Life on bikes

Babes on Bikes: Part 1 – WTF is it all about?

Putting a sexy woman on a sexy bike is a good thing, right? It sells more bikes and more bikes is clearly a Very. Good. Thing. 

But you only need to take one look at the crowd at a biker event or ride out to see that, overall, men still vastly outnumber the women. Does the industry’s stock portrayal of women as nothing more than eye candy hold back more women getting involved? 

In the 70s and 80s magazines like Superbike and Easyriders were a popular purchase for any teenage boy with an interest in motorbikes and semi-naked woman. Guaranteed boobs every month in the centre page spread alongside some exotic bikes.

Back then, showing lots of skin in car and bike magazines was pretty much ignored because newsagents’ shelves were already filled with Playboy, Penthouse and Razzle (seriously, couldn’t they think of a seedier name?). These mags set the standard for softcore pornography and took most of the flak from Mary Whitehouse and the feminist movement.

As well as boobs Superbike also had a lot of great editorial and articles, it didn’t really need the boobs to sell copies – they were a kind of bonus.

As someone who appreciates the female form but has never been what used to be called a male chauvinist pig I had mixed feelings. Superbike was an occasional guilty pleasure.

Some of their ‘spreads’ (ho ho) were genuinely great and I liked the fact that the editors didn’t give a fuck about political correctness.

But generally, it was sausage factory production of bike-plus-bird images that was embarrassing to buy or be seen reading. Superbike eventually evolved past tits and bums and past actual paper to become a website-only enterprise but, elsewhere, bint-on-a-bike images are as prevalent as ever.

Girl on a custom motorcycle
Not sure the footwear is appropriate for that kind of bike

Take the above. It’s typical wank/lad mag material but the more I see this kind of thing the more puzzled I get.

The photographer booked a location, a bike and a model and took this photo. But what was the intention, what are they trying to tell me?

Is it supposed to be sexy? Probably but these days there are plenty of other sources for that kind of thing so bother with the bike?

Am I supposed to be interested in the bike? If so then the model is in the way and I’d want to see a lot more detail shots.

Is it telling me about the lifestyle of the owner/builder/rider of the bike? Well, the owner isn’t in the photo and I doubt that’s his or her significant other so no.

Is this supposed to be an advert for something? Well, the bike’s a one-off custom and no advertising is included.

Is it an advert for the supposed biker lifestyle? Is it telling me that if I ride a bike like that hot naked chicks will drape themselves over me and my bike? I think that’s the implication but, living in gloomy old England, women who be bike-curious are thin on the ground because being freezing cold, soaking wet and in fear for their lives inexplicably seems to put them off.

Is this just a collection of attractive objects randomly slung together to grab some attention? Well if it’s aimed at me personally then it’s severely lacking in pizza, spaceships, Special Brew and kittens. But I think that’s getting closer to the point. This type of photo seems to exist simply to attract the viewer’s eyes. And this is where my problem really starts. The model in the photo is just an object.

She has no name or function and we know more about the bike than we do about her other than the fact that she’s probably not very comfortable draped on that bike. I might be wrong but the model doesn’t look like she rides a bike or could change an oil filter or even knows anything about bikes. And what annoys me most is she’s not doing anything. She’s just there to be looked at.

Sexy Girl on sportbike
What is the object here?

This kind of image has been churned out for decades with two purposes. Firstly to sell magazines and products. Bike products are especially boring so livening up an advert for shock absorbers with a hot naked chick is probably an easy way to get people to look at it. It’s certainly quicker, easier and cheaper than investing in some eye-catching graphic design and informative text. What company wants to do that?

Secondly to weave some fantasy of an imaginary lifestyle of sex, bikes and rock and roll. That fantasy is aimed squarely at young straight males.

There’s plenty of statistical data to prove that slapping a pretty face or attractive body on the cover improves the sales of almost anything.

Obviously the advertisers and publishers benefit from this but does anyone else? If the advertising and imagery is almost exclusively aimed at young males then whole sections of society are being ignored.

Does motorcycling in general benefit from T + A images? Does putting a naked bird on a candy assed chopper on the front of a magazine translate into motorcycle sales?

Does it increase the number of people applying for licences and taking up the noble activity? Does it improve the public image and perception of people who ride motorcycles? And most significantly does it encourage women to take an interest in motorbikes?

If I were a girl leaving school and thinking about how I’m going to travel to my first job or college would this kind of image encourage me or put me off?

Somewhere along the line this kind of stupid image became the norm, it makes us all look like lecherous peasants and puts women off bikes and the people who ride them.

Times have changed and using sex to sell things has fallen out of favour. Even Playboy stopped doing nudes (for a while). But t’internet has made everything simultaneously better and worse.

With a quick search I can find the most appallingly politically incorrect porn. Seriously I just googled ‘motorbike porn’ and my eyes are bleeding. Or I can find something else, something new and much, much better.

Jo Benz has an active career as a motorcycle blogger, proving female beauty and biking don’t need to be about sex.

Living in the cold, wet, foggy UK it’s easy to forget that around the world there are a lot of women riding motorcycles. They’re as passionate about their bikes and riding as any bloke and a lot of them take photos of themselves and stick them on the internet.

These are photos of women taken by themselves and by other women and they’re very different from the bikes and boobs images churned out for a male audience by male photographers.

Girl on a motorbike
New wave custom photography generally avoids objectification

They’re still sexy, but what strikes me is how positive these kind of images are. Positive for women and positive for motorcycling. The important difference is the fact that the women in them are active participants rather than passive objects. Women popping wheelies, getting a knee down, falling off in the mud and touring the world on bikes. These are women with names and stories to tell and for my money, much more interesting than a bored looking model posed somewhere near a bike.

No matter what genitalia you have or what you ride, running your own bike is an achievement. It means that you probably hold down a job, save money, learned the skills and passed the increasingly onerous tests to get on the road just to be rewarded with shit weather, dangerously pot-holed roads and homicidal van drivers every day. I think anyone who has done all that deserves a small round of applause.

I’ve got a few female bike riding mates who have done all those things and also have to put up with being either patronised or not taken seriously just because they’re girls. Women who ride motorbikes deserve more credit than women who do nothing but look good somewhere near a bike.

These are the sort of images that are good for the motorcycle industry, good for women and would inspire me if I was a girl thinking about bikes. Posters of tits and asses on bikes don’t do them or anyone else any favours.

In Part 2, Zoe Cano points out a different kind of portrayal of women on bikes is starting to emerge. In Part 3, LadyBiker’s Dasiy Bell says the images we’ve become used to are just the product of lazy thinking.

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The Author

Marc Ryan

Marc Ryan

A bike nut since he was 17, Marc was forced to lay off the bikes for over 10 years, on doctor's orders. Finally given the nod he thought he'd ease himself back in gently on an XL 250 but promptly bought an SV650 which made him shit his pants for the first month.
He also writes his own random meanderings at his own blog, https://isontheroad.wordpress.com