Freud asked, "What does woman want?"
Harley-Davidson has the answer. She wants a motorcycle -- or should.
That is the result of a study of female motorcycle riders and non-riders, commissioned by the Wisconsin-based bike manufacturer.
Female riders were twice as likely as their non-riding counterparts to feel "confident." They were twice as likely, too, to feel "extremely satisfied" with their appearance.
More than half of those riders said the two-wheeled experience made them feel "free" and "independent." And while they were marginally less inclined to say they "usually feel good" about their senses of humor and intelligence, they were almost twice as likely to say they "usually feel good" about their sex appeal.
Harley-Davidson's director of women's outreach marketing, Claudia Garber, is one of those female riders. She took up the sport six years ago with the purchase of a Harley Nightster and moved on to a Fatboy.
"It's about freedom," the married mother of two says. "When you're doing things you want to do, for yourself, and you feel confident, it goes into every aspect of your life, including how you feel about yourself. You feel more comfortable in your skin."
More and more women are, in fact, riding. A 2012 study by the Motorcycle Industry Council found that women accounted for 12% of U.S. motorcyclists -- up from 10.5% in 2009.
Veteran rider and motorcycle journalist Susanna Schick found the results of the new study consistent with her own experience.
"I ride because I need the freedom," she said. "When I drive my car, I feel like a caged wild animal, trapped and forced to live within everyone else's limits."
The study, in which 1,013 riders and 1,016 non-riders were interviewed by the market research company Kelton Global, seems to bear that out. The results say female riders are happier in their careers, happier in their friendships, happier with their home lives, and twice as likely to be "extremely satisfied" with their sex lives.
Uh, maybe, said Schick.
"Being a woman in a man's sport means I meet loads of men who tell me how much they dig chicks who ride," she said. "Then they go home to their girlfriend or wife who doesn't -- and [who] eventually talks them out of riding altogether. So there's a real disconnect between the compliments I get and the reality. Having professional racers half my age flirt with me feeds my ego, but not my soul."
Whatever their experience, the rise in women riders is working for Harley. The company is selling more motorcycles to women than all their competitors combined, says the company's Garber.