Pioneering Women Motorcyclists

Although it’s traditionally considered to be an activity dominated by men, more and more women are choosing to take the open road on a motorcycle, regardless of its type. But have you wondered who were the women who paved the way for modern-day female riders? Refusing to be held down by the limitations society placed on women of that era, the persons you are about to read in the article below were and are thought to be some of the most important pioneers in women’s riding. Adeline and Augusta Van Buren - the first women to make the transcontinental journey on separate motorcycles
The two sisters, born in the 1880s, grew up in the New York City along with their brother Albert, together with whom they were engaged in activities such as canoeing, swimming, skating, diving, wrestling, and sprinting. Their attempt of becoming the word’s first women to ride motorized vehicles across North America was therefore just one step away. They wanted to become dispatch riders during the World War I, so they set off on their renown journey in 1916, riding two Indian Power Plus motorcycles, Indian’s top of the line model in that period, selling for $275.

Adeline and Augusta’s journey kicked-off in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn on July 2nd, and trekked west through Chicago and Omaha, however not without encountering technical difficulties. The sisters were the first women to summit Pike’s Peak on any kind of motorized vehicle. Next they headed west out of Colorado Springs, through Gilman and on to Grand Junction. They arrived to San Francisco on September 2 and finally completed their journey on September 8 after arriving in Los Angeles. Though their application of becoming dispatch riders was rejected, the Van Buren sisters proved to the world that women can do anything a man could do. In the words of Augusta, “Woman can if she will.”

Theresa Wallach - the first woman to own and run her own motorcycle business

Born in 1909 in London, Wallach was raised near the factories that produced the famous British brands of Norton, BSA, Triumph and AJS, so she became close to people working at the factories, including test riders, engineers and racers.

She learned from her motorcycling friends to ride ever since she was a young woman.

When she tried to become a member of a local motorcycle club, she was rejected specifically because of her gender. That motivated Wallace to begin competing in local events and managed to gain various trophies.

After successfully concluding trips to Africa and America and serving in the Army Transport Corps during World War II first as a mechanic and later as the first woman motorcycle dispatch rider in the British Army, Wallace finally moved to Chicago, US, in 1952.

She managed to earn her living here as a motorcycle mechanic. Eventually, Wallach opened her own motorcycle dealership specializing in British machines.

"When I first saw a motorcycle, I got a message from it," she said in a 1977 interview with Road Rider Magazine. "It was a feeling – the kind of thing that makes a person burst into tears hearing a piece of music or standing awestruck in front of a fine work of art. Motorcycling is a tool with which you can accomplish something meaningful in your life. It is an art."

Louise Scherbyn - founder of the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA)

In the 1930s, after a decade as a passenger on motorcycles and in sidecars, Louise Scherbyn decided to learn by herself to ride. Though at first she was concerned about the effect riding would have on her reputation, she soon became the proud possessor of a 1932 Indian Scout motorcycle.

Scherbyn got to enjoy riding that much that she traveled extensively all over the USA and Canada. Scherbyn was reportedly the first American woman to reach the far north, Timagami Forest of Canada.

Furthermore, Louise was active in many motoring clubs including the AMA, the Canadian Motorcycle Association and the British Pathfinders Club, and was an associate editor of one of America's leading motorcycle publications.

By the 1950s she helped found the Women’s International Motorcycle Association, an organization that still exists today, in an effort to unite women riders worldwide.

"I believed there should be a world wide organization for all women motorcyclists,"
she said in a magazine interview in 1952. "Why not unite as a body in exchanging ideas and opinions, problems and advice?”

Bessie Stringfield - founder of the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club

This African-American lady of the road was just 16 when she mounted aboard her first bike, a 1928 Indian Scout. With no prior knowledge of how to operate the controls, Bessie proved to be a natural.

At 19, she began tossing a penny over a map and riding to wherever it landed. Bessie covered the 48 lower states. During World War II, Bessie worked for the army as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider, being also the only woman in her unit. The training was therefore harsh.

That was when ‘The Motorcycle Queen of Miami' broke down barriers for women and African American motorcyclists at the same time. In the 1950s, Bessie bought a house in Miami, Florida. She became a licensed practical nurse and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. But the story does not end here. Disguised as a man, she won a flat track race but was denied the prize money when she took off her helmet.

"Years ago the doctor wanted to stop me from riding," she recalled, as she suffered from an enlarged heart. "I told him if I don’t ride, I won’t live long. And so I never did quit."

Dorothy "Dot" Robinson - the first woman to win an AMA national competition

Born in 1912 in Australia, Dot Robinson was destined to become a rider even before she was born. When her mother went into labor, her father took her to the hospital into a sidecar rig. Little Dot grew around motorcycles and started riding at a young age, as her family ran a motorcycle dealership in the US since 1918.

She met her future husband, Earl, while she was in high school, together with whom participated in endurance runs and races. Dot earned her first trophy in 1930 at the Flint 100 Endurance race.

After the couple made a record transcontinental run together in 1935, Harley-Davidson asked the Robinsons if they would like to run a dealership. In 1934, Dot entered her first Jack Pine National Endurance Championship in Michigan.

By 1940, Dot won the famous Jack Pine in the sidecar class, becoming the first woman to win in AMA national competition. She repeated the feat in 1946. Although she had to surpass many obstacles, she persevered and was allowed to compete in endurance runs, making it possible for other women to race in later years.

Kerry Kleid - the first woman to hold an AMA professional racing license

She became the first woman who broke down the doors of AMA pro licensing for all women, obtaining an AMA professional racing license in the early 1970s.

The 21-year-old motocrosser progressed from Novice to Expert in a year. Kleid applied for an AMA license to enter an all-male competition.

She received her license, only to have it revoked when she showed up at her local New York track. It appears that AMA thought that 'Kerry' was the name of a male racer.

Kleid obviously filed a lawsuit, but a new license was issued before that case went to court. That meant Kleid became both the first and the second woman to hold an AMA pro license.

In a time when women were not considered equal to men, these ladies had the tenacity and courage of proving themselves to the world and shatter the existing preconceptions. Thanks to them, women motorcycle riders of today continue to break down barriers and stereotypes, leaving the biker chick image behind and contributing to the growth of motorcycle products and accessories designed specifically for the female consumers.
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