June 21, 2021

Manchester H-D’s Bikini Contest Prompts Social Media Backlash

MANCHESTER, NH – In a move that’s already alienating and aggravating a portion of its potential customers, Manchester Harley-Davidson has revealed plans to hold a “Miss Manchester H-D Bikini Contest” over the next three months.

Skimpy cash prizes will be awarded for preliminary rounds on June 3 and July 1 with the contest’s finale set for Aug. 12. Full details are posted on the dealership’s website. The store calls the contest “empowering and FUN,” but posts on social media this morning are pushing back. 

One woman rider called the contest “Laughable, maddening and sad, all at once.” The woman rider who originally shared the news of the contest on Facebook wrote, “I was just looking to see if they had a Pan Am in stock yet. Now I’ve lost any appetite for that dealership.”

Screen save from Manchester Harley-Davidson’s website

A male rider noted succinctly, “Their 1963 marketing team is right on the pulse of men and women… I’ve never seen a company shoot themselves in the foot so badly with their ignorance of the market.”

Times Apparently Haven’t Changed

Indeed, the days of women merely serving as eye candy and accessories are so far in the rear-view mirror as to be largely forgotten – until a contest such as this unexpectedly appears. 

Yes, the ABC television network rose to prime time potency in the 1970s with T&A and “jiggle” shows (as they were derisively dubbed at the time, T&A standing for “tits and ass”), but that approach today comes off not only as horribly dated, but even more sexist and demeaning. 

Miss Manchester H-D Bikini Contest Prizes

The fact that roughly 20 percent of motorcycle owners are women not only makes Manchester Harley-Davidson’s throwback competition offensive, but a risky strategy from both a sales and public relations standpoint.

Was it inspired by the fact Harley-Davidson recently announced plans for an Icons Collection of retro models?

Application Asks Frothy Questions

The online application for the Miss Manchester H-D Bikini Contest doubles down on the decades-old approach. It asks applicants to answer questions or comment on subjects that seem to be lifted from a beauty pageant in the 1950s or 1960s. 

Among them are “Things that I love.” “Things that I hate.” “If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?” The only question lacking is what’s the contestant’s favorite color.

Applicants must be 18 years old and must also submit three photos. Contestants will be judged on appearance, personality and stage presence. They “may not perform any act of indecency such as revealing or exposing any ‘private parts.’”

Miss Manchester H-D- Bikini Contest Rules

Another male responder to the thread that revealed the contest told the original poster, “They don’t want women like you. You ride, (you’re) not a passenger, you know which end of the screwdriver to use, and you have a brain. Looks like they are retreating to the old H-D core.”

If the contest is being done for “FUN,” as Manchester Harley-Davidson insists, why not practice equality. They could have some real fun by expanding it to include a “Mr. Manchester H-D Beefcake Contest” as well. The guys could wear nothing but tiny Speedos.  

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About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A prep school graduate of Vermont Academy, he received a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1975. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville.

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