At age 91, Gloria Tramontin Struck hasn’t slowed down. In fact, she’s still picking up speed — mostly on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“Everybody all over the country, the first thing they say is, ‘You’re an inspiration. You’re inspiring me,’ ” says Struck who has been motoring on two wheels since she was 16 years old.
“People … think, ‘Oh, when you get to a certain age, you watch TV and you sit there and you knit, and your life is gone,'” she says. “Holy gee! If you knew how many goals I have!”
Struck stands just 5 feet tall, her long silver-gray hair in a ponytail, and on this Wednesday afternoon at her home in Clifton, she is bright-eyed and energetic, dressed comfortably in jeans and a light blue Motor Maids T-shirt.
Called the “matriarch of women riders,” Struck is among the longest-riding members of the Motor Maids, the first motorcycling organization for women, and she is featured in the 2013 documentary “Why We Ride.”
These days Struck no longer rides alone. Instead, she is typically accompanied by her daughter, Lori DeSilva, and still participates in motorcycle gatherings across the United States and Canada. The two have ridden all over the country, from Florida to South Dakota to California, meeting up with old friends like the Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons and his wife, Cris, who interviewed Struck for her 2009 book, “The American Motorcycle Girls — 1900-1950.” Artist David Uhl, another pal, painted a portrait of Struck leaning against a Harley-Davidson; it hangs prominently in her living room.
Struck estimates she has logged about 650,000 miles worldwide and has always owned two or three bikes at a time. Today, she mainly rides a teal Harley Heritage Softail Classic, Over the years, she’s owned 14 bikes (three Indians and 11 Harleys). Her first was an Indian Scout Pony. She proudly admits to buying stock motorcycles, leaning toward bikes with a heavy front end, which she says is better for long-distance riding, her preferred mode of motorcycling. No trailering bikes for this grandmother of three and great-grandmother of two.
Even her late husband, Len, couldn’t keep up motorcycle-wise, riding only twice with her during their 56-year marriage: the first time to Michigan in 1972 and the second to Canada in 1995 to visit a fellow Motor Maids member. “I shamed him, because he was gonna take the van, and I said, ‘Well, I’m going by motorcycle,’ ” she recalls. “So he rode my other bike, and when we got back, he says, ‘Don’t ask me to ride again!’ “
Struck laughs a lot and has a razor-sharp memory, spouting the years of her many tours, along with the number of miles ridden. She retrieves from her coat closet a denim jacket decorated with patches from the European countries she motorcycled through with her son, Glenn, when she was 74 and again when she was 76. They rode more than 6,500 miles in total and tackled the Passo dello Stelvio in northern Italy, a steep and treacherous road strewn with switchbacks through the Alps. Her longest journey, 7,450 miles cross-country and back, was in 2003.
Photo albums filled with pictures and clippings also tell Struck’s story, which began with her birth in 1925 in an apartment behind her family’s motorcycle shop on Lexington Avenue in Clifton. After her father, Ernest, died when she was 3 (he was hit by a car while riding), her mother, Pierina, ran the business in the 1930s and ’40s. Her brother, Arthur, nicknamed “Bub,” then took it over. Following his death in September, his children assumed the operation, which Struck says has employed every family member at one time or another. Their business, now located in Hope, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.
Although surrounded by motorcycles as a child, Struck initially had no inclination toward riding and protested when Bub said she should take up the sport. “When I was 10 years old, my brother took me ￼￼around the block, a very short block, and that was the only time I had ever been on a motorcycle,” says Struck, noting she was very quiet and shy as a child. “So you know, when he told me he was gonna teach me how to ride, I objected. I mean, I was in tears!”
But she consented and, while still not entirely enamored with riding, occasionally borrowed a bike from the family’s shop and ventured out locally on her own. Soon, she grew to love motorcycling, riding more frequently and farther. Unfortunately, she had to cope with the period’s prevailing negative attitude toward female riders. She remembers being turned away by gas stations and motels reluctant to serve her.
“Of course, I got angry,” she says about those rebuffs. Then she adds with a chuckle, “I was not the type of person who swears, but I think I swore!”
In 1946, Struck joined the Motor Maids and has since enjoyed the camaraderie of other women who share her love for riding. She says there are more female riders than ever today and that motorcycle manufacturers are designing bikes better suited for women, with closer handlebars, for example.
Struck has had some close calls on the road, pointing to a scar above her left eye, but says she was never at fault and always got right back on the bike. She credits motorcycling with keeping her alert as she grows older.
“You have to concentrate on what you’re doing. You have to concentrate on what everybody else is doing. You have to have your eyes behind you, on the side of you, in front of you.”
As for how riding makes her feel, she says simply: “It clears your mind. … It’s being free.”
When Struck celebrates her 92th birthday in July, she will be at a motorcycle convention in Canada, surrounded by friends and fans who, she says, want her to “keep on going and I’m trying to.”
Having had what she describes as “an exciting and adventurous life” thus far, she plans to continue riding on two wheels — never three — until she turns 100.