With the invention of the motorized bicycle, women roared on into the 20th century, blazing new paths across the countryside in an avid search for the adventure that is the open road.
“Mile a Minute Girl” Margaret Gast went from self-propelled glory to motorized renown at the beginning of that century. She set a world record for both women and men via a grueling 2000-mile bicycle race in 1901. A span she covered in an astonishing 222 hours, five and one half minutes! Later, she embraced the vertical challenge motordromes, scaling and circling them on her Flying Merkel Special Racer.
In 1915, the mother/daughter team of Avis and Effie Hotchkiss made a grueling jaunt across the entire country. Traveling from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco, California, on a 3 speed V-Twin Harley- Davidson motorcycle, the women covered over 5,000 miles on the 2-month journey that trekked ever westward.
The next year, the sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren blazed a similar cross-country trail powered by a 1916 Indian Power Plus. During their coast-to-coast quest, they took a side-trip to roar up Pikes Peak and become the first women to summit the mountain on a motorcycle.
Image courtesy of Bob & Rhonda Van Buren
From the Van Buren family collection, (c) 2003 Van Buren LLC, http://www.vanburensisters.com
Bessie Stringfield, nicknamed the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” was the first African-American woman to traverse coast-to-coast. The ever adventurous Bessie would flip penny onto a map to determine her riding destination. Then off she would thunder, continuing to ride until her death in 1993 at the age 82.
Dot Robinson was one of the founding members of Motor Maids, an organization dedicated to women motorcycle riders. An avid competitor, Dot spent many weekends competing in off-road endurance runs. In 1940, she became the first woman to win an American Motorcycle Association national competition.
As noted by Motor Maid Incorporated: “Dot set out to unite women riders, to show that you could ride a motorcycle and still be a lady. There was never a time you saw Dot without makeup. Away from her motorcycle, she looked ready to step in or out of a fashion magazine.”
In 1949, Cookie Ayers Crumb responded to a newspaper ad that read: “Opportunity to travel with show and learn thrilling, well-paying profession. Will teach personable girl with nerve and courage to become motorcycle exhibition rider in Motordrome.”
Cookie seized that daredevil opportunity. Soon to be known as the “Queen of the Hell Drivers,” she spent close to ten years travelling the United States riding the “Wall of Death.”
Then in 1962, the unstoppable Beryl Swain stunned the motorcycle world when she became the first solo women to complete on the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy course. A fierce rival to her male counterparts throughout the race, she finished in 22nd place.
Women continue to shape and push the boundaries of two-wheeled freedom. The call of the road stirs in their blood. A call they answer down a thousand Interstates, and black-tops, and dusty country roads. Highways and byways that sail past in the raw sweep of wide-open spaces. Women climb aboard and tear off — embracing the wild exhilaration of acceleration…Driven to Ride.