2007 Harley Sportster 883 Low, Ducati Monster 695 | Test
Harley-Davison and Ducati do make great motorcycles for women as well. While some of our sisters are content to express their rebellious side with a sports car, others notice that anyone can drive a convertible without much in the way of special skills. Motorcycles are different. They require a bit of training, which makes it an exclusive club where the members have an affinity borne of a commitment to do something most women simply do not attempt.
Happily, there are plenty of organizations to help us along the way. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation helps riders of both genders who are starting with absolutely no experience. Continuing on from there, we can avail ourselves of classes such as Streetmasters (to sharpen our street skills) and Freddie Spencer’s High Performance Riding School (where we can go faster in a controlled environment).
For many women, the initial learning process is completed on diminutive small displacement motorcycles, such as the Kawasaki Ninja 250 or Honda Rebel 250 (see MotorCyclingMag.com for an on-going female beginner’s test of the Rebel). Then, as riding confidence is gained, our aspirations begin to turn to more performance, style and prestige in what we ride. Two distinctly different brands that have special appeal to women are Harley-Davidson and Ducati.
Harley-Davidson represents our natural desires to present ourselves as simultaneously relaxed and self-confident, as well as revealing a little bit of our "bad" side, able to play with the boys while retaining our essential femininity. Ducati, being Italian, is a much more elegant proposition. The lines appeal to our artistic aesthetic, the seating position is assertive, and the function of the motorcycle is focused on sleek performance. In this case, the ability to keep up with the boys is more literal. We want to go fast, and Ducati allows us to do that with Continental style and grace.
Thanks to an ever-expanding plethora of style and color options, any woman’s desires and tastes can be accommodated. (Click image to enlarge)
While we hesitate to feminize two particular models from Harley-Davidson and Ducati, there are specific examples that are especially suited to women moving up the motorcycling pecking order. The Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Low offers women a seat height of 26.3 inches to forestall any intimidation that may come with a motorcycle that weighs nearly 600 pounds when ready to ride. The Ducati Monster 695’s seat sits four inches higher than the 883 Low, but the motorcycle itself is quite light, at less than 400 pounds, and appealingly trim through the midsection. The name "Monster" is at odds with its sophisticated style—it is neither a behemoth in appearance or handling—so we refer to it as the M695.
Location photography: Don Williams. (Click image to enlarge)
Taking the M695 and Sportster out for rides, we were taken by how the two motorcycles behave so differently depending upon their situation. Rides to the Rock Store in the Santa Monica Mountains allowed us to indulge in the sinuous curves of Mulholland Highway and the narrow canyons that sprout from the vine. This is the natural habitat of the Ducati. The poised 695 directed us through the curves with a minimum of effort on our part. It encouraged us to go as fast as we dared, and we did so without any worry of exceeding its handling or tire capabilities. Each ride tempted us to lean the bike over farther in turns, recalibrating our personal limits. The acceleration of the Ducati is manageable without reducing its ability to induce heart palpitations. The large front disc brakes were not taxed when slowing down the motorcycle, so we always felt in control—an important sensation for a rider who is getting more serious about speed.
As a cruiser, the Sportster was only at ease when we were. For the career woman who has a corner office in a Burbank Media Center high-rise, this will mean uncharacteristically allowing herself to unwind a bit. The Sportster is nothing like the M695 in the mountains. The Harley will get to the destination as assuredly as the Ducati, but it will not make the trip hastily. Unlike the M695, which never scraped the road, the Sportster is not shy about grinding metal against pavement, especially on the right side.While alarming at first, we learned to just let go, and not worry about keeping up with any other bike. The Sportster does not feel or engender the need to compete. You ride the bike on its terms, which you come to appreciate and accept as your terms. The Sportster gives you the serenity many of us desire in life, and once attained, we contentedly take in the bohemian atmosphere of Old Topanga Canyon Road, rather than contemplating an illegal pass of a slow-moving vehicle impeding two-wheeled progress. Again, we both will eventually arrive at the Rock Store for juice or coffee, but the Ducati and Harley-Davidson make the journey in ways that stimulate different parts of our personalities.
Also, the forward-leaning body position of the M695 is less comfortable in the city than the reclining Sportster. The low seat height of the Sportster is reassuring at stop signs, as it allows the firm planting of boots on the pavement. The M695 is not poor in this regard, but the ergonomics that seem so perfect when going fast through the mountains are a bit of a liability in this setting.
Nothing is more appropriate for a Rodeo Drive shopping excursion than two coveted motorcycles. (Click image to enlarge)
The low seat height of the Sportster does have a drawback, unfortunately. The front and rear suspension travel is very short and, in the back, much too stiff. Harley also shortened the seat height by scrimping on seat padding. The resulting effect is that the rough roads have a punishing effect on our derrieres. This, of course, is where the personalization of the motorcycle offers respite. Custom seats are available, as are built-to-order rear shocks from companies such as Progressive Suspension and Works Performance. If we owned an 883 Low, we would make some changes to enhance seating and ride comfort without sacrificing the essence of the bike’s welcoming nature.
The final verdict on the two motorcycles is, like our male counterparts, we really need to have both motorcycles in our garages. The palette of riding is too wide-ranging for either the Ducati or Harley-Davidson to fill alone. As a team, the two bikes make us ready for anything short of all-out touring.
(Click image to enlarge)
Another aspect of riding that touches to our feminine soul is the available apparel. We had a generous supply of choices, each with its own appeal, yet most of it was cross-functional—we could comfortably wear it on either the Ducati or Harley. We were also at ease dropping into a favorite brunch spot midway between the hills above Malibu and the busy streets of Beverly Hills. The Penthouse restaurant at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica is a welcoming stop. Other motorcycles and acknowledging smiles greeted us at the covered valet parking area. A window table offers a panoramic view of Santa Monica Bay and Malibu—perfect for recalling and recounting the last ride and planning the next. (Click image to enlarge)
She-Moto’s Moto-Sleek jacket is made-to-order in Italy, offering a quiet sophistication that works on both bikes. The Vixen jacket from First Gear may sound like a cruiser jacket, but its tailored fit and flattering lines have a decidedly sporty accent that favors the M695, yet is not out of place on the Harley. Icon’s Bombshell jacket/pant/boot ensemble is definitely aimed at the cruiser crowd, with its flamboyant styling. At the other end, Ducati offers a wide range of devastatingly chic apparel, made in Italy, of course. Naturally, you’ll have to buy a Ducati to go with it, but we all have to make sacrifices.
Feminine helmets are just starting to take hold. Suomy’s Dream helmet, while not marketed to women, certainly has that appeal, with its undersea theme, complete with an anime-inspired mermaid and octopus. Icon offers pink versions of its ostensibly men’s helmet, and M2R’s hibiscus-covered MR 11 Flower helmet is unlikely to be found on the heads of many men. Just appearing now is the butterfly-theme Flutter RF-1000 helmet from Shoei.Women have long had choices in the boot arena, though most were for cruising. Red Wing Shoes’ 1670 boots are tough-yet-tender (leather with embroidery), perfect for the Sportster. The Jasmine boot from Sidi’s Lei collection works for light sport and touring, and has unmistakably refined Italian styling, along with offering unparalleled comfort.
We respect that many women are content to ride as a passenger, or let their significant other ride solo. At the same time, we think they are missing out on an attainable goal with rewards they won’t recognize until they let that clutch lever out for the first time. We’ve done it, and have never regretted it for a moment. Neither will you.