The motorized wooden bicycle - 1885
Famous Women Motorcycle Riders
by Michelle Walle
Augusta and Adeline Van Buren
First Women to Make the Transcontinental Journey
Born in New York in the 1880s, the two sisters became pioneers in women’s motorcycle riding by breaking gender misconceptions and social boundaries for future women to follow. Hoping to become dispatch riders during World War I, they decided to become the world’s first women to ride motorcycles across North America, and they did. In 1916, they began their journey in Brooklyn, New York, on Indian Power Plus motorcycles. Their trek west took them to Colorado Springs, Colorado where they became the first women to summit Pikes Peak on any kind of motorized vehicle. Although their applications to become dispatch riders was rejected, they finished their two month, 3,300 mile trip in Los Angeles, California, on September 8th and became the first women motorcycle riders to ride solo on two bikes.
Founder of the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club
At 16 years of age, Bessie Stringfied was an African American woman who became instrumental in transforming gender and racial biases aboard her first bike, a 1928 Indian Scout. At 19, she tossed a penny over a map to see where it landed, which consequently led to her riding through the lower 48 states. During the 1930s and 1940s, Stringfield took eight cross-country, long-distance solo motorcycle rides, which took her through the Deep South during a time of extreme racial prejudice. During the Second World War, she became the first female civilian motorcycle dispatch rider, using her own blue Harley carrying documents between U.S. Army military bases. Stringfield went on to becoming founder of the Iron Horse Motorcycle club and winning a flat track race disguised as a man although she was denied the prize when she removed her helmet.
Dorothy "Dot" Robinson
First Woman to Win an AMA National Competition
Born in Australia in 1912, Dot Robinson, the “First Lady of Motorcycling,” led the way for future female professionally competitive motorcycle riders. Since her family owned a motorcycle dealership, she grew up around motorcycles and began riding at an early age. Dot won her first trophy in 1930 at the Flint 100 Endurance race. She became the first woman to win a national American Motorcycle Association (AMA) competition during the famous Jack Pine National Endurance Championship sidecar class race in Michigan in 1934. During the 1930s, she either placed or won more than 50 endurance motorcycle competitions against men, since there wasn’t a designated women’s class until the 1960s. Together with her lifelong friend and fellow motorcyclist, Linda Dugeau, Robinson founded the Motor Maids in 1940, which is the first and oldest North American women’s motorcycling organization. The AMA issued the Motor Maids an official charter in 1941, enabling it to become the first organized U.S. women’s official motorcycle club, thereby uniting women motorcycle riders across the country and inspiring them to undertake the sport. Dot was subsequently inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame.
First Woman to Hold an AMA Professional Racing License
Kerry Kleid opened the doors for professional women motocross riders by becoming the first woman to possess an AMA professional motocross license, as well as being inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame. She applied for the license in the 1970s so that she could enter an all-male racing competition. Although her request was initially denied, she eventually received the license, and consequently succeeded in progressing from the novice to expert class in less than a year at the age of 21. Kleid was also a highly respected member of the Metropolitan Sports Committee (MSC).
Founder of the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA)
Louise Scherbyn rode throughout the United States and Canada, and was reported as being the first American woman to reach the Timagami Forest of Canada in 1937, paved mostly by dirt and gravel roads. She served as an associate editor for a motorcycle publication and was active in the AMA, the Canadian Motorcycle Association, British Pathfinders Club and the Motor Maids. During World War II, Scherbyn began corresponding with women from all over the world, which led to the formation of the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA) by her in the 1950s. The organization was established to connect women motorcyclists worldwide, and has grown to become the largest women’s global motorcycle organization. Scherbyn donated her motorcycle and riding memorabilia to the Indian Motorcycle Museum in Springfield, Missouri.
First Woman to Own Her Own Motorcycle Business
Born in 1909 in London, Theresa Wallach was a pioneering female motorcyclist who had a lifelong interest in motorcycles, which included being a military dispatch rider during World War II, racer, riding school instructor, and a motorcycle mechanic and a dealer who specialized in British models. Wallach was rejected as a member of a local motorcycle riding club, so she began competing in racing competitions to win trophies so that she could prove herself alongside her male counterparts. Through her enduring devotion to the sport and her unwillingness to conform to preconceived notions, she overcame numerous obstacles and paved the way for women motorcycle riders by redefining the traditional roles women held in motorcycling. Wallach was influential in the establishment of WIMA and went on to become the association’s first vice president. She never owned a car and held her motorcycle license until the age of 88.
Although a traditionally male-dominated activity and sport, women have been pioneers in female motorcycle riding since the 1900s, and more women continue to become involved in riding either as a recreation or in professional racing. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), one out of 10 motorcycle owners are female, and there are approximately 4.5 million women riders. Famous historical women motorcyclists promoted riding by proving to be gender and cultural revolutionaries, and paving the way for women today to enjoy the freedom of riding, which only the motorcycle can provide.
Women Motorcycle Riders of Today
Becky Brown is the founder of an international women’s motorcycle riding organization, called Women in the Wind (WITW). In 1979, it grew from 10 women to more than 70 individual chapters and more than 1,400 members in the U.S., England and Australia by the 2000s. Her story was the inspiration behind the film, "She Lives to Ride" as documented by filmmaker Alice Stone, which portrayed a positive image of women motorcycle riders. Brown’s influence has increased the number of women motorcyclists worldwide and initiated the development of industry publications, clubs, as well as clothing makers and bike manufacturers developing products that fit a woman’s smaller frame.
Famous women motorcycle riders of today, include Samaire Armstrong, Brigitte Bardot, Victoria Beckham, Cher, Catherine Bell, Courtney Cox, Molly Culver, Joan Jett, Angelina Jolie, Wynona Judd, Queen Latifa, KD Lang, Alanis Morrisette, Pink, Niki Taylor, Tanya Tucker, Charlize Theron; Chae An, a well-known sportswoman and Lauren Hutton, who is the first vice-president of the Guggenheim Museum Motorcycle Club. Since the 1900s, women motorcyclists have continued to break down gender, stereotypical and cultural barriers by being inspirational role models and enabling women worldwide to become courageous in their own aspirations to ride. Women motorcycle riders continue to encourage the growth of the motorcycle industry by teaching them the skills they need to ride safely, as well as contributing to the demand for motorcycles and riding accessories designed for female consumers.