Linda "Jo" Giovannoni (pronounced Joe-Van-No-Knee) is an influential motorcycle journalist and rider who co-founded Harley Women magazine, the first national motorcycling publication devoted to women motorcycle enthusiasts. Her involvement with Harley Women led to appearances on national shows such as Geraldo, The Vicki Lawrence Show, National Public Radio and many more. The book "Hear Me Roar," by Ann Ferrar, also features Giovannoni.
Giovannoni was born in Waukegan, Illinois. She grew up in the Chicago area in the 1950s and '60s and was a self-proclaimed "gearhead" from an early age. At 14, she hung out with friends at local drag races. She became part of a racing crew, starting out by cleaning parts. As soon as she got her drivers license, Jo began drag racing cars.
Her first rides on a motorcycle were as a passenger. Her fiancé terrified Jo so much that she didn’t want to have anything to do with motorcycles. Later, he tried to teach her to ride on an old Harley with a hand-shifter on the tank. She crashed several times on the lumbering machine.
Before her fiancé was to be sent to Vietnam, he had a leave in Panama City, Florida. There, he rented a couple of small bikes for him and Jo to ride.
"He stood there and yelled at me trying to get me to ride the bike," Jo said. "I finally got on the bike just to shut him up. I took off and that was it. I was hooked."
Riding the smaller bike was just what Giovannoni needed to overcome her fear of riding. She began riding back home in Chicago and soon bought her first motorcycle, a Triumph Bonneville. She wanted a Harley-Davidson, but still had the memories of her first experience on the big tank-shifter in her mind. Finally, a friend convinced her to ride his Harley chopper and she found she was able to handle it, despite the totally different handling characteristics of a bike with an extended fork and raked frame. She promptly sold her Triumph and purchased a Harley Sportster.
In 1977, Giovannoni began working in the parts department of a local Harley-Davidson dealership. At first, she was intimidated by the vast catalog of parts.
"All I wanted to do was sell T-shirts," she said. "I thought I knew a lot about bikes, but I found out I had a lot to learn."
She got involved in the rights organization ABATE. In the early 1980s, she met Becky Brown, founder of Women in the Wind. In 1983, Giovannoni went on to form the second chapter of what would become an international riding organization. Giovannoni began doing a newsletter for the local chapter of Women in the Wind and the newsletter began attracting a lot of attention from women enthusiasts.
"There really wasn’t anything out there for women riders to read," Giovannoni said. "Everything was either very technical or a skin book. That left women enthusiasts in the cold for the most part."
From that sprang the idea of starting a magazine catering to female riders. In 1985, Giovannoni and her partner, Cris Sommer-Simmons, went to Milwaukee to pitch Harley-Davidson on the idea of backing the magazine. Harley allowed them a license to put out three issues using the name Harley Women.
"They were interested in developing the women’s market," Giovannoni explained. "We did those first three issues and never looked back."
Harley Women attracted many male as well as female readers.
"They told us it was nice to have a magazine that they could lay on their coffee table and not worry about somebody picking it up and finding something offensive."
Giovannoni was involved with every aspect of the magazine, including selling advertising, writing, photography, page layout, working at booths, performing interviews, emptying the garbage cans, etc. She bought out her partner in 1990, and served as Editor and Publisher until November 1997.
Through her involvement in the magazine, Giovannoni became a spokesperson for motorcycling and was often invited to talk on behalf of women riders. She was featured on numerous local and national television and radio programs as well as in newspaper and magazine articles. She was one of five women featured in a documentary titled "She Lives to Ride" by Alice Stone of Filkela Films and she was chosen to appear on one of the "Harley-Davidson People" Collectors Edition motorcycle cards (bubblegum baseball-type cards) produced by SkyBox International.
During the 1990s, the numbers of women riders grew rapidly. Many point to Giovannoni’s example and Harley Women magazine as being a major influence on that trend. But the work of Harley Women proved to be taxing. In the late 1990s, she sold her interest in the magazine.
Beginning in 1999, Giovannoni helped program and occasionally host Open Road Radio, a motorcycle talk radio program, on WCKG 105.9 FM in Chicago, on Sunday nights. She also began contributing articles to Motor News Media (a syndicated news service) and The Shepherd Express in Milwaukee. In 2005, she became a regular contributing writer for the motorcycle section of the Daily Herald, Illinois’ third largest newspaper.