Not Your Mother's Mororcycle Rider

by Barbara Zimmerman

She’s not your mother’s motorcycle rider, that is, unless your mother knew Dot Robinson (pictured below), Gloria Tramontin Struck, Gin Shear, Sue Slate, or members of women’s motorcycle clubs. 
Dot Robinson’s mom arrived at the hospital in Australia, in labor, in the sidecar of her husband’s motorcycle, on April 22, 1912. It was a given. Dot was to be a motorcyclist until she could no longer get her leg over her machine’s sidecar 86 years later because of a knee replacement.

Dot’s father, a sidecar designer, opened a motorcycle dealership and settled his family in Michigan in 1918. Dot’s passion from the 1930’s through the 1950’s was endurance racing. She won her first trophy at 18 years of age in this male-dominated sport, opening the sport to women. Dot won the prestigious American Motorcyclist Association Jack Pine side car competition in 1940 and 1946.

Dot crossed the country searching out women riders. In 1939, Dot was a founder of the predecessor of the Motor Maids, which was incorporated in 1940. Motor Maids is the first and oldest women’s riders’ organization, thriving today nationwide and in Canada, 72 years later.

In the 1950’s Dot began wearing pink riding gear after seeing motorcyclists portrayed in films as black-clad outlaws. Dot’s last motorcycle, pink, with sidecar, is in the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. Dot toured cross-country with her husband until his death in 1996, but kept riding until 1998, logging over one and a half million miles.

Gloria Tramontin Struck, a member of Motor Maids for 55 years, was inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame in August 2011. At 86 years young, Gloria, and her usual side kick on her own motorcycle, Gloria’s daughter Lori, averaged 600 miles a day on their way to Sturgis, South Dakota from New Jersey for the ceremony. Gloria had logged more than a half million miles at that time.

Gloria’s parents owned a famous motorcycle dealership, in existence for 95 years, Tramontin Harley-Davidson, in northwestern New Jersey. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Gloria and her daughter Lori at a Dawn Patrol Motorcycle Club's (established in 1937) Memorial Day cook out in New Jersey a few years ago. Despite the attention Gloria draws she is a gregarious humble woman, a delight.

Gin Shear and Sue Slate are the founders of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation, a charitable and educational foundation raising money for breast cancer research and providing CPR and First Aid courses to Scout Troops, motorcycle clubs and Motorcycle Safety Foundation coaches. These women are some of the most energetic and skilled riders you can imagine who do track days and dual sport riding in addition to street riding.

Since 1993, when Gin and Sue rode from the Atlantic to the Artic to the Pacific Oceans, they raised millions for breast cancer research. They knew their tour as women motorcyclists would attract attention. They publicized their Artic Circle tour and raised $25,000 for breast cancer research. When they reached the Arctic Circle Sue and Gin brain-stormed and came up with an idea, the “Pony Express Tour ‘96,” the first national motorcycle relay ride to raise money for breast cancer research.

The tour started at the home of the Pony Express in St. Joseph, MO on June 29, 1996, with legs of 100 to 300 miles circumventing the United States. I participated in a leg from Edison, NJ to Kingston, NY with women from my club, the Spokes-Women Motorcycle Club. I rode legs of the relays in 1998, 2000 and 2003. In the 2000 relay two other Spokes-Women and I (pictured at left), raised $3,000 each and rode 3,000 miles round-trip from New Jersey, meeting up with other riders along the circuitous route, to the closing ceremonies in St. Joseph, MO. An especially designed medallion was passed from rider to rider in the relay legs.  I was honored to pass the medallion from the Pennsylvania to New Jersey leg in 2003. In 2005, I participated in the New Jersey to New York City leg. The last Pony Express was in 2008. In 2010, Gin and Sue returned to adventure with their inception of “Progressive Adventure for the Cure, Dual Sport Ride to End Breast Cancer.” The 2011 adventure was to the Artic and the North West Territories.
I started riding and joined the Spokes-Women Motorcycle Club, Inc. of New Jersey in 1995. The club’s mission statement, “We want to change the way you think about motorcycling.” is similar to Dot Robinson’s concern about the perception of motorcyclists. The Spokes-Women are a diverse group of professional women, among whom are, an accountant, photographer, banker, executive secretary, librarian, computer programmer, nurse, scientist, teacher, lawyer, physician, and symphony orchestra musician. We ride touring bikes, cruisers and sport bikes, Hondas, Harleys, Kawasakis, Yamahas and Suzukis. Some ladies do track days and others ride dual sport bikes as well as street bikes. Our ride captain and a club officer over the years is a bank fraud investigator who has put over 130,000 miles on her 2000 Harley Road Glide. Laura, with an almost photographic memory for maps and road numbers, has led us on trips from New Jersey to Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Sturgis, through Yellowstone to the northern states, up to Canada, Nova Scotia and south to Florida. The Spokes-women road to Carson City, NV in July for the AMA’s sixth Women and Motorcycling Conference. We have attended every conference since its inception in 1997.

I flew to the fifth Conference in Denver, CO in August 2009. I had injured my back and was not able to join Laura and the Spokes-Women for the cross-country motorcycle ride to Denver by way of California. I flew out to Denver and rode demos but I longed to make that cross-country ride. So, I did, last summer, over 8,000 miles. On July 15, 2011, I headed west to San Diego, CA – solo. I rode north along the Pacific Coast Highway, on my aptly named Honda Pacific Coast motorcycle! I turned inland occasionally to sightsee, and continued up the coast, to and around the Washington state peninsula, then back on a diagonal, returning to South Carolina on August 29.  I saw wonderful sights, the macaws flying overhead and the mother and baby hippos cavorting at the San Diego Zoo, the 1,500 year old redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants, the Columbia River, the Bonneville Dam, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Museum in Hell’s Canyon and the purpled mountains’ majesty in Canon Largo, New Mexico.
In addition to long distance riding, I love challenges. I rode the AMA's Polar Bear Grand Tour every Sunday, through the winter, from the last Sunday in October to mid-April, from 1996, until I moved to SCCL three and a half years ago. In November 2010, I just had to see my fellow “bears.” I resurrected my heated riding suit, warmth from neck to toes and fingers, rode to Norfolk, VA to meet Laura and her sister, crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on our way to Lewes, DE and joined the bears at their second sign-in of the 2010-1011 season.

I have met the nicest people in my years of riding, both non-riders and riders, especially the women riders who are among my closest and dearest friends. Celebrate Women’s Motorcyclist Month this July and every day by watching out for all motorcyclists and non-motorized cyclists, our bicyclists. We all share the road.

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