For over a hundred years, Harley-Davidson has inspired riders and wannabe riders with dreams of being on the open road and living a biker lifestyle of freedom and adventure, Easy Rider-style.
But it doesn’t have to be a dream – and that goes whether you’re male or female. Women can ride, too; in fact, there are more women riders than ever before.
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council in the US, there are nearly four and a half million motorcycle riders on US roads, and one in every 10 motorcycle owners is a woman. Certainly in the West, the number of women riders is increasing at a higher rate than men. Anecdotal evidence for Singapore suggests there are also more and more women on the road. It seems the stereotype of a typical motorcyclist is changing.
Handling a Harley
I got my motorcycle licence over 20 years ago and started riding a Harley last year (Dyna FXDXT, 1690cc); I’m 5 foot 4 inches (164cm) and can manage even the biggest Harleys. Size doesn’t matter! Yes, it’s quite a leap of faith and confidence to go from a Vespa to a thumping big Harley, but everything on a bike is adjustable to fit your frame, including the height of the seat, the height and rake of the handlebars, the size of the hand grips – a myriad of adjustments to ensure the bike is comfortable and safe. The rest is down to attitude.
Many women have fears: “What if I drop the bike?” or “A Harley is so heavy –how will I turn it?” Yet with basic riding skills in place and some practice, you’ll find your skills improve all the time. I would urge all women to get their licence, get a Harley and ride; it’s fun and exhilarating, plus you get a sense of pride when you face your fears and overcome them.
Motorbiking to Malaysia
In mid-November, Harley-Davidson Singapore organised a media ride up to The Legend Water Chalets in Port Dickson, Malaysia. Ten bikes set off with a support crew and photographer in a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The 2011 models had just been released and this was an opportunity to test the bikes over 300km, in a variety of conditions. The bikes were tested in heavy rain and traffic, over a good combination of winding country roads and faster highways.
I started off with one of Harley’s smaller and lighter bikes, called a SuperLow, in the Sportster range. As the name suggests, it’s a low bike – this means it’s manoeuvrable and light, and gets along at an energetic pace. Pure fun. This particular model had an extra-special finishing touch – diamonds (no, not real). No girl wants to look like a guy, and with finishing touches like this, you don’t need to. While for many people, men and women, a Harley is about the buzz and adventure of riding, if you can look good doing it, then that’s an added bonus.
The height of cool is the Forty Eight, also in the Sportster range. It looks fantastic with its peanut-shaped fuel tank, solo seat and fat front tyre. It hugged the road on the Malaysia ride, even though conditions were wet. It was fast (thanks to its 1200cc), it was responsive, and I totally fell in love with it. Size-wise, this may be a good bike for new riders, but any rider will love its superb performance, handling and attitude.
Moving on to the bigger bikes, it’s hard to resist the Fat Boy (FLSTF in the Softail family); with its classic looks, it’s one of the most recognisable motorcycles on the planet. It’s comfortable even with the foot pegs forward (sometimes this is tricky for shorter frames) and felt robust and strong, like you could really eat up the miles. Not so different was the Fat Bob, if anything less smooth but with more attitude. The Fat Bob is in the Dyna range, and it probably isn’t an obvious choice for a girl, because it looks tough and feels serious with its matt black paintwork, drag handlebars and forward foot controls.
After the excitement of testing these bikes, we rested overnight at The Legend Water Chalets. The staff made us very welcome, and the chalets were amazing. They’re built on stilts over the sea, and we could actually look into the water from a glass panel built into the floor.
After breakfast the next day, we set off again. First up for me was the Road King. If you’re going to travel some distance, go up to the beaches of Thailand or further afield into Cambodia, then this is the touring bike for you. It felt surprisingly light and comfortable with a good roomy seat, cruise control, and floorboards for the feet. Psychologically, I needed to take a deep breath before I hopped on as the bike is physically big with its windshield and saddlebags. Once on, though, it was perfectly manageable.
Harley-Davidson presents a whole range of bikes that offer something for everyone. And what makes Harley unique is that each bike is customisable, not just to your preferences in terms of colour and bike accessories, but in terms of getting the bike to fit your frame. Height is not a problem, so girls don’t need to put that up as an objection, but I do think a reasonable level of fitness is required to ride. You don’t go into the gym and do one hundred push-ups if you’ve never done any before. Same with riding: you don’t attempt an 800km ride until you’re used to it.
But once you’ve chosen your bike, personalised it and made any adjustments, you’re ready for the open road. Feel the wind on your face, power your bike through the sweeping bends or blast down the highway (within the speed limit, of course) and discover a whole new world out there, away from work and domesticity, and off the beaten track.