a Waco, Texas, woman named Della Crewe. On June 24, 1915, she set out to see America by motorcycle, after rejecting both the train and steamship as being not only too expensive but also uninteresting. With only 10 days of riding experience on her 1914 Harley-Davidson V-twin, she filled her sidecar with 125 pounds of baggage, including her dog, appropriately named Trouble, and began her tour. Despite warnings from friends that she would get held up by hobos or kill herself in an accident, she wanted the freedom and mobility offered only by a motorcycle.
Her first destination was the July 3 motorcycle races in Dodge City, Kansas. With today's modern roads it would be a one ortwo-day trip but things were different in 1915. An extremely wet winter and spring made roads across Texas and Oklahoma badly rutted mires of mud and sand. And if that weren't enough, there was the added danger of hidden stumps, logs and rocks in the so-called roads. All those miles of sand beds and rugged hills took their toll on both the rider and the motorcycle.
Despite a collision with a stump which knocked her sidecar out of line, Della made it to the paved streets of Oklahoma City without a major mishap. The 75 miles of macadam in the city were a welcome relief to Della, but upon entering Kansas, heavy rains made the roads such a quagmire she had to install tire chains. Finally, even chains couldn't
In the first few decades of the Twentieth Century, the roads made motorcycle touring a rugged sport. Before concrete interstates and blacktop secondary roads, most roads were dirt or gravel trails. Venturing far outside the city required a flair for adventure, a lot of stamina and a rugged machine. The fact that men ventured forth under those conditions was unquestioned, but for the women to do the same caused a great deal of attention, because of their presumably passive role.
Even among these exceptional female motorcycle pioneers, some stood out... like
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I ride approximately 3,000-4,000 miles annually on my motorcycles. I’m restricted to a short motorcycle season and own a small business which keeps to mileage down for me. I have owned 37 motorcycles so far. I’m down to four
Comments from Our Readers
Found the answers to the quiz by a google search of "vintage harley davidson sidecar with dog photo" -- Harley Davidson Co. filled in the rest of the details....
***** Annual convention of the Federation of American Motorcyclists in St. Louis.
***** Stopped twice in IN due to a quarantine for hoof and mouth disease. She had to promise Trouble would not leave the sidecar...hmmm (where did he relieve himself??!!)
***** Never owned or rode a motorcycle in my life, I have other hobbies that I enjoy, like genealogy and climbing big mountains with my friends. At my age, just getting up in the morning is a challenge for me.
***** I've been on the back of one that my brother in law drove. I have driven a mini bike though. She had guts, that is for sure.
***** When I was in high school, a friend of my Dad’s came to town on his motorcycle. Unbeknownst to me, my Dad had asked him to take me for a ride and scare the living daylights out of me. Now my Dad was a real nice guy but I suspect he wanted me to want to fear and to stay away from motorcycles. We went on the ride. I burned my leg on the tail pipe and I gashed my leg on the foot peg. When my Dad’s friend returned me home, I practically danced into the house. I was in heaven. I wanted to go for another ride immediately. Dad’s plan backfired.
I’ve only driven a motorcycle once. I drove it about a block and decided that I made a better passenger than a driver. My boyfriend, whose bike it was, was probably thinking the same thing.
***** My father started riding me on the back of his motorcycle when I was about 3 years old. I got my first motorcycle, a 75 cc, when I was about 12. I exclusively rode a motorcycle for 10 years, until the third idiot running the red light totaled my 920 cc Virago. I still have a current motorcycle license.
Janice M. Sellers
***** As a matter of fact, I have ridden a motorcycle once upon a time. Was really young and helmets were not obligatory back then. Riding kinda lost its lustre for me when helmets became the order of the day. I liked the wind blowing through my hair, mind you, didn't love the bugs in my face.
I, like you, at this stage in the game, would choose a more southerly route and if I was to bring a cat along with me it would have to be a big one - anything smaller than a tom cat would not be acceptable. I really like big cats.
And, yes, you are right again, Della deserves credit. Any woman who goes against the grain in my book deserves credit and in 1915 she was way ahead of her time. :)
Enjoying your quizzes. Thank you.
***** I have ridden…nor driven… a motorcycle. I thought it was fun. That however was about 20 years ago, I don’t know what I would think today!!!
