Who is the “Enthusiast Girl”?
The “Enthusiast Girl” was a young female rider who toured the country on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle after being featured on the cover of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast magazine in May and November 1929. Harley-Davidson will be eternally grateful to her for the goodwill she spread across the country on her cross-country motorcycle trip, a tour that would propel her to the status of one of the first great female riders. The Enthusiast, by the way, is still in print today.
Early Life of female rider Bales
Vivian Bales was born in the month of January in the year 1909. Her family relocated from Florida to Albany, Georgia shortly after. Vivian began teaching dance after graduating from high school in 1926, providing her with more pocket money than she had ever had. This extra cash sparked an idea in her head: why travel by horse when she could move faster on a now-affordable motorcycle? The answer was simple for her, and she bought her first Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Model B single, in 1926.
Despite the fact that she was only 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 95 pounds, and was unable to kick-start the bike on her own, Bales quickly learned to ride. Despite this, she made her first “big excursion” to St. Petersburg, Florida, with her best friend, Josephine Johnson, a distance of more than 300 miles. Bales’ story piqued the interest of a local Harley-Davidson dealer, who arranged for it to be published in the St. Petersburg newspaper and then the Atlanta Journal.
Bales chose to sell her single for a 1929 45 Twin D model, which she called a “true honey,” after her successful journey and a desire for more adventure. She wrote to Hap Jameson, editor of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast, expressing her desire to take a solo trip north on her new motorcycle, fueled by her new motorcycle.
Beginning of her historic ride
Bales’ historic ride occurred in the summer of 1929, when she was just 20 years old, and was covered by numerous national periodicals, including The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast. Bales would visit local officials and Harley-Davidson dealers in each town she traveled through, with the majority of them volunteering to support her ride. She even had the opportunity to meet President Hoover. She went for 78 days and approximately 5,000 miles in total.
Bales continued to ride motorcycles after her memorable trip, executing stunts at motorcycle races in Tallahassee, Florida. Despite the fact that she never bought another motorcycle, Bales considers her Harley-Davidson experience to be one of the most important in her life. It was so significant that Vivian Bales Faison wanted a motorcycle procession for her funeral before she died on December 23, 2001, three weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. Flint River Harley-Davidson of Albany helped her realize her dream. This was a fitting last representation of the free spirit of all Harley-Davidson riders for the “Georgia Peach.”
An excerpt of her articles
When Vivian returned from her journey, she penned an article for The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast that appeared in the November and December 1929 issues, chronicling her adventure. Here’s a excerpts of what you’ll find.
Was it all just a dream? It appears so, because I have never intended to travel as much as I have this year. And I can’t help but be pleased with myself for covering 5,000 miles alone through the most heavily populated part of the United States. Of course, neither my parents nor anybody else in Albany offered me any encouragement. But I was dead set on “getting,” and I’m pleased that I went ahead and did it.
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Three years ago, I bought one of the original Harley-Davidson Singles and began riding. I knew I held the key to the entire United States the moment I got that single. I have the ability to travel. My blood was tingling with excitement. Hearing that no girl should ride one irritates me greatly. When I hear that, my blood boils. Yes, I tell them exactly what I believe, and I don’t mince words. I’ve never regretted saving my money and purchasing my first motorcycle. I’ve always wanted to do something that most girls wouldn’t, such as travel across the Atlantic. My motorcycle provided me with the opportunity to indulge my adventurous side.
“Enthusiast girl” became professional name
I needed a professional name, so the Enthusiast editor let me use the moniker “Enthusiast Girl.” That was a lot of fun! And since I was riding a Harley-Davidson 45, why not organize my trip to visit as many Harley-Davidson dealers as possible along the way? That’s precisely what I did. And if any of your readers are thinking about taking their Harley-Davidson on a road trip, go ahead and do it; Harley-Davidson dealers can be found all over the country.
I departed Albany, Georgia, on June 1st, leaving my family and friends in a doubtful and depressed mood. I set off to do some pioneering with my luggage tied to the rack, dressed in one of my white dresses, and my pulse racing with excitement. I had 78 days ahead of me, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and a Canadian province to go, totaling a little over 5,000 miles.
