Still ridin’ after all these years
Inspiration on—or off—two wheel
It should be easy to grab your attention by starting this article about Gloria Tramontin Struck with the startling fact that she’s an 84-year-old churchgoing grandmother who lives to ride long-distance on her ’04 Heritage Softail Classic. And while that’s all true, after speaking extensively with Gloria, I’d be a dolt to dwell on her age, except as it pertains to her history—it’s obvious that the numbers we live by don’t apply to this amazing woman. With people skills as impressive as her riding career, Gloria gave me the rundown on her past, brought me up to speed on the present, and announced some truly great personal goals for her future.
Gloria was born in a small apartment behind her family’s business, the Lexington Cycle Shop, on Lexington Avenue in Clifton, New Jersey, which sold bicycles and motorcycles of all types since 1915. When Gloria’s father Ernest died in 1928 at age 32, her mother Pierina was 28, and Gloria just 3. Showing the tenacity that would be handed down to her daughter, Mrs. Tramontin took over the shop, which became an Indian dealership. Pierina retired in 1947, and Gloria’s brother Arthur “Bub” Tramontin took it over and turned it into a Harley-Davidson dealership, renaming it Tramontin Motorcycles. The dealership moved to a new facility in Hope, New Jersey in 1973, turning management over to his son Bob. The third-generation family-run dealership is celebrating its 95th anniversary in 2010.
Bub persuaded the hesitant Gloria to learn to ride when she was 16. She recalls starting with an Indian Army bike, then a ’41 Bonneville Scout, and finally, a ’46 Chief before moving on to a brand-new 1950 H-D, her first of 11 Harleys.
Of course, she’s glad she relented and says that moment changed her life. “I was a very quiet, withdrawn mouse of a person,” says Gloria. “I was extremely shy, and motorcycling got me out of that.”
According to Gloria, Bub hill-climbed until he was 78. He’s 90 now, and not surprisingly for this family, he’s still riding a solo bike with a couple extra wheels on the back. It occurs to Gloria during our conversation, not without some consternation, that she’s never ridden with her big brother. Gloria decides to make it one of her goals for 2010, and you can bet it will be an important ride for both of them.
Gloria even met her husband Len through motorcycling. After he got out of the service, he used to come by the shop with his friends. “I had the only decent motorcycle around, I guess, because during the war, motorcycles were only made for the Army—Harley and Indian-made motorcycles.” Gloria sold Len her ’41 Bonneville Scout for $500, and the rest is history.
In 1946, when she was 21, Gloria joined the Motor Maids. Founded by Linda Dugeau and Dot Robinson in 1940, it’s the oldest motorcycle organization for women in North America and now boasts over 1,200 members across the U.S. and Canada. Along with Robinson’s daughter Betty Sauls, Gloria is the longest-standing member still riding. The two women will be celebrating 64 years with the Motor Maids this year.
Gloria remembers fondly how all the clubs used to have wintertime dances in addition to poker runs. “Every club went to every other club’s dances back then. There were a lot of riders, but not like today,” she says. “Everybody knew each other or knew of the person. They hobnobbed together quite more than they do today.”
I asked Gloria how she’s seen the climate toward women riders change over the years. She says, “I never caught any flak from riders. I caught flak from men who were not riders. They would call you names, bad names; you know, like you were some low-brow or something. But from riders, I was always respected, because I did a lot of traveling on my own. And today, I get so much respect from young fellows. There’s so many women riding today, it’s unbelievable, and so great.”
She says of the Motor Maids, “We’re all long-distance riders. I mean, these girls put miles on. Last year, at a convention, I think the girl who won for putting the most miles on in one year had 35,000 miles. We’re riders. If you like to ride, this is the club, because we have something going on just about every week all over the country.”
The matriarchal family genes have not been lost on Gloria’s favorite riding companion—her daughter, Lori DeSilva, also a Motor Maid. If you went to the International Motorcycle Show in New York City this year, you may have seen the duo representing the Motor Maids in the Women’s Center.
