New Motorcycles for 2012

What’s favorable to women riders

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

’Tis the season when the motorcycle manufacturers unveil their new models for the upcoming year, although some, like Harley-Davidson and Victory, get a jump on the action by unveiling their bikes in the summer. Not too much to get excited about, as the trend continues toward building aggressive street-fighter-style motorcycles aimed at young male riders or large touring motorcycles that most women find too big to handle. However, there are a few gold nuggets that will appeal to women.

According to a survey done by Women Riders Now, the only large-scale survery ever initiated on female motorcyclists, the majority of women riders prefer cruiser motorcycles, followed by sportbikes and then sport tourers. Middleweight engine sizes (800cc to 1300cc) are most popular with women. And among the female riding population, the brand most favored is Harley-Davidson, with Honda coming in second and the other Japanese motorcycle manufacturers rounding out the list of favorites.

For 2012, we’re seeing mostly new color options for existing models or, as stated earlier, the introduction of big tourers like Victory’s Cross Country Tour and Yamaha’s Star Stratoliner Deluxe. Based on what women find most popular, here’s a rundown of new models we think are favorable to female riders.

Just unveiled last week is a new model in the Boulevard family, Suzuki’s cruiser line. The C50T Classic is similar in size and power to the existing C50T, an 800cc middleweight touring bike, but comes without the windshield, passenger backrest, and saddlebags that are standard on the C50T. The Classic retails for $7,999, $1,500 less than the C50T. Buying the Classic allows you to add the touring accessories that you want.

The 2012 Suzuki Boulevard C50T Classic comes in this Candy Sonoma Red/Glass Sparkle Black color combination only. Seat height is 27.6 inches. It’s powered by a fuel-injected 805cc V-twin engine and has 5 speeds and a shaft final drive.

If you’re a follower of the Boulevard line, you’ll notice the Classic looks similar to the C50, a model that was last produced in 2009. That motorcycle has been reborn as the C50T Classic, with updated styling that includes whitewall tires and a studded seat.

Adventure touring is all the rage these days, with more riders than ever craving the ability to ride off the beaten path on gravel roads in addition to paved streets. In response to this demand, Suzuki updated its popular V-Strom 650 ABS model with a new iteration. The V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure includes a rugged accessory engine bar, an adjustable windshield, and aluminum side cases large enough to fit a full-coverage helmet. Next year (2012) marks the 10th anniversary of the V-Strom series.

The 2012 V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure has a seat height of 32.9 inches and comes in one color, Glass Sparkle Black. It retails for $9,799.

While the 32.9-inch seat height is high for most women, Suzuki offers a low seat option that brings the seat height down to about 32 inches—still a stretch for most women. However, in the adventure-touring/dual-sport crowd, the V-Strom 650 is hugely popular because of its affordable price and great ride.

This summer, Harley-Davidson introduced the Dyna Switchback, a new model for 2012. The appeal of the FLD Switchback (FLD is the model designation) is that you can easily detach the hard saddlebags and windshield, turning this touring motorcycle into an around-town cruiser.

I spent some time riding the new Switchback earlier this year. My full review will post later this month in the Motorcycle Reviews section.

The Switchback is powered by a Twin Cam 103 V-Twin engine—that’s 1690cc for those who relate the power displacement in cubic centimeters. The motorcycle is loaded with exciting styling and riding enhancements that make this an appealing touring motorcycle for women who don’t have the muscle or might to handle Harley-Davidson’s big touring motorcycles, like the Road King, the Road Glide or the Street Glide. The Switchback is 94 pounds lighter than the Road King and has a low 26.1-inch seat height.

A favorite among many women when it was introduced 10 years ago was the V-Rod. Its silver-colored, jewel-like styling attracted riders who wanted to make a statement both in looks and in power. For 2012, Harley-Davidson is unveiling the V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition model, a tribute to the original 2002 V-Rod. The new model is powered by Harleys 1250cc Revolution V-Twin engine. Brilliant Silver Pearl bodywork and a color-matched frame are exclusive to the V-Rod line. Extra chrome and polished surfaces dazzle on the engine, exhaust and speed screen. A bonus is that the bike sits very low, at just 25.6 inches.

Still an eye-catcher after all these years. Women who didn’t snag the first V-Rod can get their chance with this 10th anniversary edition.

For 2012, Kawasaki is introducing an all-new Ninja 650, formerly named the Ninja 650R. Kawasaki is renaming some of its bikes—taking the” R” off the 650 and the 250, for example—because “R” indicates a race-inspired motorcycle or one meant for racing, which those two models are not. The company is adding the “R” to motorcycles in its lineup that meet this designation but didn’t previously use it in their names, such as with the Ninja ZX-14, now renamed the Ninja ZX-14R. The Ninja ZX-14R, by the way, is also revamped for 2012.

