Women and Motorcycles Part II – Gear

Women and Motorcycles Part II –    Gear

Let us start by stating that the comments below do not represent the opinions or philosophies of BMW of North America, Ride West BMW, or any of their employees. That pretty much extends to everything on this site, but I probably need to repeat it once in a while.

A great deal of time was spent at last week’s women and motorcycles seminar on the subject of gear.  In fact, this was the most discussed topic.  Comments ranged from wistful longing to bitterness, to the extent that I was quite taken aback.  I’ve been aware that motorcycle gear designed from the outset to be worn by women has been on the increase in recent years, and assumed (one should never…) that the rate of progress was at least hopeful.

Not so.

One comment I’d never heard previously was that as a woman, the speaker was not a man and did not wish to wear one black jacket on every ride. In fact, she wished to have several outfits in different colors to wear as the mood suited, as she would with any other clothing. She went further to add that she controlled the checkbook in her family and was ready and eager to spend, if manufacturers were smart enough to create products for her.  In other words, she not only wanted to choose gear based on the weather conditions, (as men do), but also on her desired appearance for the day.   I paraphrase all comments, of course, and apologies offered where I have erred.

She was a taller woman, and lamented that there were few choices open to her.  At this point the Parts department manager jumped in with a “Ta Da” and a new textile suit just out from RevIt designed for the taller female form.

Her dismissive response alerted me to something seen before, both in myself and others. There are topics and situations in life where we’re made angry by a real or perceived wrong, and we come to a place where we choose to “own” our anger or disgust rather than opt for a solution when it occurs.  Ever done this? The person or company offers to right the wrong, and you choose to retain that anger. Your position is set, and reason falls before your moral rectitude. Even though there was now a product that fit her stated goal, at least to a degree, she was having none of it. At this point a friend with decades of experience in the motorcycle industry offered the news that Alpinestars has just introduced a line of leathers specifically designed for women, and this was met with a response, from a track day aficionado, that she did not think much of Alpinestar products.

Oh dear.

In an effort to keep the conversation going, I posed a question. If you took 1,000 men from the age of 25 – 65 and lined them up in a row, would any of them put the toilet seat down?  No, what I actually posed was if you took this line of men and put opposite them a row of 1,000 women aged 25- 65, which line would have a greater range of body types, shapes, and sizes?  As far as I could tell, everyone agreed that the women’s line would offer the most variety.

So now we have a situation where manufacturers need to create a wider range of sizes, styles, and colors, for the female market than for the male market.  The rationale offered for this is that women, by some accounts, make up 10% of the motorcycle market, and that the women’s apparel market is growing by 20% a year. Both of those numbers might be a tad optimistic, but let’s use that figure and see where the math takes us.

Suppose Preston Enterprises decides to enter the apparel market with a small production run of high quality apparel. The plan is to sell 1,000 outfits a year. The first year we make 900 items for men and 100 for women.  For simplicity, we’ll leave out marketing costs and assume a 100% sell-through rate.   That means that profit will be derived from the sale of 900 units for the men and 100 for the women. If we earn $1 profit on each unit that equates to $900 from the men’s market and $100 from the women’s market. In business profit is not an option, but a requirement for continued existence.

The second year we adjust for the growing market and increase the women’s “share” to 120 units, and decrease the men’s side to 880.   Now we have profits of $880 vs. $120.

The 3rd year we do 144 and 856, and the 4th year 173 and 827.  Do you see where this is going? The profits from the women’s line will not be a significant part of the health of the business for a long time, even if you make all sorts of assumptions. We’re assuming here that the men’s market will shrink every year.  Worse, we’re going out on a long and shaky limb to assume that the women’s market will continue to grow ad infinitum at 20% per year.  We’ve also ignored the need for a great range of sizes and colors for the women’s market, which adds a lot of complexity.  In business complexity usually adds costs and hampers profitability. If Preston Enterprises wants to succeed in this market, there will need to be reasons beyond mere profit.

