The motorcycle industry marginalizes female customers, who have historically made up a very small sect of this male-dominated world. But women are fast becoming a bigger, more influential group in motorcycling — a 2014 study done by the Motorcycle Industry Council showed that in the U.S., about seven million women ride motorcycles, representing about a quarter of all riders. Still, the businesses behind our favorite bikes and accessories have been slow to adapt, distancing themselves from female riders by failing to embrace the gender-specific needs of this rapidly growing segment.
Look at the paltry market for women’s riding gear, for example. While mainstream companies produce kit for women, their offerings are typically either sized-down men’s product or thoughtfully designed but tackily styled technical wear. Where are the good-looking, well-cut protective jackets, pants, and boots that a female rider could comfortably and confidently wear on or off her bike?
The lack of options for women didn’t sit well with six ladies who recently started three contemporary women’s motorcycle apparel companies: New York’s Burning Rubber and Breaking Hearts, Portland’s Strange Vacation, and L.A.’s Atwyld (pronounced “at·wild”). All three companies started as second jobs, established and run during weekends and downtime, requiring unfathomable amounts of personal investment. But these women don’t mind, because they firmly believe that what they’re doing needs to be done.
Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber
“Girls are compromising their safety, riding in inappropriate boots because they want to look cute,” says 32-year-old Leslie Padoll, a New York City-based commercial tailor who, in the summer of 2015, launched Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber, a women’s motorcycle fashion line that makes hand-constructed, made-to-order boots. She approached the owner of a local footwear factory and said women needed cute motorcycle boots in a variety of styles that didn’t skimp on safety.
“It would need a lug, non-slip sole for traction, it would need to come up higher for ankle protection, and it would need to use leathers that are malleable, durable, and asphalt resistant,” she told him. The owner let Padoll submit two designs for boots then invite thirty female motorcyclists to a test fitting. “Every single girl bought a pair, and a few girls bought a couple,” she says. Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber now ships boots around the world and is working toward a price point of under $200 for a pair of boots. But it hasn’t been easy.
“We have to use a men’s Vibram® lug sole, because they don’t actually offer it in a women’s size,” says Padoll. “So our soles are all actually hand-cut and -shaped. They just don’t make them small enough. It’s just one of those things that’s really kind of a bummer. But Vibram® is the best, so it’s what I have to do.” Padoll refuses to skimp on quality, which is as important to her as ensuring that Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber’s boots are both stylish and versatile. “If a girl is going to invest in a pair of boots, I want her to be able to wear them to work and to enjoy them and go out on dates and look cute and feel confident, as well as being able to just get on her bike and go.”Explore Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber
Padoll refuses to skimp on quality, which is as important to her as ensuring that Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber’s boots are both stylish and versatile.
Wanting to help women “look good and feel confident” is what also drove 33-year-old Jenny Czinder and 36-year-old Kelly Wehner to start Strange Vacation. “There was nothing style-conscious girls would want to wear while riding that was protective,” says Czinder. She and Wehner couldn’t find any fashionable motorcycle gear, and finally decided they should be the ones to create a timeless, traditionally styled black leather motorcycle jacket that women could also wear casually.
The two began working with a pattern maker in L.A. who turned out to be a horrific pain in the ass, but out of that nightmare came a connection to Vanson Leathers. “Vanson really sealed the deal for us,” says Wehner. “We wanted to work with someone who specifically makes leathers for motorcycles and when I went to tour their factory, it was on. We were like, ‘Fuck yeah, this is exactly what we want.’” It took two years to develop and wear-test the fit of what would become Strange Vacation’s flagship product. Czinder wondered, “Is anyone going to buy this $800 jacket from a brand no one knows?” But after Strange Vacation launched in fall of 2015, the “Original” jacket quickly became the brand’s best-selling item, offered alongside graphic tees, foam fingers that read “Stranger Danger,” and a black-and-white-striped moto rugby with long sleeves and elbow padding that won’t lose its form in a slouched riding position.Explore Strange Vacation
It took two years to develop and wear-test the fit of what would become Strange Vacation’s flagship product
Then there’s Atwlyd, which is “a totally made-up word,” according to the company’s creative director, 33-year-old Corinne Lan Franco. “It’s the single moment between fear and thrill, because you’re captured in that moment when you’re riding.” Atwyld launched in the summer of 2016 after Lan Franco, 31-year-old Anya Violet and 40-year-old Jamie Dempsey stopped stalking one another on Instagram, had a real-life conversation, and started riding together. One day when they went on a ride up beautiful Angeles Crest Highway, just north of downtown L.A., they realized they were all wearing shirts and jeans from Urban Outfitters. “It was really easy for me not to wear something protective, which is sad,” says Lan Franco, pointing to the absence of any attractive women’s riding gear.
They decided then and there that Violet’s love for apparel design, Lan Franco’s career as an artistic lead, and Dempsey’s background in product development gave them everything they’d need to start a seriously cool apparel company. “Now — right now — is the time for this to happen,” says Violet. “We ride with our target customer all the time, and she’s not wearing gear. She’s not wearing anything remotely protective, and I understand that. You just want to have some sort of identity when you’re riding your motorcycle. We’re creating protective apparel for women who don’t wear gear, who don’t give a fuck. Our job is to make our gear look so good they go, ‘Oh, I’d wear that,’ and then hopefully one day it saves their ass.”
Atwyld sells gorgeous jackets, chic pants, fleeces, and zip-up shirts, all with protective features. “It’s so rewarding to see girls trying on this product we’ve been working so hard on, and to see it look good on so many different types of bodies,” says Dempsey. Atwyld is currently transitioning from direct-to-consumer sales to a wholesale model after only six months, and the partners are already developing future lines and exploring ways to give back to the motorcycling community, like sponsoring an all-female racing team or using education courses to help women become better, more skilled motorcyclists. “We’re going into uncharted territory,” says Dempsey. “We don’t have that much to rank ourselves against, so it’s like the world’s our oyster. We can create whatever we want to create.”Explore Atwyld
We’re creating protective apparel for women who don’t wear gear, who don’t give a fuck. Our job is to make our gear look so good they go, ‘Oh, I’d wear that,’ and then hopefully one day it saves their ass.
Atwyld’s slogan perfectly encapsulates the problem it’s trying to help solve: “Inspired by the void, built for the voyage.” The void? The lack of women’s riding gear in the motorcycling world. The voyage? Wherever this road takes them. None of the women from Atwyld or Breaking Hearts & Burning Rubber or Strange Vacation can see how far that road will be. “I started riding eight years ago, and I never would’ve imagined the motorcycling world would grow the way it has for women,” says Padoll.
It’s a shame this didn’t happen sooner — that well-established brands with big budgets and just about every available resource didn’t foresee the needs of motorcycling’s female riders. But maybe it’s better it happened this way, so that entrepreneurial women like Padoll and Czinder and Wehner, Violet, Lan Franco, and Dempsey could step up and empower their peers by creating thoughtful riding gear designed by women, for women, that looks good, fits right, and works flawlessly.
Opening Page 074: The Atwyld quilted Navigate Moto Fleece is made from cotton, spandex, and cowhide leather, and meant to fit like a casual pullover. The Commuter Moto Jeans are made from 11.75-oz. Cone Mills denim with the addition of polyester and elastane for stretch. Both garments are lined with 8.3-oz DuPont™ Kevlar® at all impact zones.