Seat height on the 2012 Ninja 650 is 31.7 inches, which is 0.7 inches higher than its predecessor. However, the new subframe is lower, leaving room between the seat and the frame and allowing for a lower seat to be installed. Expect aftermarket motorcycle seat makers to come out with a lower seat for this Ninja soon.

The updated Ninja 650 has a new frame, a lower subframe, a new fairing design and a “meaner” exhaust sound. Otherwise, the reworked-for-2012 Ninja 650 is pretty much the same as the previous Ninja 650R, which was a huge hit among women and men when it was introduced in 2006 (click here to read my review of the 2007 model). The bike’s more upright seating position and manageable power drew lots of riders who wanted the power and zip of a sportbike in an ergonomically friendly package. We’re told the main reason for the changes in 2012 was to update the styling to a more modern look.

Indian Motorcycle
Recently acquired by Polaris, the parent company of Victory Motorcycles, Indian Motorcycle is releasing three new models for 2012. All three are built on the same chassis, so styling is the main difference between them.

The three models are the Indian Chief Classic, the Indian Chief Vintage with brown leather seat and bags, and the Indian Chief Dark Horse. Prices range from $26,499 to $35,999.

Seat height on all three models is 27.25 inches, with each weighing an average of 750 pounds. The bikes are all powered by Indians 105-cubic-inch V-twin engine. These are big cruisers, but women riders who appreciate Indian Motorcycles rich and diverse history as a motorcycle manufacturer may want to look into owning one, as the brand seems to have finally found a solid home under the Polaris banner.

Triumph Motorcycles
Among the more niche brands, women have found the Triumph Bonneville quite favorable for its narrow profile, low seat height and nimble ride. For 2012, Triumph is offering a limited edition Bonneville T100 Steve McQueen Edition. Only 1,100 of these bikes will be sold worldwide.

The Triumph Steve McQueen Edition features blacked out components, a solo seat and a luggage rack. It comes in this matte khaki green color.
The bikes design is inspired by the Triumph Trophy TR6 that McQueen insisted on riding during the infamous stunt scene in “The Great Escape.”

To confirm the bikes provenance, each machine is individually numbered with a plaque placed on the handlebar clamp. Owners will also receive a certificate of authenticity with their machine. Click here to read WRNs review of the 2009 Triumph Bonneville SE.

CSC Motorcycles
I mentioned this company in a recent blog post, but it’s worth mentioning again, as these motorcycles make great beginner bikes and possess qualities women deem favorable (and women are the fastest growing segment of new riders). CSC Motorcycles, formerly named California Scooter Company, is rebranding for 2012, which qualifies it to be in our list here. The reason for the name change: the company’s bikes have a 5-speed manual transmission, making them motorcycles, technically speaking.  

We’re told the Babydoll model I’m sitting on is popular among women—and men, too, believe it or not!
I’m test riding the CSC Classic model here.

The term “scooter” in the company’s original name was meant as a slang reference—you know how some people refer to their motorcycle as a scooter? Company executives realized the confusion and are renaming the three models that make up its current line of motorcycles. I will have a full review in the coming months. In the meantime, visit       

Manufacturer Web Sites
Indian Motorcycle
Triumph Motorcycle
CSC Motorcycles

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15 thoughts on New Motorcycles for 2012

  1. Good article, but all these bikes are too tall for my girlfriend, who is 5-foot-3 with a 26-inch inseam. She is currently on the Suzuki S50, which has a really low 25-inch seat height and a Mustang seat. The bike is very narrow, and that helps a lot. Lower bikes like the Harley Switchback and all the rest have a very wide motor that makes them hard for smaller folks. The 883 Harley Sportster (and 1200) with mid controls is a very good answer for some. I’m looking for a low bike with ABS and can’t come up with one for a more advanced rider.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Check out our story The Lowest of the Low, which includes a complete list of the lowest seat heights on the market to date. There’s likely to be an option with ABS on that list. Good luck!

  2. Thanks so much for articles like this one! I am only 5 feet 1 inch and most bikes are not for people like me. This seems to be changing though. I ride a Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. It’s been lowered and the seat changed, and it fits well, but sometimes I would love to have a little sportbike to run around town on. The Harley is so heavy and hard to park, much better for bike trips and day rides out of the city. I looked at the Honda 250 sportbike, the seat height is 30.5 inches. Would you have any idea how much a sportbike seat can be lowered. I was on my very tiptoes at 30 inches.