Fortunately, businesses from time to time take actions that are hard to justify based on profit, data and even experience.  Some have argued that my job description is one example, as it is hard to equate customer interactions and activities and charity work and e-mails and presentations and all sorts of things to a bottom line. Almost nothing I do can be data-linked to actual sales, no matter how enthusiastic you are about the relatively new practice of “data mining.”  It is what I once described in a moment of mirthful candor as a “faith based” enterprise.

Companies often embark on advertising campaigns that appear to exist solely for the ego gratification of the owner.  I’ve seen them and written copy for them, although not for Ride West, I hasten to add.  At times programs are initiated because it is “the right thing to do,” or with a long view to the future. There is some hope in these areas for an increase in motorcycle products designed from the outset for women.

But not much.

The laws of supply and demand tend to rule at the end of the day, and examples abound. The Japanese manufacturers have not quite abandoned the American market, but fans of high tech big bore sport bikes might feel that way. The Japanese have seen the economies of China and India growing at rates of up to 20% a year, and have aimed their production efforts at targets to their west, rather than east.  This has resulted in increased US sales, or at least opportunities, for European manufacturers.  The meteoric rise of BMW as the producer of the best sport bike, from nowhere to #1 almost overnight, is only one example. Euro motorcycle producers create machines that tend to be more expensive than the consumer cultures of India and China can support.

At the moment.

If Asian economies continue to expand, the blooming fondness for luxury goods now apparent in China and other areas will reach to the motorcycle market as well. In 10 years some of the complaints about gear availability now being voiced by women will be joined by exasperated plaints of men and women looking for motorcycles.

Another factor is manufacturing cost.  My father made me aware of this when he was working on the Apollo project. Actually, he made me aware of this a few years later, since at the time it was all classified, and he was an honorable man. He used the example of the door to the Apollo capsule.  It cost several million dollars to manufacture.   If we set about manufacturing 10,000 Apollo capsules, the cost would decrease dramatically.  If you want to make one door for a modern car, with side impact beams, air bags, curved windows, and electric actuation, it will cost a bundle.  A door for a new Ford Focus, made by the hundreds of thousands?  A lot less.

Making a black leather motorcycle jacket in 5 different sizes will cost X. Making a jacket in 8 sizes, three styles, and 4 colors will cost several multiples of X.

Is there a solution?  There’s always a solution, but often the solution is tied to money.  As more women enter the motorcycling world, which is a very good thing, the number of products will gradually increase.  In the meantime, women can expect to have to shop more than men for a comparable product. That pretty much cries out for a sarcastic witticism, but I shall restrain myself.

And then there is boutique land – garments made to measure.  This already exists, of course, but just as in men’s suits, the cost goes up. I had the pleasure of being measured for a custom full leather Vanson suit some years ago, and it was an amazing process. If I recall there were 47 different measurements taken, and some of them were of an intensely personal nature.  The design and creation of the suit took months, but what a product!

One positive aspect of such a suit is that when you pay $2,000 for a suit, you’ve a very strong impetus to not gain weight!   I’m still wearing the pants years later, and they do not seem to show any appreciable wear.  I am sure that would change if I crashed in them, but as long as I stay roughly the same weight and shape they will fit. The jacket was “branded” with the logo of my previous employer, and thus had to go, but is now being worn with pleasure by its new owner.

Another solution is for someone to note the resentment by women of the status quo and create a company that creates motorcycle gear for women – only.   By taking advantage of the demand and the opinions many women have, that could work very well if done carefully.

So there it is.  Women who desire that motorcycle gear designed and manufactured for them have a valid point.  Companies who create that gear also have valid concerns for their own success and even existence.

Things are getting better, but I can agree that if you’re not getting what you want, they’re not getting better fast enough.

Coming next – why motorcycle clubs for women are a bad idea.

Copyright 2012                                               David Preston



About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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