March 2000 Column   
    Home / Features / Cindy's Column
  Where Have All The Women Gone? Long Time Passing. 
  Where Have All The Women Gone? Long Time Ago. 
   By Cindy Gargagliano
Disclaimer:  Moen suggested I write something about “women in antique cycle circles”.  I’m sure this isn’t exactly what he had in mind.  I hope everyone will take what I wrote in the good-natured way it was meant to be. So, here goes.   

During World War II, many of the young men of the motorcycle clubs went off to serve in the Armed Forces. The Motorcyclist magazine of that time printed letters from “The Gang Back Home”.   

In one of the issues, the editor of the Motorcyclist gave the service men a little scolding, “Wasn’t it a trifle amusing to find some of the men here grumbling about ‘sissy stuff and letters from girls we’ve never heard of?’  Wonder how many feel that way? They oughtn’t begrudge these two pages when women used to rate a whole issue. What do you think?”  

The Motorcyclist:  April 1944 – “From The Gang Back at Home”:  

P-s-s-t!  Would you like to hear from another girl rider? I am one of the twenty-two members of the Stockton Girls’ Motorcycle Club and I own my second cycle. As I love to tinker around mechanical things, most of my work of today consists in repairing and testing generators, starters and distributors for Hansel & Ortman here in Stockton.   
I started out learning to drive on a 1938 four-cylinder Indian with my husband on the back. I really had an awful time, boys. We were down more than we were up. One evening after proudly driving home after 50 miles, I spilled him on some railroad tracks. We were both bruised a bit and his wrist was broken. He then decided to sell the darn thing and that almost ended all motorcycle rides for me. But after a lot of compromising (you know how it is) I bought my own 101 Scout 1930 and painfully learned to ride it. You see my biggest trouble was always trying to do what the fellows did . . . forgetting their years of experience!   

In September of 1942, I bought my present 1937 Forty-Five Scout and now get along fine with it, even on mud runs. My husband now has a 1941 four cylinder Indian which I can handle a little but it is too heavy for me in traffic and anyway he is afraid I’ll go back to spilling again, so the Forty-Five is my favorite model.   

Last month we went on a little run to Tracy, California, and that was my first attempt at hillclimbing.  I only went up a small hill. It was long enough but not steep.  No – no spills and it was fun.   

I would like to write to any of you boys who like to receive mail.   
Jessie Harr  
Twenty-two Women Riders in one town! In all my years (6) of motorcycling (i.e. sharing Vince’s chummy seat), I have seen much less than 22 women riders. I would say that of all motorcyclists, women must be less than 1%.  Why? Here are a few thoughts, gathered as I did my housewifely chores this morning.   

First, what is the deal with black leather?  My daughters and I have discussed the fashion aspect of biking, and agree that the sight of a biker with his black leather jacket, flowing hair, boots and dark glasses is more likely to raise our eyebrows than cause our hearts to trill with delight.  Couldn’t someone design something midway between black leather and racing stripes when it comes to leathers?  Brown, Carhart Tan, Burgandy, or even a beautiful Eggplant would be great. Perhaps more fashionable riding outfits might bring more women back into the sport.  (See picture from 1944).   

Second, what about that clutch?  In my opinion, there are two things that a women should never admit knowledge of: How to change oil and how to drive a stick. The statement “Ignorance is Bliss” was never truer than in these cases. And the sad part is that the technology to make a motorcycle “clutch-free” has been known since 1934!  (See letter below.)   

Questions and Answers by the Shop Foreman – the Motorcyclist, November 1946: 

Question:  I have just purchased a 1941 Bonneville Sport Scout. . . .  A lot has been said about foot-shift, shaft-drive, etc. Why not go further?  How about fluid drive on cycles? Just imagine no clutch or gear shifting?   