    1. How much you can lower a sportbike all depends on the aftermarket seat or shocks you purchase to do so. Often it’s just a few quarters of an inch lower. Some manufacturers, like BMW, offer a low seat option that’s fitted at the factory that can lower a bike up to 1 inch, which can make a difference in touching the ground or not. Your dealer should be able to advise you on what aftermarket parts are available to lower a particular model.

  3. Having recently joined the ranks of female bikers I can highly recommend the Triumph Speedmaster. At 5 feet 8 inches I didn’t face the problems that shorter women have, however I could be considerably shorter and be just as comfortable on the Speedmaster. It’s also a great looking bike that always turns heads!

  4. It’s great to see the manufacturers finally “getting it” about women riders. We can ride and want capable bikes to do it on! I urge women to try out different types of bikes, from cruisers to sport bikes, to sport tourers and dual sport bikes. They all have a little different feel and give back differently to the rider. I started on a cruiser/standard 35 years ago. When a boyfriend put me on his racing sport bike, I was hooked. That is until I started riding dual sport/adventure tourers. I bought my first one in 2005 and have around 100,000 miles on them now. For me they are the best all around, most comfortable bike on the market!

  5. Anyone interested in the C50 be sure to sit on and test it first, especially if you are shorter. The C50 was my most desired bike when I saw it, and I see here that the style is much the same. I found the curved-back handlebars awkward, the footboards too far forward for my feet to sit flat, and the instrument panel being on the gas tank means taking eyes off the road to look at it. The bike was like a stretch rack. It is a very good bike, though, with a great seat height, cost, reliability, accessibility to parts, and the C50s in particular have aftermarket parts out the wazoo. If you are tall enough to flat foot on the ground and on the boards, you will be very happy on this bike.Also… that Indian Chief Dark Horse? HELLO! Sex on Wheels. WANT.

  6. Thanks Genevieve! I have been in the market the last few years and going to have to make a decision in the spring. Will be snowed in till June! But has not been easy finding something to replace the 1100 Viragos I own. Good stuff and will add some of those bikes to wish list and test ride them.

  7. Thanks for this article and thank you for your online site dedicated to women riders. I’m a new rider, single mom of a little girl and 46…although I have a lifetime of experience on a variety of two wheels (from bicycle racing to recreation), I now can’t believe I waited this long to ride two wheels with a motor. I am so hooked!It makes it all the more fun knowing there is a growing community of women out there riding too and that I can access you through the Web like this.I really appreciate all of the articles pertaining to women-friendly motorbiking as well as the comments from your readers. I ride a vintage Honda Shadow 750 now but aspire to go bigger, good to know women are riding what I call “big girl bikes” out there and having fun on them! Gives me plenty to aspire to!Thanks again and looking forward to future articles full of professional and informative details.

  8. I recently did a demo ride on the Switchback and loved it. Being short, I found the bike low enough but I would need some slight modifications to the seat to push me just a little further forward. Reaching the controls was a real stretch! Other than that, I would consider this for my next bike.

  9. I had the Suzy C50 Boulevard till I became too physically unable to do the 2 wheel thing. So hubby ride partner and I got Lehman C50 trike versions of that bike. And yes, they were spectacular. From the Volusia onward, these bikes just never break down and never quit. From the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Chicos Mountains in Texas, we were never underpowered nor uncomfortable on long, long trips. With 40-45 miles per gallon, we were on top of our world. My husband, though, decided to get rid of his and get a C90 trike. Then later decided to get a Honda VTX1800C. Never knew a man to make up his mind and stay there. So I got his C90. If I could ever go back to two wheels, I would go with the C50T in a heartbeat. It has got to be the best all purpose cruiser in terms of reliability, endurance, cost, and comfort on the market.

  10. What is happening with the Ridley (automatic transmission) motorcycle company? Beautiful bikes made for women.

  11. I have to agree with the Suzuki. The C50 is an updated model of the VL800 (many parts interchangable). I graduated from a GZ250 to the Volusia and with some modification (was really front-end heavy) have loved the bike. Ridden it here and in Tenn. It is amazing how often people think it is a Harley. These bikes are rider friendly with little time in the shop (one speedometer cable). I would go with Suzuki again, that is if I ever part with the Volusia.

  12. I agree with what you’re saying about the Dyna for the most part; and I went and took a look at it for that reason. However, at only 5 feet tall, it’s still the same as all other Dynas. I can’t even move it off the kickstand. The ergonomics just aren’t there for us yet; the Softail line is just a lot better. That Softail Convertible is pretty cool; I wish they would add some of these features to that model!And the V-Rod just reminds of the Sportys; too top heavy, and stretched out.

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