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Iron Butterfly: Ardys Kellerman

Ardys Kellerman.

Ardys Kellerman.

Andy Saunders
November 1, 2007
Filed under Features

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How tough is Ardys Kellerman, motorcycling great-grandma? An example: Labor Day 2006 in Florida, while racking up miles in the annual BMW MOA mileage contest, she was rear-ended, bumped off her R1150RT and slammed into the boat trailer in front. The bike was totaled, and she was bashed and cut. Most riders would have given up and flown home. Kellerman, however, hobbled to the nearest BMW dealership (441 Cycle in Fort Lauderdale), got a great deal on a cream-puff ’99 R1100, and was back on the road two days after the holiday.

“Should’ve known better than to go out on a holiday weekend,” she said.

Oh, and the mileage contest? No problem. Kellerman notched up 80,131 miles in six months, between mid-April and mid-October 2006, to handily win the women’s section. Encouraged by friends and supported by sponsors, she kept on riding and covered 100,000 miles by April 2007. That (former) cream-puff R1100 now has 50,000 more miles on the odometer, and bugs aplenty on the windscreen—not that she cares. “I stopped at a gas station one day, and a couple of guys on BMWs so new they still had the cardboard plates told me to clean my bike,” laughs Kellerman.

Ardys Kellerman, still riding at 75 years old.

Ardys Kellerman, still riding at 75 years old.

Ardys (pronounced R-diss), 75 years young, has four grown children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and just keeps on going. It was tough fitting the miles in until five years ago, when she retired from her job as an electronics technician at the age of 70. Now she’s got all the time in the world, to see the world. One granddaughter recently married and moved to Hawaii. “Her husband’s in the Navy, and he’s shipping out. If she gets lonesome, I’ll go visit.

Then I’ll do 1,000 miles in 24 hours there, too.”

That will be no problem for Kellerman, who once rode four, thousand-mile days—consecutively. The lady is tough, as four Ironbutt Rally finishes also attest.

Kellerman’s riding career began back in the late ’60s—she doesn’t remember exactly—when she bought a camper van to tote the kids around. There was a Yamaha motorbike mounted on the back. When she took the paperwork along to the local DMV in Rhode Island, she registered the motorcycle, too, and asked about a motorcycle license. “Do you know how to ride it?” the clerk asked. “No, but I’ll learn before I take it out on the street,” she replied. The license was issued on the spot.

“I owned that little bike long enough to learn how to ride,” she remembers, “then lost it when my son took it over and rode it around the countryside.

“After that, I didn’t ride for several years, until I was between marriages when my vehicle blew up. Gas got into the oil pan somehow, and when I hit the starter it exploded. I didn’t have the money for a decent car, but I found a bike that was pretty good, a Honda CB360.”

Searching for a bigger bike, Kellerman bought a 1984 BMW R100RT. “I was working in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 80 miles away from my home. Every time possible I used the bike to go back and forth. I didn’t realize people did things like ride long distances for fun until I picked up a copy of Rider magazine, with publicity for the Four Corners tour. And then I decided that as long as I was riding to all four corners of the U.S., I could try adding on a little more.” And she did, rolling up 50,000 miles between April and October that year, 1988, establishing a women’s mileage record that stood for a decade. Now she’s raised the bar even higher.

Her long-distance riding secret? Coffee. She drinks gallons of the stuff, despite what the Ironbutt experts say. “If I get stressed with the heat I drink Gatorade when I refuel. I have protein bars, and I use ASDA low-carb protein drink.

“I didn’t plan to do the 100,000, I just wanted to beat the women’s record in the BMW MOA contest. I won that with 80,000 some miles—and beat the men, this year, too—and I wasn’t going to finish it because I’m retired and don’t have a lot of funds, and ran up a lot of bills while I was doing it. Then I got a call from Voni Glaves (another long-distance rider) asking me if I was going for the 100,000 in a year. I said I couldn’t afford it. She said, ‘If I raise the money would you do it?’ And I’m amazed at the help I got from people. So that last 20K was sponsored by a lot of people in this country and abroad. I’d like to thank everyone who kicked in funds, otherwise I’d never have been able to do it.”

(This Riding Around column was published in the December 2007 issue of Rider magazine.)

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