***** I'm my old man's old lady, that is to say, I ride on the back of my husband's motorcycle. No cross-continental journeys, but short trips through the Oakland Hills on the weekends are lovely. No Harley Davidson either, since "chrome can't get you home". He has a 1979 Honda. I really don't like speed and I'm way too chicken to drive a motorocycle. I agree about [taking a] cat (I have two) though only one of them will let me dress her funny [as in motorcycle goggles].
***** Della Crewe's story is a great one especially for me as I am leaving bright and early tomorrow for another long road trip on my Yamaha V Star! Sorry I don't have time to log in full answer as I have to squeeze all my 125lb of gear in 2 little saddle bags (no sidecar!). Della and I are ladies who keep the rubber side down ; )
Easter Walters on a 1920’s Harley Davidson motorcycle with sidecar. Easter was an actress and motorcycle enthusiast. themotolady.com/post/...
at this time. I worked at a BSA shop in the Monterey, Calif. area in the 1960’s when I was in high school.
I have always been pleasantly impressed by the adventures of early motorcyclists due to mechanical abilities of the machines and road conditions. The women motorcyclists are at the front of the line in my way of thinking as they did not always get the credit and respect they deserved in their period of time.
Della has been one of my favorites as she was an adventure motorcyclist early on. A few other things about Della that I can relate to. She was from Waco, Texas where I have relatives on my mother’s side. One of my relatives is named Della. My grandfather rode motorcycles near the Waco area in the 1920’s-30’s. Della also traveled to Alaska in one of her none motorcycle adventures.
I just could not pass up the quiz.
Another early group of motorcycle riders who have my upmost respect are the board track racers. No other motorcycle competition group took such risks.
Motorcycle Dispatches from Early Twentieth Century Women Adventurers. By William M. Murphy. Traverse City, Michigan: Arbutus Press, 2012.
This book rewards faith in impressive accomplishments from seemingly unlikely sources. It is after all a short book by a regional press but has national implications in a growing field.
Murphy gives almost a third of his book to an introductory context for the women motorcyclists’ part in rapidly changing America’s pace and prospects between
1890 and its entry into World War One. Murphy’s literary capacity in these pages would work to especially good effect in introductory courses on America’s car culture. In chapter three, for example, he does not merely describe the inadequacies of America’s roads for long-distance automotive travel before the accumulation of successive legislative acts in a federal highway system by the mid- 1920s but explains the political culture that resisted a system and the absence of pubic knowledge beyond a few miles from any particular point on the existing dirt roads to create a paved highway from them for distant automobilists passing through.
His brief history of the gasoline station to understand the challenges overcome in enabling a rationalized system to serve travelers typifies his incorporation of the mundane to make the big development understandable. Murphy’s chapter stands in marked contrast with the conventional litany of the politicians and administrators formulating the legislative framework of the federal highway system. A rare outline of Americans’ gradual adoption of the motorcycle–the number declined between the late 1910s and the 1940s–and the social mores that but few women dared put aside to drive motorcycles give the fourth and fifth chapters before launching into the adventures of the women motorcyclists chronicled at length.
Della Crewe, a young world traveler even before her acquaintance with a motorcycle, started in Waco, Texas in June 1914, partnered with Rachel Foster in Wisconsin through Pennsylvania, went to New York City and the Caribbean, and returned after a year. She would have gone around the globe except for the world war. All of this Murphy traced not through the ease of reference to a journal but diligently compiled from one oil company’s and numerous newspaper articles.
In 1915, Effie Hotchkiss (an Upstate New Yorker by birth) and her mother motorcycled back and forth across the United States, an adventure for which Murphy was able to rely on Effie’s journal and a newspaper article she wrote. Seven photographs from the family album highlight the account. The Van Buren’s family album provide the documentation. Information Murphy acquired for the last four women’s later lives enabled him to summarize them as models of intellect and perseverance.
In-text notes, maps, numerous photographs (Murphy made in his own journey after his subjects), a list of references, and a timeline of “Noteworthy Events: 1885-1925” complement the book. The Turnerian grounding of Murphy’s epilogue that the female motorcyclists at the center of his book reaffirmed that frontiers made for America’s strength, albeit in this case reformulating definitions of gender as well as overcoming a tough landscape: these may stir doubt. That too, nonetheless, can broaden learning as an outcome of engaging lively discussions, making this book a rewarding read. Unquestionably it adds motorcycling that is largely absent in the growing scholarship about automobility and obviously woman motorcyclists.
provide enough traction and with Trouble in the sidecar, Della struck out through four miles of Kansas wheatfields before finding a usable road. She made it to Dodge City in time for the race, one of the premier motorcycle events of the time.
