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Originally published September 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 14, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Women driving motorcycle sales

As a child, Genevieve Schmitt would cover her ears when a giant motorcycle with loud pipes blasted past. Today that big-twin thunder is...

The Dallas Morning News

As a child, Genevieve Schmitt would cover her ears when a giant motorcycle with loud pipes blasted past.

Today that big-twin thunder is music to her ears, and she's the one making the noise.

After decades of riding on the backs of bikes often driven by men, women in growing numbers are sliding to the front of the saddle and driving themselves, a movement Schmitt fosters as president of Women Riders Now, based in Livingston, Mont.

Women account for at least 10 percent of motorcyclists in the U.S. today, and they're the fastest-growing segment in the graying $9.7 billion motorcycle industry.

Although the motorcycle industry is still fairly strong — manufacturers sold 1.1 million bikes in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available — growth has slowed from the boom between 1995 and 2000, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

In addition, the average age of motorcyclists continues to increase, from 32 in 1990 to 41 today, said Jessica Prokup, a spokeswoman for the industry council.

About 15 percent of Kawasaki's motorcycle sales are to women, the largest percentage in the industry, said Sean Alexander, a company spokesman. Harley-Davidson is second, with 12 percent.

"Baby boomers are reaching an age where they are moving away from motorcycle purchases," Alexander said. "Someone has to replace them over the next 15 years."

Women are getting plenty of encouragement from manufacturers. They accounted for about $970 million in motorcycle sales in 2005.

Harley-Davidson, for example, has established a Web site for women, sells clothing and gear for women, and sponsors "garage parties" at Harley-Davidson dealers to introduce women to motorcycling.

Once the noisy macho ride of biker toughs and still the industry's most popular cruiser, Harley-Davidsons are relatively low to the ground and can be handled by shorter people of both sexes.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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