Going Viral: Motorcycling’s Lady Trope Problem

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About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post that compared two sets of photos that had been done by Portland, Oregon Ducati dealership MotoCorsa. The first set was called “seDUCATIve” and featured a model name Kylie and the Ducati 1199 Panigale — you can imagine what those photos looked like.

MotoCorsa did something interesting with its second set of photos though, which were titled “MANigale”. Featuring male mechanics from the dealership, these good-humored lads recreated Kylie’s poses with the Panigale, complete with heels, tube tops, and booty shorts. It was good fun, and since I have a personal vendetta with the “girl on a bike” trope of motorcycle marketing, it made for good commentary as well.

The seDUCATIve vs. MANigale article was a fairly popular story on Asphalt & Rubber, it had its couple days of fame, and that was that — or so I thought. For the past month now, the MANigale story has been hitting various more mainstream outlets worldwide — much to my surprise, but also delight.

From what I can gather, the story was first posted to a dominatrix group on Facebook, something I was alerted to when a female dominatrix retweeted the link, along with 50 or so of her “friends” on Twitter. Seeing the story crop up on a couple friend’s Facebook feeds those first few days was…umm…interesting, to say the least.

From the there the story moved into other niche groups. For instance, one of my friends from law school sent me an excited message about seeing the story in one of her Facebook groups for feminists –an interesting progression, no?

The force is strong with the mommy bloggers, and it wasn’t long before the story was picked up by major mainstream news/information sites like The Huffington Post, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Imgur, Pinterest, etc. The story went around the world and even made the New Zealand Herald.

It hit popular online niche outlets as well, with fashion/style site The Frisky, gay lifestyle site Queerty, feminist site Bust, photographer site Fstoppers, knitting site Ravelry, and even radio station KISS 107 FM in Cincinnati covered the story. Eventually CNN did a piece where they interviewed myself, photographer Alicia Elfving (aka The Moto Lady), and MotoCorsa boss man Arun Sharma.

Somewhere in that past few weeks the photos have been on Good Morning America, HLN, and NBC. It’s been a bit crazy to watch, and hard to believe the MANigale photo shoot is getting so much press over a year after it originally was produced.

With thousands of tweets, tens of thousands of Facebook likes, and millions of pageviews, the renewed interest has caused MotoCorsa to release a behind the scenes video of the photo shoot.

The video is entertaining to watch, I think I just about lost it when one of the men tries to walk in his pair of one-inch heels. How you ladies manage three-inch stilettos, and more, is beyond my comprehension. This behind the scenes look is meant to be funny of course, as was the MANigale campaign…as it should be. Motorcycling is supposed to be fun, after all.

The bigger joke here though, the one that the mainstream media has been feeding off of, is the one about us as motorcyclists. You see, we are expected to be unsophisticated, ill-mannered, twenty-years behind the times men who spend our mid-life crisis dressed up either as pirates or Power Rangers.

The reason that these MANigale photos are so lurid when the public sees them now is because, quite frankly, no one expects better from as motorcyclists, especially in America. They expect us to fit into this niche expectation, and that expectation isn’t one of high-regard.

It maybe then isn’t that hard to believe that just weeks before the MANigale photos went on their viral media spree, motorcycles were already in the public consciousness, thanks to the asshats at Hollywood Stuntz.

I’ve already talked about my thoughts on NYC, and how I think motorcycling needs a better face with the general public. It is one of the reasons Asphalt & Rubber works so hard to promote our favorite charity, Riders for Health.

The issue has passed now, but the idea of what motorcycling is to the rest of the non-riding world is always on my mind. I am in Italy right now, where motorcycling is infinitely a bigger part of life: people use motorbikes and scooters to commute in the cities, riders of all ages are prominent, and the country is militant in its support for domestic brands. Good stuff.

Just wrapping up our coverage of the 2013 EICMA show is also an appropriate time to think about the future of motorcycling. The show’s slogan this year was “Motorcyclists Have Changed” with a young woman in leathers and a motorcycle helmet holding a baby. The message, whether the industry is listening or not, is that younger riders and female riders are the future of this industry.

We often talk about Harley-Davidson’s problem with its aging demographic, and how the Bar & Shield branding isn’t really bringing in new riders. Instead, it is just selling the bikes to the same group over, over, and over again. Well, the issue is the same for the motorcycle industry at large, though instead of being stuck in a rut with Baby Boomers, motorcycling is stuck in a rut with being “manly men”.

A quick look at any motorcycle expo or any motorcycle race, and you see the same male-centered (dare I say misogynistic) imagery and messages — like there was some sort of tits and ass shortage when we were all in puberty, and now we are making up for it.

OEMs talk about how they want to crack the nut that is the lady rider, but when it comes to acting on that desire, the response has been…flaccid.

With less than 10% of women riding two-wheels, there is a huge market potential for motorcycles and females. If I could find some sort of way to etch that onto your computer screen, I would.

Here is an interesting thought: if I walked into the headquarters of any motorcycle OEM right now and said “I have a foolproof way of doubling your yearly sales,” I would either be a) laughed at, or b) paid enormous sums of money. Here it is fellas: stop the process by which you continually inundate this industry with these over-compensating male-dominanted tropes.

If you want women to ride motorcycles, and I don’t mean on the back of the bike, start acting like you want them as customers. Don’t believe it can happen? If something as ridiculous as fantasy football right can have twice the market penetration with women than motorcycling currently holds, then there is money being left on the table with our sport, industry, and passion.

Hell, if Saudi Arabia can currently undergo a sea change on the country’s stance with women driving cars, then maybe the motorcycle industry too as a whole can shift its perception on women riding motorcycles, and start treating the other 50% of the population like something other than window dressing. Chewy.

Photo: Alicia Mariah Elfving