Writer's Ramblings

Voni Glaves – 700,000 Miles and Just Getting Started

Written by  June 30, 2004

When Voni Glaves from Lawrence, Kansas rides one of her five red BMW motorcycles, she does so with a little bit of fear. That might sound strange coming from a woman who last May became the first woman BMW motorcycle rider to eclipse the 700,000-mile mark. This is a woman who is included in the Woman and Motorcycling exhibit at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio and has been the first place finisher in the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA) Mileage Contest five times, including riding 73,660 miles in the six-month contest in 1999 to set a woman’s record.

But Glaves, who has traveled a majority of those cross-country miles solo, says the little nudge of fear always reminds her to ride safely. “Safety is always utmost in my mind when I ride,” she said. “That’s why I always ride with the proper safety gear, wear my helmet, and why I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do in different riding situations or if I break down somewhere along the road. I even wear my helmet if I’m just moving my motorcycle across a parking lot.”

Glaves, a retired teacher who worked with special needs children, and her husband Paul, who retired as Merriam’s Community Development Director, have two children. They have always been a motorcycle family. She first began riding by herself when their children were young. “Paul and I love to ride,” she said. “When our children were small, we didn’t have enough money for a babysitter, so if we were going to ride anywhere, I had to learn to ride. I started out on Paul’s Yamaha RD250; it was shiny and new. I would ride it around the yard because I was too scared to go out on the road. I’ll bet I rode 100 miles in the yard before I even left the yard. I took baby steps, first the yard, then up and down the road in front of our house, to the stop sign and back, down the highway and back; it was just a matter of gaining confidence.”

Those baby steps evolved into an adventure Voni never thought she would undertake. Cross-country solo trips and eventually honored as BMW’s Woman Rider of the Year in 1999 for traveling 73,660 miles in six months.

Her first solo trip was to Lunatic Fringe, Canada. It was supposed to include seven other riders. “But one-by-one, they dropped out,” she said. “Paul told me I should go by myself. I didn’t think there was any way I could. He asked me, 'Why not?’ All I could think about was what I would look for if there was trouble with the bike. I know nothing about the mechanics; I don’t know what anything on the bike or what any of the tools are called.”

Paul is her mechanic and makes sure her motorcycles are always in good running condition. “I’m very lucky to have him working on my bikes,” she said. “That first day by myself, I rode 600 miles; I just couldn’t figure out how to stop! That first night out away from home, I rode around and actually thought about going back home the next day.”

But she didn’t, and for the rest of the trip Voni learned how to pace herself. When she reached Lunatic Fringe, one of the first people she met was a woman from New York who Voni said taught her a lot about riding by herself. She also made it through her first mechanical crisis. “I noticed oil on my back wheel, and I knew that wasn’t good,” she said. “A Harley guy told me he knew what was wrong, but didn’t do anything to help. Finally a gas station mechanic helped me find out that it was the breather shaft drive, and helped me fix it. I had a great time and made it back home safely.”

The person she met from New York, told Voni about a rally in New York. “She told me to come and I could stay at her house,” Voni said. “It was just like Sturgis, and I had an incredibly fun time, although I did get my first speeding ticket on that trip.” She also had some fear-factor moments. “I was terrified to ride in New York City,” she said. “My friend told me not to worry, that she wouldn’t lose me. Then I followed her into Brooklyn at 8 p.m., we were riding through the Lincoln Tunnel going back to her house. I was hyper ventilating!”

As her children got older, Paul would get just two weeks vacation a year, but being a school teacher, Voni had the summer off. Soon her trip miles began adding up, and fellow BMW riders urged her to enter the BMW mileage contest. “I never had thought about that, I just like to ride and I enjoy going places,” Voni said.

In 1999, she told Paul that she wanted to set a personal record for the number of miles she could ride in a year. “I didn’t set out to beat a record, I just wanted to see how many miles I could ride,” she said. “Paul would perform maintenance on one bike while I rode the other. I set a goal of wanting to ride 69,000 miles.”

Her plan that year was to ride every day. During her workweek, she would try to ride at least 100 miles a day, and in the summer, she wanted to ride 500 miles a day. There were some days when she would ride even when it was snowing. By the end of the six-month period, and several tires later, Voni had logged 73,660 miles, the third highest for BMW riders for either man or woman. Two men that year rode more than 100,000 miles.

She has won the highest miles for women five times; has earned medallions for reaching the 500,000-mile mark, the 600,000-mile mark, and the first woman to do so in both categories. On May 24, Voni received the 700,000-mile medallion from Engles Motors in Kansas City, Missouri. “I never really started this to set records,” she said. “I just love to ride and have always thought it was a privilege to ride. I like to ride the back roads. You can travel on the highway and get to places in less time, but you don’t get to see things. It’s so hard to put into words what it is to ride; it’s such a wonderful feeling.”

Voni camps out most of the time while riding. “You meet the coolest people in a campground,” she said. But the only time she was ever scared while riding alone happened when she was staying in a motel room. “I woke up and heard some men talking outside about stealing my bike,” she said. “They were right outside my door. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do.” Voni said she thought about opening the door and yelling, “Hey Moose, these guys are talking about stealing your bike!” Then she heard one of the men say, “Na, it’s not a Harley!” and then they drove away.

“Over the years I’ve been incredibly lucky,” she said. “Since red is my favorite color, my motorcycles are red, I wear red leather, a red helmet and red clothes. It all started as a visual thing so I could be seen on the road, but now I’m known as the Red Lady.”

Her favorite of her five motorcycles? The red 1994 R1100RS. Voni recently just logged more than 300,000 miles on that bike, and now that she’s reached the 700,000-mile mark, what’s next?

“This summer after the National BMW Rally in Spokane, Washington in July, four women and I are riding up to Alaska to scout it out as a possible motorcycle tour,” she said. “I’ll be leading the women-only 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ to Hyder, Alaska and back through beautiful British Columbia.”

She and Paul have hooked up with Ayres Adventures Tours with Ron Ayres. “We’re going to be motorcycle tour leaders,” she said and then smiled. “Isn’t that wonderful? We’ll be going to New Zealand next year and heading up two tours. I think it’s exciting.”

And along the way, every mile she covers, will be another record set for a woman motorcycle rider.

For more information, check out Paul & Voni Glaves’ web site at www.mindspring.com/~p_vglaves.

Story and photos by Chuck Kurtz