Way back in May (yes, that’s how far behind I am), I had the chance to attend a Kawasaki press event during the Kawasaki Superbike Showdown AMA Superbike event at Infineon Raceway in Northern California. While most of our time consisted of watching the races and riding the local twisties, the informal theme was “Women in Motorcycling”, and the attendees were a who’s who of prominent women motorcyclists.
What, you might ask, was a male journalist like myself doing at such an event? Well, aside from trying to keep up with some very fast ladies (I was mostly successful), I got to listen to and participate in some very interesting discussions about women motorcyclists and how they affect the industry.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average height of an adult female in the United States is 5ft3.7in, while the average weight is 152 pounds. This obviously places the average woman outside the size range of rider for which most modern motorcycles are designed, particularly in height. One woman riding with our group provided a first-hand example of this problem – a talented rider, she was simply too short to properly balance her bike (I believe it was a Z1000) when stopped, and she dropped it several times.
Kawasaki is aware that many women riders may feel that they have been left out of the design process, and it was implied that the company may be taking steps to rectify that problem. Kawasaki PR personnel were quick to point out that Kawasaki already offers a number of models that are ideal for average-sized women (along with smaller men and beginner riders in general): almost 40% of Ninja 250 and Ninja 500 buyers are female, over 20% of ZZR-600 buyers are female, and the Vulcan 500 LTD, Vulcan 800 Classic, and Eliminator 125 cruisers are just as popular with women buyers. In fact, more than 15% of Kawasaki buyers are female, while the industry-wide average is just 10%.
When reading the above list, the problem that immediately jumps out at me is this: while the little Ninjas are great bikes, they haven’t been redesigned for many years, and are quite outdated by today’s standards. The ZZR-600 is more modern, but from my experience (read my review) I don’t think it would be too manageable for a 5’3″ rider.
Most of the other manufacturers produce bikes that could be labeled as “woman-friendly” – these are the same machines most journalists label “beginner-friendly”. The problem is that not all women want a beginner-friendly bike – many of them are faster and more experienced than most male riders! What they want is a bike that is ergonomically designed to fit their size (and I mean more than just a low seat height). Suzuki’s SV650 comes closest to fitting the bill, but it doesn’t pack as much performance as a “full-size” sportbike.
In today’s niche-infested market, it seems there are bikes available to suit almost every particular (and peculiar) type of rider: the sport rider, the tourer, the off-roader/”adventure rider”, etc. Not to mention the innumerable “crossover” machines. How is it, then, that a category representing 10% or more of all buyers has been mostly ignored by product developers?
It’s past time for a manufacturer to release several modern, competitively-performing sport and sport-touring models which are ergonomically designed for an average-sized woman. When you add in the potential sales to male riders of below-average height (average height of an adult male in the US is 5ft9.1 inches according to the same source used above), these bikes have the potential to be big moneymakers.
Kawasaki’s new ER-6n might be just such a bike (albeit a little more budget-minded than a full-on sportbike), but it is still unknown if they will bring that machine to the US. If not, they might be beaten to the punch by Yamaha, who have a habit of releasing bikes that create their own categories.