It’s hard to believe that in the year 2017, we still have to talk about this. Well…given current events, maybe not so much.

The less cynical way to look at it is that humans (all of us) are hard-wired for prejudice—which is defined by social psychologists as an attitude based on a person’s group membership. In this case, our basic group membership is female, but of course it’s made even more complex when our skin color, how we’re dressed and even what we rode (or drove) into the dealership’s parking lot are taken into account. All of those things combine to place us into a “group,” and the salesperson, service manager or parts counter worker’s brains all react in a few milliseconds to determine how to respond to you, something that’s called a “reactionary implicit bias.”

And guess what? Your brain is doing the exact same thing when you walk through the door. It’s just how we’re wired, although it is true that women are more empathetic than men and therefore we’re better at controlling our reactionary implicit bias. It’s also true that some guys are better at empathizing than others, and the same studies I cited above have shown that the more we’re exposed to diversity—members of “out-groups”—the better we are at tamping down our reactionary implicit bias. To put it simply, we can learn (or un-learn) prejudice.

you mean even a woman can open it
Sometimes it feels like we’re still stuck in the 1950s. This (real) 1953 ad for Alcoa aluminum went on to cheerfully explain, “Easily–without a knife blade, bottle opener, or even a husband!”

So what does all this have to do with dealing with the reality of the sexism and prejudice we experience in the motorcycling world, and specifically at dealerships? Well, I believe that to best handle situations we must first be armed with as much knowledge about what we’re dealing with as possible. Understanding why people act the way they do is the first step toward dealing with them.

The second step is realizing that the only thing we can control in this situation is ourselves: our reactions, our behavior, our attitudes. Getting angry and letting it ruin your day just gives up control over you to someone else. And that leads to our first tip:

Don’t walk in looking for trouble.

I know it can get frustrating, dealing with what feel like ancient sexist attitudes that society should have left behind long ago. But remember that the dude behind the parts counter and the middle-aged sales guy aren’t trying to be jerks. In fact, they’d really rather sell you something than not. It’s just that they spend most of their time doing business and talking shop with other guys. You’re an oddity—although we’re changing that year by year!

Also, by falling victim to your own reactionary bias, you’re doing the same thing you’re mentally accusing them of. So instead…

Make eye contact, smile and channel your inner confidence.

You belong in that shop just as much as anyone else. You’re a rider (or soon-to-be rider!). Engage the salesperson first; say hi. That is, unless you don’t see one, which is more of a failing on their part than anything else. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m there with a male companion, and despite the fact that I’m the one there to buy something and I’m the one doing the talking, the salesperson stubbornly keeps responding to my friend, who is just standing there silently.

Unfortunately, being ignored is only one side of the “a woman walks into a motorcycle dealership” coin. The other, equally—if not more—likely, is the dreaded “mansplaining.” Sigh…

Once he stops talking long enough for you to get a word in, my favorite way to attempt to hit “Stop” on the mansplaining is to show him you’ve done your homework. I know, it’s infuriating that you have to start from a position of proving yourself, but reacting with a snarl and a snappy comeback will only label you a “bitch” and further his belief that women are simple and emotional basket cases.

So I like to say something like, “Yeah, when I was researching bikes I liked the fact that this one has fully adjustable suspension and a removable subframe.” Or, “Yeah, the last time I changed the oil I noticed that the drain plug was really hard to loosen. I just slip a piece of metal tubing over the handle of the wrench so I get more leverage.”

If it persists, I just resign myself to the fact that he’s clueless and seek to end the interaction as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Sometimes it’s more subtle: despite the fact that you’ve walked over to a big bike, for some reason the sales guy seems to be guiding you over to the smaller ones. It’s true that a lot of women, due to smaller stature, are more comfortable on smaller bikes, but to assume so is wrong. A gentle redirect is usually enough, but in the worst scenarios, he pushes, and this is where our temperatures really start to rise.

vintage harley ad
Our favorite part is the guy at the bottom: “I love those large cans!”

In the face of blatantly patronizing behavior, it’s usually best to just walk away. Most dealership owners and managers are interested primarily in one thing: making money. Alienating 50 percent of the population is not a great way to go about doing that, so if you’re dealing with a case of overt sexism, tracking down a manager and asking for their help is your action of last resort.

Ask the manager if there’s another sales/parts/service person who could help you, and if not, the manager him/herself can do it. I worked at a dealership for a summer, selling BMWs, Triumphs, Ducatis and Can-Am Spyders, and I can tell you that our GM wouldn’t hesitate to help customers himself—something that happened often on busy Saturdays.

Lastly, don’t take it personally. Prejudice, whether it’s based on race, gender, religion, or any other way to classify someone, is by definition a generalization. It’s the exact opposite of seeing someone as an individual person and treating them accordingly. So the clueless guy isn’t being a jerk because you aren’t worth his time, or because you are stupid. It’s because he’s human.

Just remember that in any difficult situation, the one thing you know you can control…is YOU. Rise above, walk away with grace and respect, and commiserate with your friends about it later. You’ll realize that you’re not alone.

Have you had a negative experience at a dealership? Share how you dealt with it in the comments section below.

