Men have dominated the world of motorcycles. Sure women on Harley’s date back to the early 1900’s and the first women’s motorcycle group in America was Motor Maids, which started in the 1930’s. However, in the past 10 years or so women riders have skyrocketed. Women love motorcycles, it’s a fact! Women riders during the last 20 years have gone from 4% to 12% of all motorcycles registered in the US. Women represent 10% of the U.S. motorcycle population, and nearly 12% of new Harley-Davidson purchasers. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation estimates that one-third of students in the rider safety courses are female. Harley has clearly figured out women are a growth market for a number of reasons and in that process they also discovered that following the money trail in a household often leads to women.
One individual who has shaped and dramatically influenced women riders is Karen Davidson, the great-granddaughter of HD co-founder, William A. Davidson. She is the daughter of Willie G. Davidson, yet doesn’t seem to get a lot of press unless it’s about participating in a charity event. As the Creative Director for General Merchandise and responsible for Harley-Davidson MotorClothes I found that somewhat peculiar.
Karen is “4th Generation” and one of three children by Willie G. She studied fine arts and fashion design in college and was employed in the NYC garment industry for a time. She began a free-lance leather design business in 1985 and joined HD in 1989. The company created a new, branded line of apparel and accessories for its customers at that time – MotorClothes. She is involved in most everything from creative direction of the leather collections to design of diamond rings. She is an active rider and involved in charity events from the Women’s Day Ride benefiting Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), Film contests to the Love Ride. She has been a key company “booster” in support of women motorcycle riders. Second only to Leslie Prevish (Women’s Outreach Mgr) who is also very involved with women in motorcycling.
Karen’s influence was noticeable in 1991 when the runways in Paris and New York looked like biker rallies. Harley-inspired emblems were on everything and Bloomingdales had a “Bad and Beautiful” shop devoted to women’s motorcycle jackets. That year the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave HD a special award for its influence on fashion. In 1998 she was involved in a Patent and Trademark trial (and appeal) over the mark “BIKER BLUES” for clothing line which Harley ultimately prevailed.
Beside owning and riding motorcycles, women have formed a presence within the industry that has gone way beyond being umbrella girls or trade show booth babes. And in no small part thanks to Karen Davidson’s continued efforts to promote women in motorcycling. I prefer to think of it as a gender-neutral activity, but I get the marketing angle.
Avis and Effie Hotchkiss might have been the first women to ride across the U.S. in 1915, but I’m sure they’d be pleasantly surprised at how far women have come from the motorcycle race track to urban streets.
Photo’s courtesy of HD (Family Picture L to R: Karen, Michael, Bill and Willie G.)