On the first Saturday in May 2021, the world celebrated the 15th International Female Ride Day (IFRD). It is a “JUST RIDE!” day for women all around the world. Vicki Gray organized IFRD for all women everywhere, for all lone riders and biker groups, to raise awareness about the importance of female riders.
It’s undeniable that motorcycle racing is a male-dominated sport, and it’s rare to hear about any female racers. Below, let us get to know the female motorcycle riders that have inspired many women to dive into the sport.
Avis and Effie Hotchkiss
From leisurely weekend rides to long-distance excursions, female bikers have enjoyed riding as much as men have done since the 1910s. In 1915, Brooklyn-born Effie Hotchkiss and her mother Avis were pioneering motorcyclists. At the age of 16, Effie Hotchkiss started to ride a motorcycle with the guidance of her brother, and her first motorbike was a Marsh & Metz.
They created history by crossing America on a three-speed V-Twin with a sidecar. The duo completed a Brooklyn-to-San Francisco trip after a two-month journey. After their successful voyage, Effie and Avis Hotchkiss were hailed as the first transcontinental female motorcyclists.
Augusta and Adeline Van Buren
Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, affectionately known as Gussie and Addie, were the second and third women to cross the continent on motorcycles. They covered 5,500 miles in 60 days on their motorbikes across the United States, arriving on September 8, 1916.
They were young adults and participated in the National Preparedness Movement Pre-World War 1. As America prepared to enter World War I, the sisters intended to establish that women could ride as well as men and could serve as military dispatch riders, freeing up men for other responsibilities. They wanted to disprove common reasons used to deny women the right to vote. For their ride, they wore military-style leggings and leather riding breeches, which were deemed forbidden at the time and resulted in several arrests.
In 2006, Bob Van Buren, the sisters’ great-nephew, and his wife, Rhonda Van Buren, rode a Harley-Davidson Low Rider from New York City to San Francisco, retracing Gussie and Addie’s journey. The trip was a fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, in keeping with the sisters’ goal to influence the military.
Vivian Bales of Albany, Georgia, made headlines in 1929 when she traveled 5,000 miles round way from her home in Georgia to the upper Midwest. In the May and November 1929 issues of Motorcycle Magazine, Bales became the first motorcycle cover girl and was known as “The Enthusiast Girl” after appearing on two separate covers of Enthusiast. Her travels were widely covered in the December 1929 issue and by local media around the United States. In Tallahassee, Florida, she went on to become a stunt rider in motorcycle races.
Bales began riding on June 1, 1929. When she was 20 years old and had only been riding for three years, she traveled alone for 78 days from Albany, Georgia to the Harley-Davidson plant in Milwaukee, covering approximately 5,000 miles. She passed via Canada, Manhattan, the Carolinas, and Washington, D.C. on her way back. Senator William J. Harris set up a meeting for her with President Herbert Hoover in Washington, where she wore her signature all-white riding breeches, shirt, helmet, socks, and sweater with “The Enthusiast Girl” across the chest.
She was 86 when she rode her last ride. A parade of Harley-Davidsons paid tribute to her on December 23, 2001, when she died at the age of 92.
Bessie Stringfield embarked on eight legendary cross-country journeys, all of which was chronicled by the press. She traveled solo across the Deep South as an early African American rider and a woman at a period when it was extremely perilous for her to do so. Because she opted to go freely where and when she wanted, her boldness and popularity contributed to the perception of motorbikes as culturally subversive.
Stringfield learned to ride her first motorbike, a 1928 Indian Scout, when she was 16 years old. She began traveling around the United States at the age of 19 in 1930. She cycled seven long-distance journeys throughout the United States, through the 48 states, and Europe, Brazil, and Haiti. She supplemented her income by performing motorbike stunts in carnivals.
Her riding ability and actions at motorcycle events drew the attention of the local press, earning her the moniker “The Negro Motorcycle Queen.” Later, she was dubbed “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami”.
Stringfield served in the US Army as a civilian courier during WWII, delivering documents between army posts across the country. She finished the arduous training and rode her blue Harley-Davidson with a displacement of 61 cubic inches. She crossed the United States eight times during her four years with the Army.
