Open road still calls to aging motorcycle women in Michigan-based club

July 6, 2005, 5:57 PM

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Harley or Honda? Leather or polyester? Members of the Michigan-based Motor Maids, North America's oldest women's motorcycling club, have differing opinions about bikes and apparel. But when they twist their throttles, they all know what they're after.

"Freedom," said 80-year-old Gloria Tramontin Struck.

Struck, an Avon representative from Clifton, N.J., was among 210 Motor Maids attending the club's annual convention, running through Thursday in Hagerstown. She drove her teal Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, accompanied by daughter Lori DeSilva on a black Harley Electra Glide Classic.

Those are big bikes, built for touring by riders like Struck, who sometimes goes 20,000 a year. As the club's longest-enrolled member still riding, she plans to attend next month's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, where the Motor Maids will be inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame.

The club, with about 775 members, promotes women's motorcycling by appearing at events and parades in dress uniforms of gray slacks, royal blue tops and white boots, gloves and ties. Founded in 1940, the Erie, Mich.-based club is growing as members recruit their daughters, granddaughters and women they meet at races and other gatherings.

President Brenda Thatcher, 47, of Toledo, Ohio, said she was a motorcyclist for years before attending her first Motor Maids event and realizing her riding days didn't have to end.

"I had a major fear -- it was a true phobia -- of growing old. I thought at 40, I was done," she said. "Then you come and meet this group of women and you see ages from 16 to 85 or older, and they're sharp as a tack, they're fun, they're loving -- and you couldn't ask for anything better."

Some longtime members, like Struck and 85-year-old Margaret Wilson, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had families or husbands in the motorcycle business.

"I've been riding since my husband gave me a brand-new Harley-Davidson for my 26th birthday in 1946 when he came back from overseas," she said. She joined the Motor Maids five years later.

U.S.-made Harleys remain popular with club members, partly because some models have low rider positions that make it easier for women to mount the bikes and reach the ground from the saddle. Other manufacturers have increased their offerings of similar designs in recent decades.

Women accounted for 9.6 percent of U.S. motorcycle owners in 2003, up from 8.2 percent in 1998 and 6.4 percent in 1990, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

They are being courted by manufacturers. Harley-Davidson added a women's section to its World Wide Web site in January. Kawasaki Motors Corp. spokeswoman Jan Plessner said females buy 40 percent of her company's Vulcan 500 models and 37 percent of its Ninja 250s. And women's motorcycle apparel sales are booming, Plessner said.

Some Motor Maids think their club's uniform needs a makeover. Surveys distributed at this week's convention will be studied by a committee that may recommend changes for consideration at next year's convention in Kingston, Ont. Many members favor white leather vests designed by some Canadian members, matched with blue or black jeans.

Reprinted with permission from the Detroit Free Press Inc.


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