The Atlanta media were equally kind to me, publishing my photo and stories about my upcoming trip. These people, I believe, believed it was all a joke that a girl couldn’t accomplish such a thing. While in Atlanta, I began collecting autographs, and I’m glad I did since I now have several books of them—many of the names are of real celebrities. With my letters of introduction to police chiefs, mayors, governors, Harley-Davidson dealers, newspaper men, and notable motorcyclists strewn everywhere, I felt pretty significant.
On my route to Augusta, Leo Noblik rode 50 miles with me out of Atlanta. Bob Summerau, a Harley-Davidson dealer in Augusta, met me 20 miles away and drove me into his lovely city. Augusta is a motorcyclist’s paradise. When it comes to visiting someplace and having a good time, the guys are all over the place. I didn’t have much time to myself. I was constantly on the move.
Through drizzling rain, three Augusta boys followed me 110 miles to Camden, South Carolina. Because of the damp clay roads, I had to stop for two days. Maybe you think I didn’t have fun in that red and white clay when I did hit the road! The only option was to try to follow Columbus’ counsel and keep sailing, sailing, sailing. On that slick road, there were plenty of girls and 45, nearly too much of both at times. But, in Georgia, I had learned to ride my motorcycle on sand and dirt roads, and no, I didn’t cash (or crash) in on the experience.
We (Harley-Davidson 45 and I) battled the goo for five hours until the 61-mile stretch of handlebar exercises was broken by asphalt pavement. This section of road allowed me to open it up, and I rolled into Raleigh like it was nobody’s business. With very little sleep, I had some wonderful days in Raleigh. But, when there’s something to do, who wants to sleep?
Ray Holliday accompanied me to Winston-Salem on his brand new 74L. At Greenboro, we were greeted by Mr. J.R. Bolling. These Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, both riders and dealers, are “genuine” people. I couldn’t be homesick since there were so many great individuals trying to outdo each other on my behalf. I wanted to spend more time in each location, but the long drive ahead of me kept beckoning me.
Meeting and greeting President
Meeting and greeting President Hoover was one of the highlights of my vacation. Mr. H.T. McIntosh, editor of the Albany Herold, and Senator Wm. J. Harris of Georgia organized this gathering. I’ll tell you that the president is impatient, so I had to be Johnnie-on-the-spot. With my heart racing, I carefully selected my favorite white riding breeches, a fresh white shirt, a sparkling white helmet, a white oxford, golf socks, and a white sweater with The Enthusiast Girl on the chest for my toilet.
Yes, sir, I was summoned to meet with the CEO. At 10:00 a.m., I rolled up to the White House drive, giddy with excitement. If only my family back home could see me right now! The gate guard inquired if I had a meeting with the president. “Well, I suppose I should say so,” I replied, presenting him with my appointment certificate.
I was escorted from room to room, hall to hall, and up and down the stairwells of the executive house. Huge, powerful images of our former presidents and their wives hung throughout the building. They seemed to be staring at the enthusiast girl with a dismal antiquity in their eyes, but I returned their stare. I wasn’t ushered into the president’s office until 12 p.m.
I immediately recognized President Hoover, who was standing at the far end of the room beside his desk. I strolled over with my best Harley-Davidson smile on my face and shook hands with him, my eyes fixated on his kind face. Mrs. Hoover was present, so I didn’t vamp on him. I was too preoccupied to recall his exact words to me, but he made me feel very welcome. According to what Iwas told, I counted at least 25 people in the room, including his secretaries and bodyguards. What an amazing adventure!
I rode away from the White House feeling like the most powerful person on the planet. You know how it feels. Why, I had the president’s hand in mine, the same hand that had greeted Lindy and other international luminaries.
Vivian wrote in her journal after she had an encounter with the head of state: “My 45 seemed more spirited than ever, a blue-ribbon thoroughbred. Just think my 45 has taken me to see more places and things than I ever saw before.”
Enthusiast girl in New York, America’s front entrance
Here I am, folks, in New York, America’s front entrance. I don’t understand how a single location could be so large. I rode up and up 5th Avenue, convinced that I would never reach the finish. Crowds would swiftly draw up on me, bombarding me with questions as the traffic lights checked the unending line of automobiles. “Can you tell me where you’re from?” “Do you have anyone with you?” “How do your parents feel?” “Have there been any mishaps?” “Can you tell me how fast you ride?” To this small Geoja gal, the rumbling of the subways, the clanging of the surface cars, the booming of the elevated trains, and the screeching of brakes were befuddling and incomprehensible. But I soon became one with it all, eating Irish potatoes and “hard rolls” and pronouncing “thoity-thoid” like a true native New Yorker.