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  1. I have worked in the motorcycle industry for10 years now. You are right on by advising not to go into a dealership or vendor looking for trouble. You will be treated with exactly the same attitude. The guys and gals working the dealerships are or could be your brothers, sisters, parents, besties, whoever. Treat them as such and you will be treated the same. I have been on both sides of the counter and have never witnessed blatant sexism or prejudice. I have had some guys that were uncomfortable talking gear with a woman. It’s not my problem, it’s theirs. I don’t take it personally. I find someone to “guy speak” with them. If you feel the staff won’t talk to you because you are female, you’re not looking at it correctly. They probably won’t talk because they’re lazy 🙂

  2. What a wonderful article! I’ve had two incidents recently – One was at a large dealership in my area that hosts demo rides from different motorcycle companies. My husband and I were there to demo a few bikes because I was in the market for a new one. I got in line behind my husband to sign up for the demo. With my helmet under arm and my license in hand I stepped up to the sign up table and the guy says to me, “You don’t need a license to ride on the back.” I said to him with a smile on my face and a chuckle in my voice – I’m not riding – I’m driving.” After his shock wore off he he took my license and signed me up. It was really funny actually and my husband just stood by and giggled. Then last week I took my new bike in with a electrical malfunction. My husband had already called and told them we would be bringing the bike in. When I showed up and walked into the show room, not a sales man approached me. I stopped and flashed my smile and luckily one of the guys recognized me and asked me what I needed. After pointing me to the parts department (a section of the store I had never visited) I encountered more shocked faces. Honestly, they looked at me like I was an ailen – it was so funny! I told them my husband had called about my bike and they acted like they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Then one of the guys says to me, “Where’s the bike?” like he didn’t believe I rode the bike there. I told him it was out front – did he want me to bring it around? Then they seemed to snap out of it. When I called the next day I got almost the same reaction – I asked what they had found out about the bike and the guy says to me, “What bike?” I said to the guy, “SERIOUSLY, I brought a red bike in yesterday, you don’t remember me? (in a joking tone because he should remember me – I was probably the only woman that set foot in the parts department the previous day) He snapped right out of it and says to me, “ha, ha, Oh yeah – my name is Brad by the way.” And then I got excellent service! It is just going to take a little while for them to get used to having women riders in the mix. I think we need to encourage more women to ride because once you go to your own you’ll never get on the back again!

  3. I remember buying my current bike on a -20C, snowy day in January. I’d had my eye on my CB1000R for a while, and when I went in that day, they’d dropped the price by $1500 in time for the local motorcycle show. At that point, I decided to go for it. So I’m sitting on it, fiddling with the farkles, and a bored looking salesman wanders past and says “Can I help you?” I said “Yes you can, if you want to sell this”. I still remember that he stopped, stared at me with his eyes slowly getting bigger, and his mouth opening and shutting … and then he snapped to and said “Uh, yeah, sure, hang on … ” and practically ran off to get a pen and paper. It was cute 🙂

    I’ve found that attitude is everything. If you go into the dealership projecting confidence because you’ve done your homework, and acting like you’re as entitled to be there as anyone else, you’ll get a whole lot further than if you shrinking-violet into the corners. No salesman coming up to you? Go into an office and dig one out. Parts guy being a dick? Make eye contact and smile nicely. I have walked out of dealerships where I’m being obviously ignored (because who’s got time for that?) but a winning smile and a no BS attitude goes a long way.

  4. A group of my “Sisters” and I were having this discussion about a month ago. Out of the 15 of us at the table, all of us had a story about being treated poorly or downright ignored at major dealerships. I am a former service manager at a large dealership. First off: a wise GM made sure EVERYONE that worked at the dealership rode. So the four gals employed in all different capacities made a point to speak to as many women as possible when they entered or if they were just browsing. The salesmen knew if they had a gal that would feel more comfortable speaking to one of her own kind- we would gladly jump in. We could share our expertise in fitment, handling, gear, long adventures to short and just be who we are. Only twice did I have male customers treat me poorly because of my plumbing being on the inside instead of the outside. One “youngin” was obviously not raised right and would never change. The GM took care of his attitude. The other after receiving the best service I could give actually had been raised right and apologized for his behavior. He was one of my best supporters until we closed. Now when I go into a dealership, I do it with a big smile, open ears and eyes and try to find someone with a smile or nod and go from there. Since 1940 we have been trailblazers and we must continue to keep pushing that ceiling. Show them you can still be a lady and handle that bike and some of their silliness with class.

  5. Okay, I’m late to the game here on this 2-year old article, but I wanted to comment on one aspect. Jenny wrote “One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m there with a male companion, and despite the fact that I’m the one there to buy something and I’m the one doing the talking, the salesperson stubbornly keeps responding to my friend, who is just standing there silently.” So recently my daughter was ready to buy her first car by herself. She’d done her research and had very good reasons for the vehicle she selected, including MECHANICAL reasons. She couldn’t have picked a better vehicle for her. So she invited me to come along to the dealership in case she had any questions. She listened intently to the sales person and then asked a question, and the sales person turned to me and started explaining. Here’s the key – I did not stand silently by – instead I interrupted and said “Don’t talk to me, she’s the one buying the car”. The salesperson got it immediately and thereafter dealt directly with my daughter – I only spoke up when my daughter asked me a question, and she handled it all beautifully. So I believe it’s important that we males not just stand silently by at these times – we should speak up when these slights occur. We are part of the problem (or maybe all of it), so we need to be proactively part of the solution. And one advantage is the sales person can’t “label you a “bitch” and further his belief that women are simple and emotional basket cases”, as Jenny mentioned, when it was me that spoke up. By the way, one aspect of this that was disappointing was the sales person was a woman – she should have known better. Then again, that may be why I only had to say it one time? 🙂


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