Harley-Davidson launches the 'little black dress' of bikes

The brand that was once synonymous with the male midlife crisis now has designs on women

For decades, it has been a standard of many men's dreams – escaping life's troubles on a gleaming Harley-Davidson motorcycle, accompanied by a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack and a partner of choice. From the highway to Hollywood, the motorcycles and masculinity have been synonymous – until now.

The American manufacturer Harley-Davidson has designed two new bikes specifically to appeal to women. Gone are the bulbous petrol tanks and the shiny chrome the brand is famous for. Other changes include smaller handle grips, lower seats and different foot peg positions. The result is what Harley executives are hoping will become the staple "little black number" in every woman's garage.

Called the Street 500 and Street 750, the new bikes, the company's first for 13 years, are serious performance motorcycles which they hope will persuade even more women to ride its machines. Industry analysts say that Harley-Davidson's efforts will help the brand challenge its Japanese competitors, especially Kawasaki and Suzuki.

Harley's move to attract more female customers has been prompted by its rising sales to women which have shot up 30 per cent in the past decade in the US alone. One in 10 motorcycles is sold to a woman.

The wider popularity of motorcycling can be seen by the fact that International Female Ride Day – set up to celebrate women riders in Canada in 2006 and held in May this year – is now celebrated in the US and UK as well as countries further afield such as India, Russia and Brazil.

The Street series is part of a long-running trend at Harley towards catering for a more varied market. In 1987, the average age of a Harley rider was 35. By 2006, this had risen to 47, and Harley ownership had become shorthand for male midlife crisis.

The company has held Women Riders Month every May since 2008 and has been holding "garage parties" to teach motorcycle basics to women – such as how to pick up a heavy bike safely – for eight years.

Even before the Street series launch, this approach seems to have paid off. In 2013, Harley-Davidson celebrated its sixth year running as the No 1 US seller of new motorcycles to what it calls "outreach" customers – anyone who doesn't fit into its "core" demographic of Caucasian men over 35.

It is a far cry from 2005 when the company had the dubious distinction of winning "the worst brand extension" in a poll, for its Harley-Davidson cake-decorating kit. The company stresses that the nearest the Street bikes will ever come to a Barbie pink version is a metallic dark red.

More recently, Harley dealers have been offering riding instruction to people new to motorcycles – many of them women. The company estimates it now has about 10,000 women a year going through the programmes in the US, according to Claudia Garber, the director of Harley's women's marketing.

Harley dominates the US heavyweight motorcycle market with a 62 per cent share, but the road isn't all smooth. Rival company Indian released a cheeky advert last year that showed a Harley owner lovingly cleaning his bike – then putting it up for sale.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

    £13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

    £23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future