Number of women riders hits all-time high

Dec 22, 2015

If you think you're seeing more female riders out there, you're not imagining things. 

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council's latest Motorcycle Owner Survey, women riders accounted for 14 percent of the total motorcycle riding population in the United States as of last year.

Harley-Davidson and woman rider
Manufacturers are making sure to include women in their marketing materials, and not just as passengers or onlookers. Harley-Davidson photo.

Yes, that's still a small minority, but the trend is clearly upwards. In 1998, the percentage was about 8 percent. In 2003, it was 10 percent.

Sarah Schilke
Sarah Schilke, currently national marketing manager for BMW Motorrad USA, has worked in a variety of positions in the industry and has seen the growth of women riders. BMW photo.
"Of the 9.2 million owners, more of them are women than we've ever recorded," said BMW Motorrad USA National Marketing Manager Sarah Schilke. "In fact, the number of female owners more than doubled from 2003 to 2014."

How did the number of women riders double by going from 10 percent to 14 percent? The MIC reports that the total number of riders also grew in that time period, so women riders in the United States went from 600,000 to 1.2 million.

The MIC (a trade organization of companies in the motorcycle and motorcycle aftermarket manufacturing and retail sectors) also pointed out some other interesting details about the female motorcyclist demographic in the latest survey.

Younger riders are pushing the needle higher. Just over 17 percent of riders in both the Gen X and Gen Y segments are women, while among Boomers, 9 percent are women. The median age for female riders is 39 (compared to 48 for males). And it seems new female riders might be a bit more prepared for the streets than their male counterparts. The MIC says 60 percent of women riders have taken a motorcycle safety course, compared to 42 percent of men.

Kawasaki Vulcan S and woman rider
Manufacturers are building more motorcycles that are intended to be more accessible. The Kawasaki Vulcan S has adjustable ergonomics so it can be comfortable for a six-foot, four-inch man or a five-foot, one-inch woman. Kawasaki photo.

And what are women riding? It probably won't surprise anyone that cruisers are the top choice of female riders, at 34 percent. (Sure, cruisers are popular because they appeal to a wide range of riders, but the low seat height is also helpful for many women.) Scooters came in a close second at 33 percent, with sport bikes in third at 10 percent. Some 57 percent of women surveyed indicated that they prefer to buy a new bike over a used one, but that doesn't mean they are averse to wrenching, with 49 percent of the women surveyed indicating they prefer to do their own maintenance or have a friend or relative work on their bikes, rather than paying a mechanic to do it.

Harley-Davidson Garage Party ad
This ad for a Harley-Davidson "Garage Party" is aimed at women who are interested in motorcycling but aren't sure how to get started. Harley-Davidson photo.
For the U.S. motorcycle industry, the growth in women riders is certainly good news. With overall sales of new motorcycles still not much more than half of what they were at their peak in 2007, women represent an opportunity for manufacturers to grow their customer bases. Manufacturers are not only building bikes that are more accessible for new riders or smaller riders, but they're also making sure to include images of women having fun on motorcycles in their marketing materials. Harley-Davidson's focus on women riders includes activities such as its women-only “Garage Parties,” which are events for women who are interested in motorcycling and want some low-pressure orientation in a welcoming setting.

One thing seems to be relatively constant for both male and female riders. Women surveyed indicated that "fun and recreation," "sense of freedom" and "nature/outdoors" are the top three reasons they choose to ride. That sounds like motivation most any rider would understand.