“My daughter, when she was little, she thought everybody’s mother had a Harley,” says Gloria. Together, the two enjoy long-distance riding and are looking forward to their trip to Daytona Bike Week. Gloria’s not so impressed by her ability to make the trek in 2010. “Back in the days when there was only one lane going, one lane coming, and no Interstates, I made the same time,” she says. “But don’t ask me how fast I was going!”
By the way, if you’re heading to Bike Week, don’t let Gloria see you trailering your bike. She’s adamant about this! “I do not believe in trailering. The best part of any trip is the ride,” she says. “When Lori and I pass all these trailers going to Daytona, all I can do is turn my head and say, ‘Wimp!’ because let me tell you, it’s not an easy trip. It’s very cold, and we don’t have any heated gear, and we still do 600 miles a day. You go 100 miles and you’ve had enough, but we keep going.”
She adds, “In fact, when the day comes that I can’t ride a solo bike anymore and I have to go to a sidecar or trike, that’s the day I quit riding. I’m a solo rider, always, and it’s not the same. So I just say, well, the good Lord will tell me that’s the day to quit. But until then, I’m going to go as long as I can.”
Mother and daughter are also excited about their ride to the Motor Maid convention in Cody, Wyoming, this summer, as well as Sturgis. Last year, Gloria and Lori rode 600 miles a day to spend three days at the rally, and loved every minute of it. Notably, both the Motor Maids and Sturgis will be celebrating their 70th anniversaries this year.
The Motor Maids alternates the locations of its conventions to give members from across the U.S. a chance to attend, and this brings Gloria to another one of her goals. “When I’m 91, it’ll be on the West Coast again somewhere,” she says. “So I’m telling everybody, I’m going to do a cross-country.”
The Moto Gloria’s covered plenty of ground in 69 years of riding. We do the math together and we’re both surprised by the digits. “I’ve ridden in every state in the U.S. many times over, except for Alaska and Hawaii, but not for lack of trying.” She went to Maui a few years ago with fellow Motor Maids, and though they had made reservations to rent Harley Heritages, when the ladies showed up, they were told none were available. “Let me tell you, I was so mad,” says Gloria. “I never got to ride in Hawaii. Maybe they saw a bunch of old ladies coming in with gray hair and they figured, hey, we don’t want them riding our bikes. They don’t know how much experience we actually had!”
There’s no specific headquarters for Motor Maids. Instead, there are district directors for each area. Membership is open, and all bike makes are welcome, but riding to conventions is mandatory.
Another riding buddy of Gloria’s is her son Glenn, who even accompanied her on two trips to Europe. “When I was 25 years old, I always wanted to ride my motorcycle in Europe. That was in 1950, and all of a sudden, I was 74 years old and I didn’t do it yet,” she says. “We had a tour guide, and we rode all the Alpine regions of Europe. I even rode the most challenging path in all of Europe; the Stelvio Pass, which I didn’t find out until after I read the book I’d bought.” They took a second European trip when she was 76. “We did over 4,000 miles in eight countries.I would love to go back again,” she says.
Gloria still has her old cloth helmets and her winter leather one, as well as a scorecard from 1952 showing that she and six “fellas” are the only ones out of 50 entrants who finished an icy mountain road run. “I don’t know where it was, but the ride ended up in the mountains and there were no houses, no cars, no people, no nothing,” she says. “I had my great big bike, and these guys would come flying by me on their little wooden bikes, experienced enduro riders, and every time I came to a sharp turn, one of them would be lying in the snow, and I just kept putt-putt-putting! Even though I had a lousy score, I still finished. I’m so proud of that.”
Gloria, who retired two years ago after 44 years as an Avon representative, takes good care of herself so she can continue to do what she loves. In fact, in addition to making sure her bike is ready for Daytona, Gloria took the time to get herself a checkup before the long ride. She says, “Lord, don’t take me yet. I got too much to do, and you know it!”
Keep a lookout for Gloria on your next long-distance ride. Especially if you’re trailering.