"Women are the fastest growing segment of the motorcycle market today"
Hard-core. Gritty. Dangerous. Male. This is what some might see when they look at a motorcycle.
But to David Scoggins, the fast-paced ride can just as easily be paired with luxury and glamour, often associated with a woman’s world.
"Women are the fastest growing segment of the motorcycle market today", said Scoggins, owner of Thunder Customs, a new Ventura, Calif. motorcycle repair business that caters to women.
New motorcycle retail sales racked up an estimated $8.8 billion in 2004, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Almost 10 percent of the 6.6 million estimated motorcycle owners in the United States are women, according to a 2003 report by the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine. The most recent available data from the national trade association further showed that there were 635,000 female motorcycle owners in 2003, compared with 467,400 in 1998, a 35.9 percent increase.
Several factors have led to this increase. After riding on motorcycles behind men, many women were encouraged to enroll in motorcycle safety courses and then went on to buy their own, said Mike Mount, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council.
"In recent years, women have felt more empowered to do a lot of different things that they might not have thought of doing in the past - motorcycling fits into that category," Mount said.
Since there are more female motorcycle owners than ever, there are more on the road, "so we think that helps, just because women see other women riding," he added.
As a whole, the industry is adapting to meet the changing market. Motorcycles don’t have to be masculine and bulky. There are more than 450 new motorcycles available this year in the U.S., and sizes, shapes and colors to fit any motorcyclist’s taste, Mount said.
Still, Scoggins recognizes there are challenges that women face in the male-dominated industry.
"They have all kinds of issues, from right height of motorcycles, to clothes that actually fit them and are functional and comfortable," said Scoggins, an Oxnard, Calif. resident. "And a lot of times, they find themselves having to buy men’s clothing or go through all kinds of extraneous steps to feel like they’re part of this world and fit in."
Many women reject riding because of safety concerns, or they feel intimidated by the size of a motorcycle in relation to their own size.
Small stature was not a problem for Jayme Rainwater, a 40-year-old Navy senior chief petty officer who stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs almost 200 pounds.
The problem was she was scared to death. When she was about 24, she acquired a bike from a friend. It sat parked for a few years, until a group of guys pressured her to start riding.
"I didn’t have a lot of confidence back then, and that was an instrument to raise my confidence," she said. Rainwater also likes that riding is an individualized sport.
"Every turn you make is your turn," she said. "You’re in control."
She now has two motorcycles. Most of all, Rainwater enjoys the independence that comes with riding.
"You’re not boxed in," she said. "If you can’t afford a horse, I think a motorcycle is the closest thing to that."
Scoggins is intent on fulfilling the needs of women, even though 90 percent of his customers - like the market - are male.
"While many men change their own oil, few women do," Scoggins said.
Thunder Customs offers basic services, such as changing oil and tires, providing regular maintenance, and making modifications.
Right now, the typical-looking shop only hints at Scoggins’ long-term dreams. The 2,100-square-foot building is filled with tools and equipment, amid lingering scents of oil and cigar smoke. But glass cases in the 800-square-foot showroom display women’s makeup, hair products, motor clothes, T-shirts and jewelry.
A wireless connection is available to customers, so they can browse the Internet or check e-mail while waiting. By mid-2007, Scoggins said he hopes to offer Thunder Customs’ own line of private label MotorClothes and leather apparel, specifically designed for women who ride and "who are not a size two."
Someday, Scoggins envisions being able to fully pamper his clients with a day spa on site. It would allow women to drop off their motorcycles for whatever work needs to be done while they get a facial, massage or their hair done. He also wants to offer a monthly program that provides advanced riding tips or a motorcycle safety inspection for women.
Scoggins shares his vision with fellow owners Tron Elliott and Chrisa Angell. They project the shop will generate $1.9 million in revenue in the first year.
"Congested freeways and high gas prices have driven the market’s tremendous growth", Scoggins said. "With the market the way it is," he said, "I don’t see how we can miss."