Harley-Davidson, the US motorcycle company founded in 1903, has doubled sales to Kiwi women in the past three years, even as the nation's overall market for big bikes has shrunk.

Sales to women in New Zealand have risen to 10 per cent of total Harleys sold - from 5 per cent three years ago, Adam Wright, the company's Australia & New Zealand marketing director, told BusinessDesk.

That's in a period when overall sales of Harleys dropped by about a third, based on NZ Transport Agency registrations data. Total registrations of bikes over 60cc tumbled 28 per cent.

"Over the last few years Harley has simplified their range, dropping a couple of models and emphasising the smaller bikes," said Greg Pratt from Auckland Motorcycles and Power Sports, a local Harley dealer.

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"They are priced better and targeted at a young audience and women - that's really helped with broadening their appeal."

Baby boomer men still dominate sales of the bikes that achieved outlaw chic in the 1969 movie Easy Rider but the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company has worked hard to woo ladies with models that are lower to the ground, have narrower seats, softer clutches and adjustable handlebars. It has also rolled out a Pink Label brand selling leather jackets embellished with rhinestones, crystal head-wraps and rhinestone bar and shield logo earrings.

Auckland Motorcycles' Pratt says his dealership has "started a Harley owners group for ladies".

Worldwide sales of Harley parts and accessories rose 9 per cent to US$816 million in 2011, while general merchandise sale such as clothing climbed 5.8 per cent to about US$274 million, according to Harley's latest annual report. Full-year profit rose 7 per cent to about US$1.5 billion.

In New Zealand, Harley ranked a close second to Suzuki in terms of bike registrations last year at 941 to 949 respectively, according to NZTA figures.

Wright said Harley ranks first for sales of big bikes, with about 24 per cent of the 651cc+ market so far in 2012.

On the New York Stock Exchange, Harley's shares have been on a tear this year, rising about 25 per cent. They last traded at US$47.76 apiece. The stock is rated 'outperform' based on the consensus of 18 analysts polled by Reuters, with a price target of US$57.46.

Harley changed its NYSE ticker to HOG (for Harley Owners Group) in 2006, from HDI. The term 'hog' has long been the generic term for a motorbike among biker gangs.

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Harleys are most likely to be seen in Auckland, which accounted for 215 of new registrations last year, followed by Christchurch on 113 and Hamilton on 103.

The number of mopeds and motorcycles under 61cc rose by 6 per cent in 2011 to 2,932 in the previous year.