The "Enthusiast Girl" was a young, female rider who appeared on the cover of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast
magazine in May and November 1929 and toured the country on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle following her cover shot. (By the way, The Enthusiast
is still published today.) Harley-Davidson will always be grateful to her for the goodwill she spread on her cross-country motorcycle trip, a trip that would make her one of the first great women riders.
Company founder Arthur Davidson called Vivian Bales "The Georgia Peach," and newspapers across the country hailed the "Enthusiast Girl." Yet today, few people know who Vivian Bales is.
Vivian Bales was born in January 1909. Shortly after, her family moved from Florida to Albany, Georgia. After high school graduation in 1926 Vivian began teaching dance giving her more pocket money than she ever had. This extra money lit a spark in her: why continue to travel by horse when she could cover more territory on a now affordable motorcycle? For her, the answer was obvious, and in 1926 she purchased a Model B single, her first Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Bales quickly taught herself to ride in spite of the fact that she was only 5 feet 2 inches and 95 pounds and unable to kickstart the bike on her own. Still, she soon made her first "big trip" with her best friend, Josephine Johnson, to St. Petersburg, Florida, a distance of more than 300 miles. The local Harley-Davidson dealer was fascinated by Bales' story and arranged for it to be featured in the St. Petersburg newspaper and eventually the Atlanta Journal.
Inspired by her successful trip and eager for more adventure, Bales decided to trade her Single for a 1929 45 Twin D model, which she described as a "real honey." Empowered by her new motorcycle, she wrote to Hap Jameson, editor of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast, telling him that she'd like to make a solo trip north on her bike.
Although Harley-Davidson wouldn't officially sponsor the ride, they decided to call her the "Enthusiast Girl," and provided her with two sweaters that proclaimed the title. She later received this trophy.
Bales' famous ride took place in the summer of 1929 when she was just 20 years old, and was featured in many national publications, as well as the The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast. In each of the towns she passed through, Bales would meet the local dignitaries and Harley-Davidson dealers, most of whom would volunteer to support her ride. She even met President Hoover. In all, she traveled for 78 days and covered nearly 5,000 mile.
Following her famous ride, Bales continued motorcycling, performing stunt riding at motorcycle races in Tallahassee, Florida. Although she never purchased another motorcycle, Bales stated that her Harley-Davidson experience has remained one of the most significant of her life. It was so significant that before Vivian Bales Faison passed away on December 23, 2001, three weeks shy of her 93rd birthday, she requested a motorcycle procession at her funeral. Her wish was organized through Flint River Harley-Davidson of Albany. For the "Georgia Peach," this was a fitting final expression of the free spirit of all Harley-Davidson riders.
When Vivian returned from her trip she chronicled her adventure in an article she wrote for The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast appearing in the November and December 1929 issues. Below is an excerpt.
Was it a dream? Seems like it, for I never in all my life expected to travel as I did this year. And I just can't help but feel quite proud of my record, 5,000 miles through the most densely populated section of these United States, and all alone, too. Of course, I didn't get any encouragement from my folks, nor from anybody in Albany for that matter. But I was set and determined to "git," and now I'm glad I undertook it.
I started to ride three years ago, buying one of the first Harley-Davidson Singles. The minute I got that Single I knew I had the key to the whole United States. I could go places. Adventure just tingled in my blood. It makes me so mad to hear that no girl should ride one. I just boil when I hear that. You bet I tell them what I think and don't mince my words either. I've never one minute been sorry I saved my money and bought my first motorcycle. I always wanted to do something that most girls wouldn't do, like fly the Atlantic or something. My motorcycle gave me the chance to satisfy my adventurous spirit.
I had to have a professional name so the Enthusiast editor permitted me to be known as the "Enthusiast Girl." Gee, I liked that! And since I rode a Harley-Davidson 45 why not plan my trip to call on as many Harley-Davidson dealers along the route as possible? That's just what I did. And if there are any of you readers thinking about touring with your Harley-Davidson, go ahead and tour, for Harley-Davidson dealers are scattered all over the geography.
