The Pennsylvania Motor Maids


The nine women parked with their motorcycles alongside U.S. 11 between Buchanan and Troutville waved as I rode by late Saturday afternoon.

The wave, however, wasn’t one of greeting but anxious waves of desperation.

They needed help.

So I turned around and headed back.

Sure enough, they had trouble. An ’02 Ultra Glide quit running as they headed north on the road just after filling up at a gas station a quarter mile away.

I tried starting the bike. It turned over but wouldn’t fire.

Bad gas? Each of the ladies filled up at the same station. Each bought premium. No one else had the same problem. The engine didn’t sputter and die. It just quit. Sounded more like an ignition problem. While I could diagnose the possible ailment I didn’t have the tools to fix it.

Late on a Saturday afternoon is not the best time to get service on a broken motorcycle. They were about 10 miles from Roanoke Valley Harley-Davidson but the odds of getting the bike there before they closed were long and that shop is not open on Sunday.  Shenandoah H-D in Staunton does have Sunday hours and one of the stranded nine belonged to the Harley Owners Group — which has a roadside assistance plan — so she called the help number on her cell and they dispatched a truck and trailer.

All nine rode out of Pennsylvania and belonged to the Motor Maids, the oldest women’s motorcycle riding club in the country. My mother rode with the Motor Maids when she worked as a civilian employee for the Navy in Norfolk in World War II. She never officially joined the club but enjoyed many a ride with those who did.

I waited with the ladies until the truck and trailer arrived around 7:30 p.m.  We talked motorcycles, road trips and the history of the Motor Maids.  I told them about her ride alone from Meadows of Dan to Tampa in 1946 and her memories of riding with the Motor Maids in the Norfolk area.

While there, more than 20 motorcyclists passed by on the road.  Only one stopped to see if they needed help. They said dozens passed them by before I stopped. That’s both a change and a shame. Motorcycle riders used to always stop to see if another rider on the side of the road needed help.  The fact that only two stopped to help these ladies in distress on busy highway on a Saturday afternoon is a sad commentary on the state of motorcycling today.

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