Blog: Is motorcycling out of touch?

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a BMW S1000XR, Honda Grom and a 1999 Kawasaki ZX-6R. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, a KTM 1050 Adventure, Yamaha MT-10, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Triumph motorcycles stand EICMA

 

Triumph’s Bobber is a stunning work of engineering – whether it’s a bike you love or hate (I think it’s great), you’ve got to be impressed at the work that’s gone into creating that hard-tail style. So when I was walking around the EICMA show in Italy, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t able to properly see it; parked next to the new Speedmaster, both machines had women sat on them, smiling at the crowds of show visitors. Thing is… I was there to see the bikes. Am I weird, or is it simply a cultural difference?

Triumph’s spokesperson told me that “For the shows in the UK our policy is for Triumph factory and dealer staff to host our customers, which gives an unparalleled opportunity to hear what they like and want from Triumph. Over the last few years we have seen a shift in the way bikes are presented and believe this is a progressive change for the industry as a whole.”

Some Milan exhibitors did buck the trend. Peugeot Scooters had female and male models on their bikes; “Our approach is focused on the ‘customer experience’ and also, elegance is a key part of our DNA,” Head of Operational Marketing & Communication, Candice Robert told me. “Our customers are both men and women, that's why we have both on our booth. We want to use models that visitors can ‘trust’ and who reflect themselves. It's true that the trend is mostly to use female models to create a ‘dreamy atmosphere’ but they are also used as an ‘accessory’. Our staff are dressed in a more classic way but with style and elegance: Our position is trying to change the rules and we are convinced women should not be exhibited as an object.”

 

Peugeot stand at EICMA

Peugeot Scooters and BMW Motorrad were among manufacturers using male and female models on their stands

 

BMW was another brand using men and women: BMW Motorrad Brand Experience Manager Vanessa Franz said, “BMW is increasingly aware of the attraction of our motorcycles to both men and women. We wanted to reflect this at EICMA by employing models who would be attractive to both sexes. Motorcycling is ever more inclusive, and for us, honestly, it’s no big deal to do this sort of thing at a motorcycle show!”

Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but then as I approached the Suzuki stand with BikeSocial’s Chris Newble, we wanted to have a look at the new Suzuki SV650X, but there was a model sat on it. We looked really dodgy trying to photograph under the frame with her sitting there.

Female riders are the minority in motorcycling – during the financial year of 2016/17, 4,499 women in the UK took their motorcycle test, compared to 52,917 men. Those numbers are reflected in the proportion of women insured by BikeSocial’s parent company, Bennetts – only 7.3% of the total policy holders. We used to use models in our promotions: “The Bennetts Babes featured in our campaigns for many years and were very popular,” said Suzannah Higgins, Head of Marketing at Bennetts. “But that was ten years ago. These days, our marketing strategy is firmly focussed on putting our customers at the heart of campaigns. The promotional models that we employed in previous years were the only ones who experienced the hospitality, garage tours, grid walks and podium presentations; now those benefits are enjoyed by Bennetts policyholders – and that’s how we think it should be.”

At Motorcycle Live, the only people I want to see sitting on the bikes are you. The best thing in Italy was a woman – wearing the bike kit she’d ridden to the show in – beaming from ear to ear as she sat on a Ducati monster, her boyfriend taking a photo of her on his phone. Surely we don’t need models on bikes to imagine ourselves riding – the joy of a bike show is you can sit there yourself…

 

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