Hit and Miss

SORRY, boys. Slobber all you like, but this bike isn't for you. The 2007 Miss Behavin is for the ladies.

That's right. It's a girl's bike -- not a sissy bike, as the term so often implies, but a bona fide bike for women.

What's so feminine about this ProStreet Softail? It isn't only the name but the lack of manly extremes. The rake is a humble 34 degrees, and the rear tire won't be inflating any egos at a mere 250 mm. The pullback handlebars are close enough to stop any unwanted hunchbacking. Then there's the saddle, which, at 19 inches, is so short even my 4-year-old threw a leg over.

In the male-dominant world of motorcycles, "girl's bike" is usually just a derogatory slap at beginners, but the Miss Behavin ain't for learnin'. It's for a woman who's had some saddle time -- on her own bike, not her old man's. It's for tough types who like to beat their bikes into submission and master challenges, as I did, steering this 8- 1/2 -foot-long chopper down 50 miles of twisty mountain roads marked with rock slide warnings and 20 mph turns.

Such tricky terrain wasn't my first choice for coming up to speed on a bike so long and low, but the Miss Behavin is from Big Bear Choppers, nestled 8,000 feet above sea level in Big Bear Lake, which is where I went to get it.

Big Bear Choppers, in business since 1998, builds about 1,000 customs a year. Inside the 28,000-square-foot factory, it's the usual den of masculinity. The people stamping the sheet metal and TIG welding frames together are all male -- the sort of guys who like their burgers rare, their music loud, their skin inked and their ladies barely clothed. So it's a little surprising that this is the shop building a bike explicitly for women.

The idea for the Miss Behavin came from Mona Alsop, who in addition to being vice president and co-owner of Big Bear Choppers is also the wife of its chief designer and president, Kevin Alsop. About 10% of motorcyclists are women, but Mona isn't one of them; she just saw the need for a women's bike and wanted to fill it with something custom, cool and sexy.

It was her husband who designed and built the bike, which is both a good and a bad thing. In the plus column, I give him major props for listening to his wife and doing something none of the major manufacturers have the guts to do.

But in the negative, Kevin is a guy. He has longer hair than I've ever had but he's still a guy. If a few more X chromosomes had weighed in, he might have made a good bike even better -- and scored a hit with a ride that's truly female oriented.

As it is, the Miss Behavin is more of an entry-level custom than a true woman's bike. The average American woman is 5-foot-4, according to a 2004 study by the National Center for Health Statistics. That's five inches shorter than the average male, a figure the Miss Behavin acknowledges with its ultra-low saddle.

But Big Bear Choppers has Miss Calculated with some of the controls. The pullback handlebars and closer foot controls take a woman's shorter arms and legs into account, but that thinking hasn't carried through to the grips and switches, which needed to be scaled down to fit a smaller hand.

Being 5-foot-8, I have fairly big mitts; still, the grips felt thick as bratwurst and the turn signal switches were too far away to easily reach with a thumb. The levers were also wide as a Mickey's Big Mouth, and the clutch was stiff to the point of making my hand feel arth- ritic.

From a pure comfort standpoint, I also had issues. It's the nature of a V-twin to vibrate, but the Miss Behavin uses an S&S; "100 Smooth" motor. The 100-cubic-inch engine with the "square" 4-inch bore and stroke, which is proprietary to Big Bear Choppers, is designed to reduce vibration, and it does -- to a point. I just had to be sure to up-shift when the bike started gettin' jiggy at high revs, or I looked like I was Miss Behavin.

At speed and in a straight line is where this women's chopper behaves best. Turning around this 650-pounder with its 78-inch wheelbase and riding at slow speeds is such a workout, you could almost give up the membership to Gold's Gym -- and probably should, so you can afford to make the payments on this bike, which costs $29,900 ready to ride, or $21,000 unassembled and unpainted.

A woman riding a chopper tends to get three reactions: respect (for having the chutzpah to ride it), envy (for having the money to buy it) and confusion (because choppers aren't what most women ride).

But all women are different. And women who ride bikes also ride them for different reasons. Some ride for convenience. Others for status, empowerment, inclusion or just plain fun. Some want to be recognized for being female. Others don't.

That makes the business of building a female-specific bike one tricky proposition.

If I were in charge of the world and asked to design a bike for women, I'd make one that's a little more Mae West. Instead of the sloped and pointy swing arm and widow's peak fenders, I'd make the body work curvaceous, juicy, plump. I'd also rig the handgrip into a secret lipstick hold and build a makeup compartment into the tank and turn the mirrors into glove compartments because you can't wear a purse on a bike like this without looking totally dumb.

What the heck, I might even include a Victoria's Secret gift certificate or throw in dinner and a masseuse.

In the end, my take on a woman's bike is that it doesn't need to exist. Just give us some cool-looking motorcycles that are well-engineered and scaled to fit a wide variety of body types.

We'll take it from there. --




2007 Big Bear Choppers Miss Behavin

Base price: $29,900 ready to ride ($21,000 unassembled)

Powertrain: air-cooled, S&S; 100 Smooth 45-degree V-twin, S&S; Super E carburetor, Baker right-side drive transmission, six-speed overdrive

Displacement: 100 cubic inches

Bore and stroke: 4 by 4 inches

Frame: 34-degree neck, 6-degree triple tree

Seat height: 19 inches

Dry weight: 650 pounds

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 11, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction Big Bear Choppers: A review of Big Bear Choppers' Miss Behavin in the Aug. 22 Highway 1 section incorrectly stated the elevation of Big Bear Lake as 8,000 feet. It is 6,754 feet. For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 12, 2007 Home Edition Highway 1 Part G Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction Motorcycle review: A review of Big Bear Choppers' Miss Behavin in the Aug. 22 Highway 1 section incorrectly stated the elevation of Big Bear Lake as 8,000 feet. It is 6,754 feet.
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