Women riders are one of the fastest growing demographics in the motorcycle world. There are international female ride days, a female rider month, and successful female clubs and female garage nights across the nation. But where and when did this all start? And who were the daring women who first swung a leg over the seat?
Motor Maids - The original one percenters
In my experience, I’ve almost always been treated equally in the riding world. My gender rarely ever comes up and, when it does, it’s usually because I’m getting teased as one of the guys. I’ve typically had the privilege to ride with amazing and respectful people. It’s hard to remember that it hasn’t always been that way though. Even just 100 years ago, women were getting discriminated against for such offenses as wearing pants, or even riding a motorcycle to begin with. The brave women of this era continued to pursue their passion, encouraging others and paving the way to where we are today.
In 1915, Indian started offering front and rear shocks for the first time. This created a smoother ride and, in response, people began considering motorcycles for long-distance trips. That very year, mother and daughter team Avis and Effie Hotchkiss decided to ride a winding route across the country, one that spanned 5,000 miles (in dresses).
In 1916, sisters Adeline and Augusta Van Buren climbed Pike’s Peak with a pair of Indian Powerplus Bikes, and then also completed a transcontinental ride over two months, during which they were arrested for wearing pants.
|Avis and Effie Hotchkiss (Wikimedia Commons)||
Miss Timkins, Secretary of The Royston Vasey Wine Circle, and probably one of the first female stunt riders
In 1928, Jamaican native Bessie Stringfield, “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” bought her first bike at age 16. At 19, she traveled across the United States and then around the world. She earned money by stunting at motorcycle shows and hill climbing, and once won a flat-track race disguised as a man, but was denied the prize when she took off her helmet. Because of her skin color, Springfield was sometimes refused lodging. In response, she would sleep on her motorcycle at filling stations by laying her jacket on the handlebars and resting her feet on the fender. During WWII, Bessie worked as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider as the only woman in her unit, and later she founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club
Dorothy “Dot” Robinson is a familiar name to many riders. She paved the way for women by competing, and winning, inendurance races starting in 1930. In 1936, she was the first woman to participate in Michigan’s Jack Pine Motorcycle Run (spanning 500 miles), which she wound up winning twice by 1946. During thistime, she and Linda Dugeau also founded the Motor Maids, which Dot served as the president of until 1965.
In 1962, Beryl Swain became the first woman solo rider to race the Isle of Man TT. She finished 22nd on her 50 cc Itom, and shortly after was stripped of her international license as the Isle of Man was deemed “too dangerous for a woman.”
I’ve been a rider for just over half of my life. And during the last ten years, it’s been refreshing to see better-tailored options for women entering the market. Remembering where we started is important as we continue to grow and change, and it's imporatant to know the story and honor the bravery of the people who paved the way.
Written by: Melissa Juranitch