Answer:  The BSA Co. of England marketed a motorcycle in 1934 featuring a fluid drive with automatic gear selection. The machine was successful, but due to high production cost and the popularity of the positive foot gear change, the model wasn’t sold in large enough numbers to justify keeping it in production. . . . Your progressive thinking leaves me with this afterthought: Undoubtedly the greatest check-rein on the mechanical development of motorcycles is the very conservativeness of the motorcycle riders.   
And third, speed. Now, I wouldn’t want to ride a bike with governor on it, because “my husband . . . believes I shouldn’t have too much speed” (see letter below),  but, the fact is this: The ideal speed of a motorcycle is exactly 42 miles per hour. This is just fast enough for the motor to stay in 3rd gear, yet slow enough to enjoy the scenery of the countryside. This speed satisfies my husband, who desires my good will, yet is slow enough to prevent “eyelash blowback” and frequent stops at gas stations.   

The Motorcyclist -- “From The Gang Back Home”: 

I’m another new Junior Scout rider. At present this town has five girl cycle owners and it is quite an honor to have so many girl drivers in one small town. I decided I’d like to own and drive a motor when I first saw Emma Mehan and Betty Jeremey on their Juniors one Sunday. I didn’t think a girl could actually drive a motorcycle until then. I had always had the opinion it was just a hobby for men alone. But now since I’ve made a purchase and mastered the art of driving a bit, I discover it is loads of fun and quite a thrill to be able to operate the machine all by myself. My husband has a HD 61 but I don’t think I would like a larger machine as I have my troubles now pushing a smaller model around. My husband has a governor on my motor for he believes I shouldn’t have too much speed while I am learning and I think he is right. At present, my machine is being sprayed white and I can hardly wait until it is all finished.   Carolyn Pearse  
And last of all, Macho Attitude. This has always been around (see letter below), but has actually gotten worse since, hmmm, yes, lets blame it on Women’s Lib!  The motorcycle companies have aimed the majority of their advertising at the man who imagines himself as a “thoroughly masculine . . . he-knight of the iron steed”.   
The Motorcyclist, June 1941, from “This & That”: 

What club in Southern California is being dubbed the “yoo hoo” club, and why?    

It is a club that has always prided itself upon being thoroughly masculine. They refused to admit lady members to their roll, and would have no part of an auxiliary. They were purely hard riding, hard talking, and rough playing he-knights of the iron steed and many are the demonstrations of their masculinity over a period of the last few years.  Recently one of their members darted forth from a store driveway.  Because of a package hung on the handlebars he failed to negotiate a sharp right turn, and smacked the side of a streetcar in a most hardboiled manner. The Streetcar was hard if not boiled and this rider rode off to the hospital in an ambulance to be patched up.    

A fellow member and chum called at the hospital to leave some cigarettes. The injured friend did not seem to be listed. There was much insistence back and forth and finally as a compromise the visitor and the hospital attendant decided to check a party in the feminine ward of the same last name but with a different first name.    

Low and behold.  There lay the injured club member, carrying on vociferously in strong masculine language, but definitely accorded to the ladies ward by the attending emergency physicians.    

Since this member had been with the club constantly for two years the members are a little flabbergasted.    
So, Where Have All The Women Gone? Chevy Mini Vans!  
In conclusion, while I was looking through old issues of The Motorcyclist to find these letters, I was struck, as I always am, by the wonderful enthusiasm the riders had. Although some of the attitudes of that time seem outdated, the honesty, honor and consideration of the riders show through. Since I’ve been reading the posts to the Virtual Indian list for a few months now, many of the names ring familiar.  Dot Robinson, Brownie Betar, Louise Scherbyn ... all sadly mentioned in their passing.   

About all I know of modern Indian riders is from the Road Weasels. Last summer we road to the Muskegon Shoreline Spectacular, which included a motorcycle show (all makes, all models, all years) put on by the Muskegon Motorcycle Club. Well, the weasels rode away with first place trophies in every category they entered. As we left Muskegon we were traveling 4 abreast, with Vince & I next to Bob, the king of Weaseldom.  Bob had his trophy bungee-corded to his handlebars, a’la Marlon Brando in the Wild One. Bob looked at Vince, Vince looked at Bob. They grinned. 

Front over Indian News May 1941 
 "Girl Rider" Betty Jeremy on her Scout 

1944 fashion ad 

Cindy is editor of the All American Indian Motorcycle Club newsletter and webmistress of the AAIMC site