Deciding to head to New York and see the country along the way, the pair headed north through the beautiful scenery of Missouri. With good weather and fine roads, they made good time as they raced up one hill and down another. After a 15-cent ferry ride across the Mississippi River, they were into Illinois and more hills. The trip to Chicago and then to the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee was comparatively quick and uneventful.
After leaving Milwaukee, they headed south
through Chicago and into Indiana where authorities stopped her twice because of the dog. There was a quarantine in Indiana because of hoof and mouth disease and Della had to promise that her dog wouldn't leave the sidecar before they could proceed. Nevertheless, upon arriving in Goshen, Indiana, they were invited to participate in a local parade giving them the opportunity to see the city.
Having spent the summer and fall months heading north and then east, the travelers ran into cold November weather in Ohio, an indication of what was ahead for the rest of the trip. Bitter cold forced a three-day layover in Toledo and the ride around the southern edge of Lake Erie turned into a snowy one as they approached Cleveland. traveling northeast up the coast towards Painesville, Ohio, the drifting snow sent the motorcycle into ditches several times. Eventually they were forced to seek shelter at a farm house. the farmer refused her request at first, with the excuse that she didn't belong on the road in that kind of severe weather. Fortunately, the farmer's wife was the boss of the house and Della soon found herself drying her clothes before a warm fire.
On Thanksgiving Day, Della and her canine partner were back on the road again. Thawing snow made the roads so bad that it took them two hours to travel 2 1/2 miles to the nearest town. Several times she needed the help of the local farm boys to free the motorcycle and get it rolling again. When a number of solo motorcyclists were forced
THEY'VE heard it before from mothers, friends, brothers and opinionated others: ''Proper ladies don't ride on the backs of motorcycles.''
''But no one ever said anything about riding on the front,'' said Courtney Caldwell, an accountant, the mother of two teen-agers and the proud owner of a 550-pound, 700-cc street cruiser.
''That's right,'' said Jeanne Mare Werle, a 30-year-old freelance writer who has traveled more than 100,000 miles on
Avis and Effie Hotchkiss, mother and daughter from Brooklyn, New York, were pioneering motorcyclists. In 1915, they completed a 9,000-mile (14,000 km) round trip ride from New York to San Francisco and back on a Harley-Davidson
motorcycle-sidecar combination. In so doing they became the first transcontinental female motorcyclists.
to lay over and wait for better conditions, Della was thankful that the stability of the sidecard allowed her to continue.
Crossing the corner of Pennsylvania, the pair entered New York State. Approaching Buffalo, they had to struggle through nine miles of sticky clay which clung to everything and clogged the wheels.
Physically spent, Della had to hire a farmer and his horse to pull them the last mile. Thankfully, the ride across the state was easy. However,
bitter cold and heavy snow returned to haunt them and they left Albany making the trip to their long-sought destination of New York City a rugged two-day journey.
From Waco to Milwaukee to New York City with numerous side trips, Della and Trouble logged 5,378 miles and their motorcycle performed flawlessly. As Della stated after completing the journey, "I had a glorious trip. I am in perfect health and my desire is stronger than ever to keep going."
A few days later Della Crewe, Trouble and their 1914 Harley-Davidson twin with sidecar sailed for Jacksonville, Florida, with plans to tour the South, Cuba and South America.
eight motorcycles. ''Who wants to spend the rest of her life riding behind some guy on a bike? I can drive my own very well, thank you.''
A few years ago, women like Mrs. Caldwell and Ms. Werle who longed to ride motorcycles had to overcome any number of obstacles. The least of their stumbling blocks was the stereotype of the ''biker chick,'' a rhinestone-studded, leather-clad desperado. Equally challenging were those thunderous big bikes, objects of awe and intimidation to women who feared they couldn't handle all that metal.
