by Joe DeGweck
The thunderous sound of your 103 cu. in. “Stroker”
twin cam “B” engine provides a harmonic resonance to ease
the disquieting anxiety of your day as you glide freely along.
For over 100 years now, motorcycling has been a national phenomenon that has enthralled women and challenged their spirits. This is a story of two local women who have committed their spare time to the pleasure of sitting in the saddle and the joy of feeling the freedom of the ride. History repeats itself as Kathy Paolucci and Karen Hollfelder share not only a friendship, but also a common passion for cruising on their Harleys thousands of miles a year. They are among the 4.3 million females in the United States that operate motorcycles and are proud to continue the legacy that began with the inception of this motorized bicycle.
A PRIDEFUL AND TRUE TALE OF A TRADITION
In May of 1915 Avis and Effie Hotchkiss started a journey that would eventually span the continental United States from Brooklyn, N.Y. to San Francisco, Ca.. This mother and daughter team completed this four month road trip on board a three speed V-twin Harley Davidson with a side car. They had ridden their way into history for being the first women to cross the United States on a motorcycle. During this trip Avis and Effie faced many hardships. Cold, rain, floods and bad roads continued to challenge them. At one point they had run out of spare inner tubes for their Harley. Being women and being resourceful, as most women are, Effie and Avis rolled a blanket into the shape of an inner tube and stuffed it into their tire. This enabled them to ride into Santa Fe, N.M. and re-stock their supply. In October of that same year, mother and daughter returned home safely and inspired the nation for having completed this great adventure; which they explained as just “merely wanted to see America”.
This was just the beginning of women taking an active role in the sport of motorcycling. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, Dorothy “Dot” Robinson competed in numerous endurance races around the Great Lakes. She finished 1st and 2nd in the “Jack Pine” endurance run which boast that less than half the entrants even finish the race. She was also a co-owner of a Harley Davidson dealership in Detroit, Michigan. Dot was one of the founders and the first president of Motor Maids, an organization focusing on parity for women riders. It is estimated that Dot Robinson logged over 1.5 million miles in her lifetime riding her Harley as she enthusiastically promoted motorcycling. She is considered “The First Lady of Motorcycling” and her impressive accomplishments will remain infamous.
Bessie Stringfield, better known as the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, was the first African-American woman to ride solo across the United States. Often unable to find a place to stay, Bessie would sleep on the seat of her motorcycle at filling stations or park shelters. She once told reporters that “I knew the Lord would take care of me and He did”. At age 82 Bessie passed away. Before her death her doctor had told her to stop riding. She responded, “If I don’t ride, I won’t live long, and so I never quit”. Having owned 27 different Harley Davidson motorcycles in her lifetime, Bessie was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002; nine years after her death. Her passion for the open road has created a legacy for all riders to honor and follow.
During World War II Bessie, Dorothy “Dot” Robinson and numerous other women motorcyclist supported the war effort by becoming couriers for the armed forces. Their dedication to country and sport never waived and this tradition is continuing through the efforts of a new generation of women motorcyclist.
Statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council state that 1 out of every 10 bikes on the road are driven by women today. Their reasons for riding are endless but the three most common responses to the question seem to be; freedom or independence, camaraderie or friendship, and adventure. Karen Hollfelder and Kathy Paolucci are two local riders who exemplify the typical female biker of this generation. With over 36 years of riding experience between them; they look forward to prolonging the thrill of riding the open road.
Karen Hollfelder, of Grand Island, has been riding for over 20 years. She started riding as a passenger on her first husband’s bike. “He hated having a passenger” she explained; so after being left home alone, to often, Karen made a decision. She purchased her first motorcycle, acquired her permit and license and continued the open road experience solo with her husband and friends. Her career as a physical inventory auditor limits her riding to mostly weekends but her passion for Harley Davidson is continuous. Karen states that “if you came to our house you would find Harley things, Harley pictures, Harley collectables everywhere”. She claims that when she and her husband aren’t riding together “everywhere” their life is still centered on a common affection toward the Harley lifestyle. They even have an orange and grey cat named Harley. The cat does not share their perspective toward biking. It has a fear of the roaring rumble of the engine and often hides when they are started up; which is often.
