Vivian Bales

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Vivian Bales
Born January 1909
Florida
Died December 2001
Albany, Georgia
Other names Vivian Bales Faison
Occupation Dance instructor, seamstress and stunt rider
Known for First motorcycle magazine cover girl

Vivian Bales (married name Faison, January 1909–December 2001) was the first motorcycle cover girl and was known for several long distance motorcycle rides around the US, and motorcycle stunt riding, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Bales was born in Florida in and raised in Georgia. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress and dance instructor, and in 1926 bought her first motorcycle, a new Harley-Davidson Model B. She taught herself to ride on this motorcycle, and took her first long tour of 300 miles with a female friend from her home in Albany, Georgia to St. Petersburg, Florida, Florida.[1] The Model B was a 350 cc, single cylinder, side-valve, with a manually shifted three speed engine with a battery, and not a magneto ignition, and a fully floating seat. It was brought out to compete with the successful Indian Prince model and was called "the peashooter" for the sound of its exhaust.[2] One of the first 'streamline' models, it sold for around $235.[3]

A Florida Harley-Davidson dealer heard the adventure, leading to a feature about it in the St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper, and then in the Atlanta Journal. Bales, planning longer journeys, traded in her Model B for a 1929 flathead engine D-series, Harley-Davidson's first 45 cu in (740 cc) motorcycle. She wrote to Hap Jameson, then editor of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast magazine, telling him about her plans to make a longer solo trip. The Enthusiast motorcycle magazine was first published in 1916, 13 years after the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles built.

Despite Bales only being 5 feet 2 inches and 95 pounds and unable to kickstart the bike on her own, Jameson appointed Bales as the official goodwill "Enthusiast Girl" and while Harley-Davidson did not finance her journey, arrangements were made for Harley-Davidson dealers, Rotary Clubs and others on the route to provide accommodation, fuel, and maintenance.

Having only been riding for 3 years and aged 20 years old, Bales started on 1 June 1929, taking 78 days to cover about 5,000 miles alone from Albany, Georgia to the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee. On the way back, she traveled through Canada, Manhattan, the Carolinas and Washington, D.C. In Washington, Senator William J. Harris arranged for her to meet President Herbert Hoover wearing her trademark all white riding breeches, shirt, helmet, socks and sweater with "The Enthusiast Girl" across its chest. On the way, as a goodwill ambassador, she met many local dignitaries.[4]

Bales became the first motorcycle magazine cover girl on the May and November 1929 editions, and her journeys were well documented in the December 1929 issue and by local papers all over the USA. She later became a stunt rider at motorcycle races in Tallahassee, Florida. At her 23 December 2001 funeral, aged 92, she was honored by a procession of Harley-Davidsons.

To Arthur Davidson she was "The Georgia Peach". For Bales, the motorcycle was a "key to the whole United States". Her adventurous spirit reacted against the received wisdom of the day that no woman should ride one. She married William Faison and adopted 3 children. Her last ride was at the age of 86.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mullins, Sasha (2008), The Chrome Cowgirl Guide to the Motorcycle Life, MotorBooks International, ISBN 9780760329221, retrieved June 6, 2012 
  2. ^ The Complete Harley Davidson: A Model–By–Model History of the American Motorcycle. Tod Rafferty. Crestline Imprints, 23 Mar 1997
  3. ^ Illustrated Directory of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Tod Rafferty, MotorBooks International, 1 Dec 2001
  4. ^ Trailblazers in Women's Motorcycle Riding, Harley-Davidson

References[edit]

  • The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast, May, November and December 1929