The “Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award” was established by the American Biker Association (AMA) in 2000 to honor a remarkable performance by a female motorcyclist. In 2002, Stringfield was elected to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. After owning 27 Harley-Davidson bikes, the AMA honored her in their inaugural “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” display in 1990.
Theresa Wallach was a motorcycle adventurer, an engineer, a mechanic, and an author. In 1935, she drove a 600 cc single-cylinder Panther motorbike from London to Cape Town, South Africa with another expert motorcyclist named Florence Blenkiron. They reportedly crossed the Sahara desert without a compass.
The two took nearly eight months to finish the 13,500-mile adventure. The British press regularly released updates on their progress. Climate extremes, political snafus, mechanical breakdowns, and encounters with wild animals were all part of the adventure for the duo. In her book The Rugged Road, Wallach chronicles their escapades.
She later became the Women’s International Motorcycle Association‘s first Vice President and remained active in it until her death. Wallach rode motorcycles until she was 88 years old when she had to give up her license due to vision problems.
Florence Blenkiron became the first woman to break the 100-mile-per-hour mark on a motorcycle on April 14, 1934 on her 500cc Grindlay-Peerless motorbike. She achieved a top speed of 102.06 mph and received the Gold Star Award from the British Motor Cycle Racing Club. Only two other women, Beatrice Shilling in August 1934 and Theresa Wallach in 1939 have ever earned this honor.
She crossed the Sahara with Theresa Wallach on a 600cc Panther motorbike, sidecar, and trailer from London to Cape Town in 1934-5, then returned on her own in 1935-6.
During the Great Depression, Dorothy “Dot” Robinson competed in endurance races alongside men. She was also a motorbike courier during WWII and a co-owner of a Detroit dealership. She was dubbed “The First Lady of Motorcycling” and is said to have logged over 1.5 million miles on motorbikes in her lifetime.
Dot Robinson is credited as a pioneer in promoting women’s motorcycle riding in the mid-twentieth century. Robinson was a founding member of the Motor Maids, an organization for women who like riding motorcycles, which was founded in 1941. Robinson also paved the way for female riders to compete in the sport. She was the co-founder and first president of Motor Maids and presided for 25 years.
Dot Robinson rode and explored until 1998 when a knee replacement slowed her considerably. She died on October 8, 1999 at the age of 87.
Linda Dugeau was a pioneer biker who started the Motor Maids, North America’s oldest women’s motorcycle club, in 1940. Linda learned to ride a JD Harley-Davidson motorbike when she was 19 years old, with the help of her lover Bud, who would later become her husband.
Dugeau spent the majority of her adult life riding motorcycles. She was a motorbike courier in the 1950s and was known as one of the best female off-road riders.
Inspired by the Ninety-Nines, a group of certified female pilots created in 1929 and led by Amelia Earhart, Dugeau began seeking additional women who were interested in founding a club for committed female motorcycle riders.
After three years of reaching out to female riders, Dugeau and Robinson formed the Motor Maids of America (now Motor Maids, Inc.) in 1940, with 51 members.
Dugeau was the initial secretary of the organization, and Robinson was the first president.
Debbie Evans is an American stunt actor and former motorcycle-observed trials contender. Evans was regarded as the best female observed trials rider in the United States in the 1970s, garnering the Yamaha factory’s support.
Evans began performing in front of tens of thousands of spectators at AMA Grand National Championship and AMA Supercross events. She became famous for balancing her motorcycle with the kickstand up and performing a headstand on the seat.
Evans’s outstanding riding ability led to her working as a stunt rider in the American film industry, which became her full-time job. Evans has acted in over 200 films and television series, including motorcycle stunts in The Matrix Reloaded and the Fast & Furious franchise.
Becky Brown is the founder of Women in the Wind, an international motorcycle club for women. By the early 2000s, Women in the Wind had grown from a modest ad in a Toledo newspaper in 1979 that got ten answers to 70 chapters and over 1,400 members across the United States, England, and Australia.
Hazel Kolb (affectionately known as “The Motorcycling Grandma”) completed her “80 Days on an 80” trip to the four corners of the United States in 1979 as a way of remembering her late husband, Jack, and to promote motorcycle riding. Her appearance on the 1970s’ highest-rated weekly television program The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in May 1979 spoke eloquently about her courage, tenacity, and ambition.
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