I was riding around the other day, out in the country, puttering along on the Harley and waving at all the other motorcyclists, when I realized that every single Harley-Davidson rider I saw had a grey beard. It’s like it’s part of the uniform. And it’s easy to spot with Harley people because they generally wear open face helmets.
What bothered me about this is that when the Covid virus struck earlier this year and I started doing most of my work through Zoom, I stopped wearing pants for much of the day and couldn’t be bothered to shave. So, I too grew myself a Covid beard, which morphed into a tidy little goatee that, like my mostly-still-full head of hair, is predominantly grey.
Oh my God! I realized. I’ve become – one of them!
For a demographic that consider themselves to be outsiders, street motorcyclists in Canada are remarkably homogenous. For a start, the vast majority of us are male, and white. There are many exceptions, of course, and it’s safe to say that there’s probably representation on motorcycles for every societal group in existence, from Dykes On Bikes and Black Girls Ride to the Christian riders and the Sikh motorcyclists. But most of us are white men. Probably older, with grey beards of varying lengths.
I’m not sure why this is the case. I called up Vicki Gray, the publisher of Motoress.com, to ask why she thinks that motorcycling is still a predominantly male passion. Gray is fresh from organizing another successful International Female Ride Day on August 22, in which women around the world are encouraged to get on their bikes and go for a ride.
“It’s instilled when we’re little girls,” she said, and gave me an example from last weekend, when she was out with five other riders in London, Ontario. Gray is an instructor and examiner who prepares motorcyclists for their Ontario “M” licence test. She’d pulled over with her small group, all of them men, in front of a home on a quiet side street.
“Out comes a little boy, then out comes a little girl, followed by mom and dad, and they’re all excited by the bikes,” she said. “One of the guys yells over to the little boy, ‘Hey, you wanna rev the throttle? Come on over!’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute! Why don’t you invite that little girl? Let her come over too and twist the throttle!’ Our social behavior with motorcycles is still aimed at that – at boys, not girls.”
“The little boy came over and revved it, a Ninja 650, but he was scared,” she said. “The little girl covered her ears and ran inside.”
Not a very scientific experiment, but the point is well taken: We shape our children to accept motorcycles as a male thing right from their earliest years. Similarly, in some cultures, motorcycles are looked down upon as a poor alternative for transport to cars, which offer shelter, comfort, and security. If given the choice, those cultures will choose the prestige of a car over a bike any day.
For the most part, as the world’s cultures learn more about each other and we begin, slowly, to respect gender and sexual equality, we’re making inroads with introducing motorcycling to everyone. There are so many variants of motorcycles that, if you like the experience of riding on two wheels over four wheels, there’ll be a bike that appeals to you: Adventure, Sport, Cruiser, Dirt, Tourer, Vintage, Naked, you name it.
Honda figured this out in the 1960s with their now famous ad campaign. Harley-Davidson picked up on it a decade or more ago with sponsoring events like Garage Party. Polaris now helps sponsor the International Female Ride Day, which until this year was always held on the first Saturday of May. And if you’re a woman who wants some non-judgmental company when you ride, the Motor Maids or The Litas are there to welcome you and help you get the most from your bike.
As for me, I think I may have to get rid of the little goatee. I could just shave it off, but maybe I’ll grow it out, square it off and treat it with some premium, high-priced beard oil. That would be a great excuse to buy a Scrambler, after all.