The “Enthusiast Girl” was a young, female motorcycle rider who appeared on the cover of the Harley-Davidson Enthusiast magazine. She was featured in the November and December 1929 issues of the Enthusiast. Arthur Davidson called her “The Georgia Peach.” And newspapers across the country hailed the “Enthusiast Girl.” Yet today, few people know who Vivian Bales was. Harley-Davidson, however, 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.
Early Enthusiast editor Hap Jameson had a special trophy made for “The Enthusiast Girl” Vivian Bales to congratulate her on completing a 5,000-mile tour.
Her name is Vivian Bales born in January 1909. Shortly after, her family moved from Florida to Albany, Ga. Soon after her high school graduation in 1926, she began teaching dance, which gave her more pocket money than she had ever had. This extra money lit a spark in her – why continue to travel on her 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 5’2″ and 95 pounds, and unable to kick-start the bike on her own. Still, she soon made her first “big trip” with her best friend Josephine Johnson to St. Petersburg, Fla., a distance of well over 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 in 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 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 this title.
Bales’ famous ride took place in the summer of 1929 and was featured in many national publications, as well as the Enthusiast. In each of the towns she passed through, Bales would meet local dignitaries and Harley-Davidson dealers, most of whom would volunteer to support her on her ride. She even met President Hoover! In all, she travelled for 78 days and covered nearly 5,000 miles.
Following her famous ride, Bales continued motorcycling, performing stunt riding at motorcycle races in Tallahassee, Fla. 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 Dec. 23, 2001, three weeks shy of her ninety-third birthday; she requested a motorcycle procession at her funeral. Her request was carried out, and 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 motorcycle riders.
Photographs courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company