For much of its 120-year legacy, Harley-Davidson’s bikes were seen as male status symbols, but not anymore. Not only are more and more women riding motorcycles than ever before, they are also choosing the Harley brand.
Harley-Davidson is a lifestyle, a coveted sub-culture in the world of motorcycles and the King of V-twin engines. With bikes like the Iron 883 and Low Rider S, it’s no wonder that the Harley has become many women’s bike of choice.
Best 2023 Harleys for Women
- Max power: 90 horsepower
- Max torque: 94 Nm
- Seat height: 27.1”
- Curb weight: 481 lbs
- RRP: $13,449
The Harley-Davidson Nightster is new for 2023. It features the all-new Revolution Max 975T engine, which makes it the smallest-capacity Harley currently available.
The seat height is nice and low at 27.1,” and the weight is a manageable 481 lbs. Mid-mounted footpegs and a neutral riding position make for a comfortable upright ride.
Aside from the modern liquid-cooled engine and exhaust system, the silhouette of the Nightster is reminiscent of the air-cooled Sportsters of recent years.
The tank is a small 3.1-gallon unit, narrow and sleek, continuing the traditional Sportster style. The Nightster is, however, very much a modern Harley. The liquid-cooled engine provides tremendous torque at low revs and the compact chassis aids razor-sharp handling.
Optional rider modes also bring some modern tech to this relatively small Harley, so you can really dial in for optimum performance.
- Max power: 121 horsepower
- Max torque: 127 Nm
- Seat height: 28.9”
- Curb weight: 502 lbs
- RRP: $16,399
It’s ironic that the bike continuing the Sportster name is the one that looks least like the original Sportster. The Sportster S is a fresh and modern beast that almost shakes off any ties to the past completely.
Equipped with the bigger 1250 liquid-cooled Revolution Max V-twin, the Sportster S is the most sports-focused of any Sportster prior.
The bike weighs in just over 20 lbs heavier than the Nightster and has a slighter taller seat height of 28.9”, although neither of these details should be off-putting.
The blacked-out engine with bronze casings is perfectly balanced, so the center of gravity sits nice and low. Unlike the Nightster, the Sportster S has forward-mounted footpegs and seats the rider into a forward-reaching riding position. This might be tricky for shorter women, so you may prefer the Nightster if that’s the case.
The model is loaded with rider aids like riding modes, cornering ABS, and cornering traction control, all of which are useful features on such a modern, sporty performance bike.
- Max power: 86 horsepower
- Max torque: 149 Nm
- Seat height: 25.8”
- Curb weight: 655 lbs
- RRP: $14,399
The first big Harley cruiser on our list is the Softail Standard. Traditional, affordable, and comfortable are the best three ways to describe the Softail Standard.
Despite weighing in at 655 lbs, the weight is quite manageable for two reasons. First, the seat height is super low at only 25.8”. Second, the 149 Nm of torque spreads across the range nice and low. As soon as you roll the throttle, the engine picks up the bike and you soon forget about the weight.
Mid-mounted controls and an upright riding position, paired with the extra low seat height, give the rider ultimate control over the heavy bike.
The Softail Standard is as stripped back and classically styled as you can get. The model comes in only one color, Vivid Black, and chrome components are dotted about for an extra touch of class.
Street Bob 114
- Max power: 100 horsepower
- Max torque: 161 Nm
- Seat height: 25.8”
- Curb weight: 655 lbs
- RRP: $16,599
The Street Bob shares many similarities with the Softail Standard, which is why we have included it in our list.
The seat height is the same—a nice and low 25.8”—the weight is the same, and the riding position is the same, all of which make it a great choice for a female rider.
In terms of differences between the two models, the Street Bob is equipped with the bigger Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine, so it produces more power and torque than the 107 V-twin.
The Street Bob is also styled in a more modern way, with mini-apes as standard and a nod to H-D’s racing heritage in the paintwork, along with a quilt-stitched leather seat.
Everything is also blacked-out on the Street Bob, and you will find no chrome on the model unless, of course, you choose to customize it yourself.
Low Rider S
- Max power: 103 horsepower
- Max torque: 169 Nm
- Seat height: 27”
- Curb weight: 679 lbs
- RRP: $18,199
Aside from the original Ironhead Sportsters, the Low Rider S is my favorite Harley of all time. It oozes attitude, power, and performance and gives off an overall badass vibe.
For me, the Low Rider S epitomizes the culture of Harley-Davidson’s lifestyle brand, and I know I’m not alone. When it was pulled from the lineup a few years ago, the press and the public were up in arms.
Thankfully, Harley brought the model back sharp-ish and the result is a model equipped with the huge Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine that produces around 103 horsepower and 169 Nm of torque.
The Low Rider S lives up to its name with a low seat height of 27”, which makes managing the 679-pound lump of iron pretty easy. The long wheelbase, ground-hugging stature, mid-mounted pegs, and upright position ensure the rider is completely in control at all times.
This is a Harley for women who have paid their dues with smaller-capacity bikes and are ready to take on a bike with more power.
- Max power: 100 horsepower
- Max torque: 150 Nm
- Seat height: 26.1”
- Curb weight: 829 lbs
- RRP: $21,999
One big issue for women riders is finding suitable touring motorcycles since they are very heavy and very big.
