Debunking the traditional vagabond biker image, Motor Maids are out to show there's more to riding a motorcycle than racing against the wind. 

Lady Cruisers

For some women image is everything.

And if she's a Motor Maid — a member of the oldest club of women motorcyclists in North America — it's never more important than when she's on her motorcycle.

Then, being ladylike is not only encouraged; it's required.

That's why despite the Saturday morning heat that bleeds even the best of lipsticks, Liz Schmick keeps hers handy. "Underneath this helmet I want people to know there's a lady on this bike," insists the 53-year old Schmick, combing her matching pink nails once more through bleached-blonde hair. Soon it won't matter what it looks like - thankfully for Schmick, a hairstylist - since it will be vacuum-packed in the required-by-law headgear for today's 12-hour, 307-mile journey.

Seven sparkling motorcycles ranging from a small Suzuki Intruder to a midsize Harley Davidson Sportster to a 900-pound Honda Gold Wing deluxe touring bike crowd the lot of the Goochland Exxon. And of course, there's Schmick's standout: a black and silver 18-month old Honda Valkyrie with 25,000 miles, every one of them Schmick's. The collective glare off the group of bikes darts in chromatic rays piercing the entire country sky.

At a time when motorists are fed up with everything from road rage to the rocketing price of gasoline, the Motor Maids, along with the rest of Virginia's 200,000 motorcyclists, have become some of the most levelheaded and happy drivers on the road. Likewise, they're the envy of those clamoring in dismay, ready to kick cars to the curb for the freedom that comes with riding a two-wheeler.

Push-off time is 8:30 a.m. Because it's been a while since the Motor Maids have rumbled together, they're anxious to get rolling. No need for fanfare now. That will come later when the caravan comprising five Motor Maids and two husbands - who wear T-shirts that read "Mr. Motor Maid" on the front and "My lady is a Motor Maid" on the back — roars down Virginia's back roads. When it does, nearly every motorist and porch sitter from Richmond to Bedford County has the same, sudden rubberneck response. The Motor Maids catch a glimpse of onlookers' slow waves in rear view mirrors as they speed by.

Huddled together, the group receives a debriefing from Schmick on the day's ride. It's going to be a long one, nearly 12 hours, and already the temperature has topped 80 degrees. Route 6 state scenic highway to 626 to Howardsville, then 602 to 800 to 617 along the Rockfish River. Saddlebags are filled with water and brightly colored "cool collars" - chilled bandanalike rolled cloths that go around the neck and keep it cool.

Racing along Virginia country byways, it's nearly silent beneath the airtight helmet. And the weight and precision of the Honda Gold Wing is so great, it's more of a glide than a rugged ride. More than a hundred turns along the winding road up Skyline Drive feel like turns taken in a European racecar, smooth and rhythmic.

Up front Schmick's husband, Steve Mathlery, drives the lead bike. The six cycles interspersed behind can see by his sway that he's listening to a CD through his stereo intercom. To the left the Rockfish River winds through craggy rocks split with late-blooming purple rhododendron, while inside his helmet the Dixie Chicks sing about why Earl has to die.

"If you've got bikes within a certain pack like we do here," says Schmick, "it's real specific how you keep it in line. The rule of the road is the drag person really keeps an eye on the pack while the lead bike keeps an eye on the road."

Mathlery is doing just that. Although the dial on his Gold Wing speedometer stops short of 126 miles per hour, he says he's never pushed it anywhere near that fast. Driving the speed limit is why he's never had a serious fall in more than 30 years. That and he's careful of what can become a nightmare for riders, like railroad tracks and gravel. His experience is why he insists on leading the Motor Maids on today's trip. Plus, he was out here a few weeks ago and remembers the questionable spots.

"Asphalt will eat through flesh at about an inch a minute," he warns.

Today's trip is just another adventure for this group of Virginia Motor Maids, of which there are fewer than a dozen. It's a warm up for the annual Motor Maids convention that takes place in Florida the second week in July. What stands out this year is the 500-member group of women — who range in age from 16 to 85 - that celebrates its 60th year proving motorcycling has a feminine side.

The Motor Maids are active in many fund-raising campaigns and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for breast cancer research through cross-country sponsored rides. In recent years the Motor Maids have joined in the Pony Express "Lady Killer" Tour to promote cancer research and they are advocates for Virginia Motorcyclists Against Cancer Foundation, a group started by Schmick and her husband.

Although men are invited to accompany their ladies on the trip - all Motor Maids must ride to and from the annual conventions on their bikes - the men are not allowed at any of its meetings. "The women run the show," says Mathlery.

It's a show Glennadine Gouldman, district director for Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and D.C., runs gladly since she retired from her job as a restaurant manager. Although Gouldman rode motorcycles as a teen-ager, she didn't discover it again until 16 years ago when she was 42. Like many women who join the Motor Maids, Gouldman picked up motorcycling as an empty-nester. Today she's got Missouri bugs on her windshield that she collected from a trip on Mother's Day. She's also got 37,000 miles on her '98 custom-made royal blue Harley cruiser. "It's my passion," she says in a sexy voice that seems to explain the airbrushed rose on her bike and the silver-and-turquoise jewelry rubbed smooth by the wind. "I do most of my thinking and planning out here on the road. It's the only place I know where I can be just


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