The drive to Albany, New York, is scenic along the Hudson River, with occasional views of the Palisades. Henry Hudson first explored the river that bears his name in 1609. Now, 300 years later, in 1929, I’m visiting a land that’s still new and exciting to me. Only I can go faster than light, as Henry Hudson longed for the winds to fill his ship’s sails. For the first time since leaving Trenton, I was back in open country. Nothing compares to being out in the open, away from the hot, stuffy, crowded cities. I felt like a caged bird that had just been set free.
Rochester, New York is recognized for two things: Kodak cameras and Harley-Davidson dealer Zimmie. Mr. Zimmerman, Jr. is the real deal, and hearing him speak in that good old Southern brogue tickled my ears. It made me feel a little homesick. What a joy it was to see my photo and a long narrative on the front page of the morning paper. People would stop on the street in the cities where I got press coverage to watch me ride by. Many people would inquire about my trip and wish me luck. I believe that motorcycle riding requires more positive publicity so that people do not perceive it as a dangerous and wild sport.
Enthusiast girl leads to Detroit
I took the Canadian route to Detroit from Buffalo. I entered Canada after crossing the Peace Bridge. My, what beautiful roads. We had just flown over these freeways that looked like ribbons. I stayed the night in London, Ontario, where the police chief and newspaper editors greeted me warmly. I enjoyed Canada and hope to see it again someday. As you can see, I’ve been bitten by the “travel bug”!
Detroit is a fantastic city, and it is the busiest manufacturing city I’ve ever seen. Automobiles, too! They must number in the millions. The Harp Brothers were wonderful to me, showing me around Detroit and making me feel at ease. I was hoping to get Mr. Ford’s autograph, but he was out of town. I’d have gotten it as well! I had to go through the gauntlet of mayor, chief, and newspaper men’s receptions once again. The blaze and boom of headlights no longer startled me, and my smile had become automatic. So long, Detroit; we’re on our way to Lansing, Michigan’s capitol. In Michigan, there are no speed limits, so I just let my 45-year-old companion hum.
On this trip, I learned a valuable lesson about goggles: only use shatterproof glass. A bug shattered one of my goggles’ lenses, sending a shard of glass into my right eye. It was retrieved by a Lansing doctor, but he wouldn’t take a penny from the Enthusiast Girl. Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Lenz of the Bike Shop were in Milwaukee at the time, but their helpful helper drove me around the city. I met Governor Green in Lansing and received his autograph in my album. Yes, sir, as well as the mayors and chiefs.
Led to south heaven
I was led to South Haven by Officer Jack Spencer. On July 25, at twilight, we arrived. We unwound the throttles on the way over, and little ol’ 45 moved the speedometer hand to peg number 85. Officer Jack chased me down! I suppose I shouldn’t say that. Officer Jack is a gentleman, and I’d like to thank Commissioner Olander for his selection of officers. For the sake of the ladies who read this, I’d want to confess that I detested leaving so many places and saying goodbye to so many nice friends. You’re well aware of the situation.
I spent three wonderful days in South Haven with Miss Val Galbreath. Val and I had been corresponding for two years before we met, so we were fairly familiar with one another. We met because of The Enthusiast, which also brought me a lot of Harley-Davidson buddies. Val enjoys riding her own single as well. Oh, how I wish there were more girls like Val, girls who were interested in joining our sport. It’s not as brutal as some people believe, but rather beautiful—the cleanest outdoor sport I’ve ever seen. All of this is in addition to providing the most entertaining, thrilling, and cost-effective mode of transportation. I’m serious!
I never imagined meeting Val when I initially wrote to her, but I’ve since discovered that the world is a tiny place after all. The first girl rider I’d seen since leaving home was Val, the only girl rider I’d ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Val received a 45. Mine was one of her favorites. I’ll tell you what, meeting a female that understands and enjoys motorbike discussion, not to mention our parties, dances, and heart-to-heart talks, is just fantastic. What are our options now? Folks, I’m taking the boat across Lake Michigan tonight, and I’ll wake up in Milwaukee, home of my close friend Harley-Davidson, in the morning!
Information and Photographs courtesy Harley-Davidson Motor Co. & Wikipedia