I’m so happy to present this guest post from my friend Jeff Simpson who works in motorcycle sales and marketing in the Midwestern United States. Whether it’s long distance adventure touring, dual sport riding, or track days, Jeff is passionate about motorcycling and enjoys swapping stories with motorcycle riders and adventure travelers from around the globe. His work has exposed him to all kinds of riders, and one of our conversations centered around how women are treated when they walk into a motorcycle dealership. So many women I’ve heard from complain that they’re ignored or, worse yet, talked down to. I asked Jeff, who’s been on the front lines at a dealership, what can men do to encourage and empower women? Especially considering the growing numbers of women entering the sport. And who are they? He gave me some great answers, including a few profiles of women he worked with to get them on the right bike and into the right gear. Thanks Jeff!
Thinking back to working in the BMW dealership, women were definitely in the minority as I’m sure at any other bike shop, but I quickly learned that many of those who did ride had been doing so for a long time and were well skilled. Looking back on first-time female customers, I think they shared a lot of the same reasons as men who like to ride: the desire for freedom, an expression of their individuality, a sense of empowerment, a need for “adventure” or something of “their own” in their lives. Many times, my interaction with them came down to reinforcing the ideas of “Yes, you can,” and “No, it’s not ridiculous.” I was as supportive as possible, encouraging their desire to ride, and spent as much time as necessary to make them feel comfortable, making myself available to answer each and every question. I felt it was extremely important that they knew I would spend as much time with them as they needed until they found a bike they were comfortable with and gear that fit properly. Being able to tell them about women I knew personally was a big source of encouragement.
Jane was in her late 40’s to 50, divorced, and had kids in college. She decided to get her license and buy an F800ST. She always wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle, but her husband had discouraged it. Now that she was divorced, she did just that…and she scared the hell out of me as she rode away the first time, but she was determined that nothing was going to get in her way from mastering that motorcycle.
Another woman in her late 50’s had joked about learning to ride when she was in with her husband, who was purchasing a used bike from me. I encouraged her to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course and reassured her several times that she would do just fine. After a few weeks, she called me to find out what she had to do and I secured her a spot in an upcoming class. After she took the class and got her license, she was determined that she needed the shortest seat height possible to feel safe. BMW isn’t known for low seat heights, but I told her I would keep an eye open for something in the 650cc range. It didn’t take long for me to take a nice used 650GS with lowered suspension on trade. I immediately called her and offered for her and her husband to take it for awhile and ride it to see if she’s comfortable. It took a few times, but I held it for her until she made up her mind either way. She ended up purchasing the bike and some riding gear.
Another new rider, Angie, came in very timid and apprehensive. She was a graphic artist, mid to late thirties, married with young children. She had done her research, took the MSF course to get her license, and had her bike choices narrowed down before she ever walked in the door. She had decided that she wanted either a new Triumph Bonneville or a BMW G650GS. It was hard to earn her trust and make her feel comfortable. I’m a pretty low-pressure sales person and really enjoy just talking to people, so once she realized I wasn’t going to try to push her into anything and that I’d listen to her and answer her questions all day, she opened up a little. She shared that her husband (who doesn’t ride) thought she was crazy for wanting a motorcycle, as did the rest of her family and friends. I sensed that, with her, it might be a sense of individuality and freedom she no longer had that attracted her to riding. That she wanted something that was uniquely hers in the “normal” suburban life she lived. She didn’t seem unhappy with her situation, but seemed to want something of “her own.”
Angie and I talked about how I started riding and women I know who ride. I offered to let her test ride the 650GS, but she wasn’t comfortable heading out on the street yet, so I took it to a large open parking lot nearby and told her we could stay there all day just riding around the parking lot if she wanted to. She had a blast and we came back to the store to try on apparel and helmets and look at luggage options. The deal was done and she rode her new GS home the next weekend. Sadly, she decided to sell her bike less than a year later. She said it was to help start a new business, but I always wondered if that was really the reason.
Erica was not a new rider, but she provided inspiration and became a perfect role model to reinforce the desire of some of our female customers to ride. She came in during a cross-country trip from California in need of service. She was in her mid- to late-twenties and was very short, riding across the country alone on a low suspension 650GS loaded with way too much stuff. She was the smallest bad ass chic I’ve ever met! Full of stories from her trip thus far, she turned me on the SPOT tracker and talked of how its 911 call went out all over ADV Rider after a crash on a dirt road in Colorado prompting people from all over to instantly be concerned. Erica was an inspiration to me personally and I immediately texted a pic of her with her loaded GS to my girlfriend at the time, pushing her over the edge to take the MSF course and search for her first bike.
If you think I told Erica’s story to every person who walked in the store for the next two months, you’re right. Erica was a perfect example of the spirit I talk about. Male or female doesn’t matter. Many of us share the the same spirit and passion for what we do. Many times that spirit gets buried under the daily routine of “normal” life until something or someone like Erica pulls it back to the surface.
I kept sensing in these women the feeling of not being able to do it. Not being able to operate a motorcycle. Not being able to be on their own. What is it they felt they couldn’t do? And did they feel they couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it? Voni Glaves, Erica, Sandy Borden, along with other women I’ve ridden with over the years, turned out to be role models in a sense. Learning of these people said it’s ok for women to get out there and do this activitiy that can be as independent or as social as you want it to be.
The reasons alot of us ride are the same, and gender makes no difference. It’s just about encouraging that spirit that they somehow found and reinforce the fact that it’s okay. There will always be people who don’t undertand it, whether we’re male or female.
Look for Jeff Simpson at the 2013 Overland Expo near Flagstaff, Arizona, this May. I’ll be there too, along with the rest of the motorcycle adventure tribe.