Karen also approaches this aspect of her life with responsibility as well as reverence. She is the chapter merchandise person for The Niagara Falls Harley Owners Group. For the past 12 years, Karen also belonged to ABATE of N.Y.; Buffalo Chapter. This is an organization that helps with public awareness of the rights and responsibilities of motorcyclists. She participates in The Red Knights Organization for firefighters. Two years ago Karen was also illustrated in “The Golden Girls of Motorcycling”. This was a fund raising collection of photos of women and their motorcycles. Its purpose was to benefit the soldiers in Iraq and to provide phone cards for the troops to call home. So you are probably asking yourself; “When does she find time to ride”?
Her longest trip of 700 miles was to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2003. It was to honor the 100th year Anniversary of Harley Davidson. The trip back and forth was in the rain but her week there was full of adventure and fine weather. Every year Karen, her husband, and several of their friends trailer their bikes down to Daytona for Bike Week. This first week of March is dedicated to nothing but sitting in the saddle and riding. It doesn’t even matter what Mother Nature brings their way, they go to ride. Another great experience, fashioned through this admirable lifestyle of motorcycling, was when Karen met Jean Davidson, the granddaughter of the one of the co-founders of Harley Davidson. It was at the dealership where Karen had purchased her Fat Boy Screaming Eagle motorcycle, American Harley Davidson in North Tonawanda, N.Y.. Karen and her husband both had their motorcycles signed by Jean Davidson and they all were able to enjoy a weekend together. Sounds like another dream come true for Karen and her Husband.
Kathy Paolucci, originally growing up on the West side of Buffalo, has now settled her roots in Cheektowaga. Well! How settled is she? When the sun is shining, the roads are dry, the temperature is calming, and family matters don’t interfere, Kathy is settled into her saddle onboard her Dyna Low-Rider Harley Davidson enjoying the better things in life. Kathy has been riding for almost 16 years now. She started riding with her deceased husband in 1991 and today continues on this journey with her children and grandchildren. When asked why? She answers; “it makes you feel good”. It provides you with a “feeling of freedom”. Also Kathy used it as a confidence builder. She told me that she passed her road test on the first try and she never let her husband forget it. It took him three tries to pass his. Kathy shared this laughingly with me because her husband, the good sport that he was, just took it in stride.
Kathy has also ridden to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Karen and their friends. She has driven through the mountains of Kentucky. She loves to ride in wide opened spaces where you can be one with nature. Trips to Daytona for Bike Week are also a must. Kathy enjoys the opportunities that riding offers. People approach you all the time and friendships begin. Adherent bonds are formed that transcend any other types of relationships. Your senses experience the environment with a vigilance that only a ride on a Harley can provide. The wind at your face, the crushing but comforting force of gravity against yourself and your machine as you control the moment and the road before you passes by in an instant. You fervor ahead! Where and with what else can you experience this sensation?
Kathy’s emphasis was also on safety. She feels that the safety courses offered will properly prepare the individual to handle situations that are unlike those of driving an automobile. “People don’t pay attention to you” on the road. You need to be more conscious and conscientious as you drive. Your reactions must be immediate. You have little room for error. Kathy also has states that motorcycling is a great adventure and has enough faith and confidence that she supports her children and grandchildren in the pursuit of its bliss. Her responsibilities do not end there. Kathy rides to raise funds for Mercy Flight and K-9 Helpers. Her boyfriend, Dave Sorgi, is the director of “Niagara Falls HOG” and she is actively involved.
As with most people that fraternize within this new generation of bikers, Karen and Kathy exemplify their spirit and their principles. They both enjoy the freedom of the ride, recognize the responsibility of the rider, and appreciate the fortitude of the Harleys on which they put their trust. New technology has made it possible to ride safer than in the past. Better training enables everyone to groom their skills and better protect themselves from the unexpected. So in the future as I am driving down the road and look over to see two silhouettes on a motorcycle it might just be Karen and Kathy; or it might be you and your new found friend in riding. Or it might be my own shadow as I pass myself by on the way to buy my wife an American Harley Davidson.
|Kathy Paolucci and
Photos by www.cherylgorski.com
|Karen Hollfelder and Husband Dennis|
|Kathy Paolucci and Dave Sorgi|
|Karen's home is a shrine to Harley-Davidson|
|The On-Line Edition of After 50
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