With a generous contribution to the Hall of Fame, Karen Mahaffey returns to her BMW roots
April 13, 2021
By Kali Kotoski
Karen Mahaffey of Tulsa, Okla., has always been an avid BMW motorcycle fan, having first owned a 1976 BMW R90/6 when she was 30 years old. Over the years, she put 92,000 miles on that bike and has ridden across all 48 states plus Hawaii largely with her fellow Motor Maids.
So, when Mahaffey, now 78, received an email last year from AMA Motorcycle Hall-of-Famer Mary McGee as part of a donation drive for the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation — the nonprofit organization that raises money for the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame — she was immediately struck by the restored 1973 BMW R75/5 and its matching sidecar that was on offer for a $20,000 financial commitment.
“I have ridden BMWs my whole life until recently when I got a Harley-Davidson Trike,” Mahaffey said. “But I was looking to get a BMW with a sidecar, and because the ’73 BMW looks just like my first one, it was too hard to resist.”
While Mahaffey learned to ride on a small Honda 100, and subsequently upgraded to a larger Honda 500 to attend her first Motor Maid convention in Arizona in the 1970s, she ran out of gas on the return trip in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. Luckily, the group she was riding with found an empty bottle to drain some gasoline from their BMWs to fill up her bike enough to make it to the next town. Being so thoroughly impressed with the quick roadside fix, she soon traded up to her first BMW and has remained a dedicated supporter of the manufacturer ever since.
The BMW R75/5 with sidecar just happened to be the 2020 Hall of Fame raffle bike restored by Jay Medieros of Vintage Triumph Supply in Bedford, Mass., and Mary McGee luckily drew the winning ticket. Instead of collecting the prize, the female motocross and road-racing pioneer thought the bike would be better served as a gift for donors while raising vital funds for Hall of Fame activities. And when Mahaffey called to inquire if the bike was still available, she was both thrilled and surprised that it was.
“After I called, they put me in touch with Mary and it has been just such a pleasure getting to know her,” Mahaffey said as she catalogued the long list of Mary’s racing accomplishments. As a female motorcyclist, Mahaffey expressed a deep appreciation for the contribution women have made to the sport. One of her idols is fellow Motor Maid and friend, Gloria Tramontin Struck.
“I worked my whole life and had some money set aside and was happy to make the donation because I support what the AMA and the museum do,” Mahaffey said, noting that she was present for the 1990 Hall of Fame exhibit honoring women in motorcycling.
“That exhibit…they had a lot of Motor Maids memorabilia and it was just a really terrific and enjoyable experience. Since then, I have always had a soft spot for the organization,” she added.
Now, with the 1973 BMW R75/5 having been delivered a few weeks ago to her home in Tulsa, Mahaffey is excited to learn to ride with a sidecar. Despite the Motor Maids annual convention being postponed until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she will be taking the bike down to Motor Maids activities in some of the surrounding states, like Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, as well as riding it around town.
“I put 92,000 miles on my first BMW and this one only has 12,000 miles on it. Who knows how many I will put on,” Mahaffey said, adding that she is celebrating 45 years with the Motor Maids this year and is looking forward to many more rides and conventions with the group.