Interview Series: Women & Motorcycling

As an ongoing feature, the Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists will be interviewing the women who have made an impact on the motorcycle industry, from pioneers to newbies, industry players to racers, to you.

We thought it timely to launch this series on the eve of International Female Ride Day. Our first interview is with Sarah Schilke, who participated in the 2012 International Female Ride Day with its creator Vicki Gray. Couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate this event – Enjoy!

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: SARAH SCHILKE

Marketing & Public Relations Manager
Schuberth North America

THOUGHTS ON INTERNATIONAL FEMALE RIDE DAY

I was fortunate enough to be at the “2012 International Female Ride Day” events in Canada. Vicki Gray, who created the global event, lives in Toronto, so they make a big day of it up there. It was a great ride, visiting motorcycle manufacturers, a photo shoot at at Toronto City Hall and a get-together at a local dealership. I’ll be sure to celebrate this year’s event by at least riding to work—I think it’s cool and important to participate so that people around the world see plenty of women riding motorcycles on that one day!

RIDE HISTORY

I started riding (street) two decades ago, and a few years later got into off-roading as well, and later raced desert and motocross for several years. I currently own a Honda Superhawk and Ducati 750Sport, plus a couple of Yamaha dirt bikes. I started riding on a whim really. One night I made a comment to a friend that it would be cool if I rode a motorcycle. That friend then showed me a classified ad for aHonda Rebel 250. I picked up the phone, even though I didn’t know a thing about bikes. Interestingly, it was a woman selling the Honda, so I felt comfortable asking her my newbie questions . . . I didn’t know anything about bikes! There were no riders in my family, so the only inspiration I can think of is there was a TV commercial when I was little for “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda”—the one where a helmet comes off and you realize it’s a women rider as her hair comes flowing out of the helmet. I do see myself as an anomaly because I didn’t have a role model who brought me into the sport. Female riders need to get past the conditioning we receive as children—girls are told motorcycles are dangerous or it’s not feminine to ride a bike.

INDUSTRY TAKE

I have been working in the motorcycle industry for over 20 years. My first job out of college was on staff at the Motorcycle Safety Program in Oregon, where I grew up. I enjoyed teaching the classes and knew I had found my career niche. Some classes were for women only, while others were mixed gender. I later got a graduate degree in Marketing, which I’ve put to use in the industry. One advantage to being female in the industry is that you stand out . . . but for every advantage there is a disadvantage, such as having to work harder to prove yourself. There is the added benefit that women network well; we proactively try to help each other out, which I think comes out of need because there is a lack of mentorship in the motorcycle industry. My advice to women wanting to work in the motorcycle industry is simple: don’t expect a job just because you ride. You should look for positions that apply to your experience and education, just like in any other industry. Unless you’re applying to be a racer, motorcycling is secondary to the requirements of a specific job—it’s also a great perk! This advice is gender neutral, by the way.

CURRENT COMPANY & EMPLOYMENT HISTORY

Schuberth is a global, head-protection technology company based outside Berlin, with a satellite office where I work in California. I travel to Schuberth headquarters several times a year, and speaking German is a benefit to the relationships with my colleagues there. I also use my language skills to help translate parts lists, ads and manuals. I understand the culture since I have lived in Germany a few times throughout my life, most recently when I worked as a Global Category Manager for Hein Gericke. For Hein Gericke, I ran projects relating mainly to the U.S. and European women’s motorcycle market and development of women’s motorcycle and casual apparel.

OUTLOOK ON FEMALE MOTORCYCLING PRODUCTS

Schuberth’s C3 product line is a third generation of flip-up motorcycle helmets. The women’s fit version, the C3W, was introduced in 2010. Engineers at Schuberth stumbled across cosmetic-company research that indicated the female head is typically smaller and features a narrower jaw and higher cheekbones. So, they devised a helmet with the comfort liner specially contoured to fit the female facial structure and with softer materials to better form to small features, plus fabric that is easier to clean and good for sensitive skin. This is the only helmet engineered to fit women. It was definitely not a “shrink it and pink it” version of a male product. The C3 Pro and the female-fit counterpart, the C3 Pro Women, was just introduced a couple of months ago. The upgraded features include aspoiler for higher speeds, an internal antenna, better ventilation and a more comfortable fit. It’s a terrific product. True German engineering—sort of the “Mercedes of Motorcycle Helmets.” There’s even Bluetooth communication available as an add-on. OurC3 Pro Women helmet is gaining in popularity.

TAKE ON INDUSTRY TRENDS

Let’s look at the numbers. It’s been stated for years that 10-12% of the motorcycle market is women. That’s based on registrations. How accurate is that? It could be 25%. Why? Because sometimes a woman’s motorcycle is registered under a man’s name. When talking about apparel, it’s also important to consider the number of passengers. Don’t they need gear even if they’re not up front? Plus, women more often make the shopping decisions for a family.Often, the women is the family CFO, so purchases have to be approved by her. And let’s not forget that this is about shopping. And, women do love to shop. I mean, I have six different suits, which I wear based on my ride or even mood that day!

BELIEF IN WOMEN IN MOTORCYCLING

I was excited to hear of the newly formed Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists (WCM) and their goal to double the number of female riders by 2020 and promote women’s prominence in motorcycling.I’m happy that today there are so many high profile role models, because this is what helped me get past my “girls don’t ride motorcycles” conditioning. Now, people tell me that I’m a pioneer and role model since I was the first woman elected to the Motorcycle Industry Council Board of Directors and served two terms, so I try to “pay it forward,” too. I remember attending my first Women on Wheels (WOW) event in Seattle, back when I first started riding. I met an 83-year-old woman who had started riding  in her 70s after her husband passed away and his motorcycle was collecting dust. She walked with a cane, but she had circumnavigated the country on her GoldWing, pulling a trailer to get to the rally! I am still inspired by her, as well as the women I have met since, such as racing pioneer Mary McGee, who was a special guest at the “2012 AMA International Women & Motorcycling Conference” in Carson City, Nevada. Mary started auto racing and then road racing in the ’60s. Steve McQueen eventually convinced her to get in the dirt and she rode a 250 Husqvarna solo in the Baja 500, beating 17 two-man teams. She also did motocross races and she’s still racing today at 75. Then there’s NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. She actually wears a Schuberth auto helmet, so I have to give a plug here (smiles). But she’s a true pioneer and inspiring role model.These stories transcend motorcycling. And gender.

by Christopher Gil, VP of Editorial at MAD Maps, Inc. www.madmaps.com

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