Leaving my family and friends in a skeptical and blue mood, I left Albany, Georgia, on the morning of June 1. Luggage strapped on the rack, decked out in one of my white outfits, my heart just jumping with joy, I started out to do a little pioneering. There were 78 days ahead of me, 14 states, the District of Columbia and a province in Canada through which I must unravel a little more than 5,000 miles.
The Atlanta newspapers were also good to me featuring my picture and stories of my contemplated trip. I think these folks thought it was all a joke that a girl couldn't begin to do such a thing. I started to collect autographs while in Atlanta and I'm glad I did for now I have several books of them—and many of the names are of real celebrities, too. I tell you I felt mighty important with my letters of introduction to police chiefs, mayors, governors, Harley-Davidson dealers, newspaper men and prominent motorcyclists here and there.
Leo Noblik rode 50 miles with me out of Atlanta on my way to Augusta. Bob Summerau, Harley-Davidson dealer in Augusta, met me 20 miles out and escorted me into his fair city. Augusta is a wide-awake motorcycle town. The fellows are just all bang bang when it comes to going places and having fun. I didn't have hardly a minute to myself. I was on the go all the time.
Three Augusta boys accompanied me 110 miles on my way to Camden, South Carolina, through drizzling rain. I had to stop two days here because of wet clay roads. When I did hit the road, maybe you think I didn't have fun in that red and white clay! The only thing to do was to try and follow Columbus' advice and sail on, sail on and on. Folks, there was plenty of girl and 45 on that slippery road, sometime almost too much of both. But I had learned to ride my motorcycle over sandy and earth roads in Georgia, and no, I cashed (not crashed) in on this experience. For five hours we (45 and me) battled the goo, when asphalt pavement broke the 61-mile stretch of handlebar exercises. This stretch of road gave me the opportunity to open 'er up and I wheeled into Raleigh like nobody's business. I had some exciting times in Raleigh with very little sleep. But who wants to sleep when there's something to do?
Ray Holliday with his spanking new 74L rode with me to Winston-Salem. Mr. J.R. Bolling met us at Greenboro. These Harley-Davidson folks, riders and dealers alike are "real" folks. What I mean, I just couldn't get homesick with such wonderful people trying to outdo each other on my behalf. I wanted to stay longer in each place but the long journey ahead kept on calling me.
One of the greatest thrills of my trip was meeting and greeting President Hoover. This meeting was arranged by Mr. H.T. McIntosh, editor of the Albany Herold, and Senator Wm. J. Harris of Georgia. I'll tell you that the president does not wait for anyone, so I had to be Johnnie-on-the-spot. With my heart all aflutter, I prepared my toilet very carefully selecting my favorite white riding breeches, a crisp white shirt, a dazzling white helmet, white oxford, golf socks and a white sweater with The Enthusiast Girl on the chest. Yessir, I was togged to meet the chief executive. I wheeled up to the White House drive at 10:00 a.m. thrilled pink. If the folks at home could only see me now! The gate policeman asked me if I had an appointment with the president. "Well, I should say so," was my reply, showing him my certificate of appointment.
I was escorted all through the executive mansion, room to room, hall to hall, up and down stairs. Massive and commanding portraits of our former presidents and their wives hung everywhere. It seemed as though they were gazing at the Enthusiast Girl out of sombre antiquity, but I gazed right back at them. It was 12:00 noon before I was ushered into the president's office. I immediately recognized President Hoover standing beside his desk at the far end of the room. With my eyes fixed on his friendly face, I walked right over with my very best Harley-Davidson smile in full force and shook hands with him. Nope, I didn't vamp on him for Mrs. Hoover was present. I was too fussed to remember his exact words to me, but he certainly made me feel welcome. Glancing around the room I saw at least 25 people, his secretaries and body guards I was told. What an experience!
I rode away from the White House the most important person on earth—you know the feeling. Why, I had had the hand of the president of these glorious United States, the hand that had greeted Lindy and other famous world celebrities.
Vivian wrote in her journal after meeting the president: "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."
Click here to read part two of Vivian's journey that took her to Baltimore; Wilmington, Delaware; Philadelphia; Trenton, New Jersey; Newark, New Jersey and then on to the Big Apple.