The Street Glide really is the best of the bunch when it comes to big tourers. Not only is it one of Harley’s best-selling models of all time, but it also lends itself to riders who may be smaller in stature.
The Street Glide is very heavy, weighing in at 829 lbs. There is no way around that fact.
Women shouldn’t be put off from giving the Street Glide a chance, though, because the seat height sits nice and low at 26.1”, and once off the side stand, you can really let the engine do all the work to propel the bike forward.
Mid-mounted footpegs and the upright position allow you to access the handlebars with ease. The bike is built for long-distance comfort, so there is no stretching required, which ensures you have full control.
There are three Street Glide models available: the Street Glide, the Street Glide Special, and the Street Glide ST. As you move up the range, the engines change from the Milwaukee-Eight 107 to the 114 and then the 117 on the ST model.
As long as you’re confident enough to manage the size of the Street Glide and can trust your riding skills for low-speed handling maneuvers, there is no reason to strike it off as an option.
Also read: Harley-Davidson Road King vs Street Glide
- Max power: 122 horsepower
- Max torque: 165 Nm
- Seat height: 26.2”
- Curb weight: 1,110 lbs
- RRP: $29,999
Trikes are always a little bit controversial; some purists don’t consider them to be motorcycles at all. I strongly contest this idea. Three wheels make riding more accessible for some riders than two.
The Freewheeler is a great example of a trike and is every bit a Harley-Davidson. It’s powered by the Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin and is as classically styled as you can get, with a clear Softail look to the bike.
Weighing in at 1,110 pounds, the Freewheeler is a monster. However, the weight is really a non-issue in this case because the trike isn’t likely to tip over like a traditional motorcycle.
Furthermore, the Freewheeler is equipped with an electric reverse gear so you don’t even have to consider pushing the bike into a parking space.
If you want all the best bits of a big Harley V-twin but can’t cope with the weight associated with them, then the Freewheeler really is a no-brainer.
Older Harleys for Women
Before we take a look at what makes a great Harley for women, I just want to point out a couple of awesome bikes from the past that are still great choices and readily available on the used market.
The air-cooled original Harley-Davidson Sportster was first released in 1957 and had a 64-year reign as one of H-D’s most popular models. It was one of the smallest Harleys on the market in terms of capacity.
The engine was packed into a light, compact, narrow chassis and the weight was nothing compared to that of its bigger brothers.
Recent models worth considering would be the Iron 883 and, if you want a bit more power, the 1200.
The Superlow 883 was an even lower version of the Sportster and targeted shorter riders and women specifically. It was very much sold as a traditional baby touring cruiser and quite capable of longer rides.
The air-cooled Sportsters have a huge following and have been particularly popular online with female media influencers. They also attract amateur and professional custom-bike builders, so if you want to customize your ride, a Sportster makes a great base for a modern chopper or cafe racer.
Prices for a used Sportster start from around $2,500.
The Street 750 and 500 models were Harley’s smallest production motorcycles and they only had a short production run.
They were city-street-focused bikes with a low weight and small frame. The purpose of the Street range was to be accessible to newer riders and entice consumers into the Harley brand at an affordable price point.
You can pick up a low-mileage Street model very cheap on the used market from around $2,000.
What Makes a Great Harley for Women?
First, there are currently no motorcycles specifically built for women, but there are some motorcycles that are more friendly to the female body than others.
It’s important to recognize that women are built differently from men. Generally speaking, women are shorter and are not quite as strong, with exceptions of course. This can make riding big heavy V-twins quite challenging for some women.
The good news is that many manufacturers, including Harley, have bikes in their lineups that cater to riders of all shapes and sizes. Once you know what to look out for, you can make the right choice for your height, weight, and comfort.
Key Points to Consider:
- Seat height
The most important thing to think about is comfort while riding. Comfort increases confidence, and a confident rider is a safer one.
Things like seat height, the reach to the handlebars, and other rider ergonomics are all factors that will play into how comfortable you are while riding.
Most Harleys have low seat heights. This is great for women who have shorter inseams, as they should be able to flat-foot the bike on both sides.
This will help control the bike when stationary and when doing slow-speed maneuvers, reducing the risk of dropping the bike. A lower seat height also helps the rider to manage the weight of the bike.
Harleys are typically heavier than many other bikes, but being mostly cruisers, they are low to the ground with a low center of gravity, so managing the weight is significantly easier than if it were higher up.
What a female rider does need to think about, though, is if they can comfortably push the bike around, for example, into the garage or the driveway. This is where a Harley’s weight can be problematic for some.
Finally, you should think about the capacity of the engine. The bigger the capacity, usually the heavier the engine and heavier the bike overall.
It isn’t just women who need to think about engine capacity; all riders should consider the capacity of the bike they’re looking at and how much power the engine can produce.
Make sure you go for a bike that you will be comfortable controlling!
Traditionally, Harleys are known for having masses of torque as opposed to peak power. You need to be confident you can manage having bags of torque at the twist of your wrist.
If nothing else, just remember that “comfort is key.”
If you’re comfortable on your bike, you will be happy on your bike and focused on the adventures ahead, not worrying about things like dropping the bike at a stoplight or stretching too far for the bars to do a full U-turn if necessary.
Jeff Bowles, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ryan Urlacher from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons