttle a wee bit lest they overshoot their mark and feminize the brand too much, leaving the old boys—the ones who brought them to the pub—locked out and looking in, and the young boys looking for alternative means of moto-expression. There’s a cautionary analogue worth considering in this regard, and it comes from the field of American education where a generation of efforts to level the academic playing field for girls resulted in fundamental curriculum changes and overt empowerment exercises that have brought on a crisis of a whole different nature. Women now outnumber men 3 to 2 in college enrollment, and some authorities are raising the alarm that boys have been marginalized in the educational process and have simply lost interest in it. There’s a real possibility that some similar phenomenon could follow in the motorcycle industry.

Sound farfetched? Do the math. If, as we’re repeatedly told, the percentage of Harley buyers who are female continues to grow apace, and yet—as we know for a fact—Milwaukee’s unit output has been in decline since 2006, then any growth in woman buyers must be matched by a corresponding drop in male buyers. And while it’s impossible to determine the exact cause and effect at work here—which is the chicken and which is the egg—it’s worthy of some scrutiny all the same.

The ultimate marketing objective of Harley’s ambitious outreach campaign, to broadly expand ridership across all promising demographics, is laudable, certainly, but what I’m suggesting is perhaps a more nuanced, less divisive approach—putting the woman’s touch on it, if you will. We’ll be giving the subject further consideration going forward and offering our gratuitous, unsolicited advice on the matter to The Motor Company. (We’ve already come up with Bungee Your Baby on the Bike Day, though that one may prove problematical.) But we won’t be obsessing over it. We’ll be too busy getting fired up for the big celebrations in May. Pass the Burger Shots, please.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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