Women Motorcycling History

Making Their Mark: From the Early Years to Today

In the early days of motorcycling—around the late 1800s and early 1900s when motorcycles were little more than bicycles with motors attached—Americans bought the machines for transportation, not recreation. Families who could not afford cars could still afford motorcycles so it wasn't all that uncommon to see women riders.

The price difference between a motorcycle and a car was substantial. A 1909 Harley-Davidson motorcycle cost about $325 while a basic Ford Model T was priced at a hefty $850—about one year’s salary in those days.

But with assembly-line production, Ford got the price of a Model T down to $440 in 1915, putting cars within reach of many more people. As the price dropped to just $380 in 1927, even more cars were sold, and, as a result, fewer motorcycles.

Since that time, motorcycles have been chosen primarily for recreation and primarily by men. Despite those developments, pioneering women riders—including Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, Theresa Wallach and Bessie Stringfield—made their marks in the motorcycling world.

The Van Buren sisters were among the first to ride coast to coast, traveling aboard an Indian Power Plus in 1916. They were also the first women to ride motorized vehicles to the summit of Pikes Peak, accomplishing that feat in the same year.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Theresa Wallach of England became well known for racing and long-distance riding, besides serving as a dispatch rider for the British Army during World War II.

Back in America, African-American Bessie Stringfield made eight solo cross-country trips during the 1930s and 1940s, riding her motorcycle in the Deep South at a time when it risky to do so.

Dot Robinson, meanwhile, rode and raced in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In fact, she is credited with opening the door or women in organized motorcycling competition.

Following World War II, increasing numbers of women got involved in motorcycling. Margaret Wilson was among them, logging more than 550,000 miles on motorcycles and demonstrating that women are just as passionate about the sport as men.

In the modern era, Debbie Evans is considered one of Hollywood’s top motorcycle stunt women. She also was a pioneer in observed trials competition, a sport that calls for expertise on a narrow, marked, twisty maze of a course. She successfully competed in U.S. trials in the late 1970s.

These are women who have made significant contributions to motorcycling and who have earned places in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame on the AMA campus in Pickerington, Ohio. There are other women who have made their marks, such as motocross champion Ashley Fiolek land-speed world record holder Leslie Porterfield, who may, one day, earn their own spots in that hallowed Hall.

Fiolek began riding 50cc minicycles at age 7 and began her racing career in 2008. In her five years as a professional, she won four AMA Women’s National Championships and two ESPN X Games Gold Medals. She is also the first woman to ride for a professional factory race team. What makes her story especially remarkable is that she is profoundly deaf.

Porterfield holds three land-speed records and is a member of the Bonneville 200-mph club. She was named the 2008 AMA Racing Female Rider of the Year.

The number of women riders in America is growing daily, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. In 2003, an estimated 9.6 percent of the motorcycle owners in America were women. For 2015, that number had grown to 14 percent.

There are more women in motorcycling than ever before. But every woman, from the very first who slid onto the seat of a motorcycle to the Fioleks and Porterfields of today, has made a contribution to the world of motorcycling.

Women in the Hall of Fame