Add to this the danger associated with motorcycling: on a per-mile basis, cyclists are 20 times as likely to be killed as automobile drivers or passengers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Women constituted only 1 percent of motorcycle owners in 1960. But not anymore. Data indicate that over the last decade, and particularly in the last two years, there has been a significant increase in the number of women riding motorcycles. According to industry executives, manufacturers and enthusiasts, roughly 1 of every 12 motorcycle owners is a woman; that's about 440,000, or 8.3 percent, of the nation's 5.3 million motorcycle owners.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation in Costa Mesa, Calif., which offers training courses at more than 700 sites nationwide, reports that 36 percent of its students are women, and several states, including Maryland and Illinois, now offer women-only courses in motorcycle safety. The classes teach the basic skills of straight-line riding, turning, shifting gears and stopping, as well as safety strategies: how to ride so that other drivers can see the cyclist and how to avoid being run off the road. About 35 percent of the women enrolled in these courses purchase motorcycles upon graduation, according to instructors.
Effie and Avis at the Pacific Ocean, 1915
As cycling gains in popularity among women, organizations and clubs have formed to educate owners and to promote safe driving habits. There are Women on Wheels, which has chapters in several cities; Retreads, a group for cyclists over 40 years old, and the American Women Road Riders' Alliance.
Motorcycle-industry analysts believe that one reason for the trend is that manufacturers, in particular the Japanese, have developed models that appeal to women. The cycles are lighter, easier to handle and more comfortable, with lower seats, smaller frames, sculptured lines and fashionable colors. Women's cycles also tend to be less expensive than men's, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, as against $6,000 to $10,000 for the heavier standard models.
''Women are realizing it isn't necessary to be tough, strong or male to ride and that motorcycles can be a safe and fun form of transportation and recreation,'' said Steve Bransky, an instructor at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation training center in Los Angeles. ''I teach women from all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, secretaries and housewives, with ages ranging from the early 20's to well over 40.''
Recent sales figures show that women are buying nearly a third of several new models. Based on 1987 model-year data, 21 percent of those who bought Kawasaki's 250 Baby Ninja were women. Honda says that of those who bought its 250 Rebel, more than 30 percent are women. Suzuki reports that 29 percent of the buyers of its GN 250 model are women. And Yamaha has just produced the Route 66 250, a bike designed especially for first-time buyers.
''We've noticed a resurgence - no, it's more of an insurgence - of women into the sport,'' said Jon Row, the sales administration manager for the motorcycle division of the American Honda Motor Company. ''Women have always ridden, but in small numbers. For years, the assumption was that women didn't want to ride, because it was a male-type thing to do. But the real reasons had more to do with economics and design.''
At the same time, motorcycle manufacturers have been careful not to patronize. ''We don't build motorcycles that are pink, the kind of bike that says, 'Here, honey, this is for you,' '' said Mr. Row.
Even the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the beloved big bruiser long identified with a
macho image, has increased its sales among women.
''Traditionally, women have only accounted for about 1 percent of our purchasers,'' said Buzz Buzzelli, the public-relations manager for Harley-Davidson Inc. ''In 1985, we introduced a new-model sportster, which is the smallest and least expensive cycle we build, and we found that over 8 percent of the new purchasers were women.''
Industry executives say that women's involvement will help soften motorcycling's rebel-rousing, Hell's Angels image and attract new riders. Four competing manufacturers -Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki - have even joined forces to underwrite a transcontinental ride commemorating the 1917 coast-to-coast motorcycle trek, the first for a woman, by Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, sisters who were descendants of President Martin Van Buren. Their modern-day counterparts - Mrs. Caldwell, Ms. Werle, Dr. Carol Auster Gussman and Patty Mills - left New York City on May 2 on the first leg of their 4,000-mile journey, which will take them through 21 cities in 18 states, ending in Los Angeles on June 2.
''By having women ride across the country, we do more than just say riding is fun,'' said Misao Yurikusa, the president of the Kawasaki Motors Corporation U.S.A. ''The ride shows that everybody can enjoy motorcycling, regardless of physical stature or sex.''
For many women, the lure of motorcycling is mobility and freedom. ''Women are realizing that it isn't necessary to sacrifice femininity or professionalism to ride a motorcycle,'' said Mrs. Caldwell, the 5-foot-1-inch leader of the pack. ''Riding my own motorcycle gives me an exhilarating feeling of freedom and independence.''
Like many other motorcycle enthusiasts, these women seldom dwell on the risks.
''I've had just as many scary incidents in my car,'' said Dr. Gussman, a sociology professor at Franklin and Marshall College who is on sabbatical. Indeed, she said her motorcycling skills have helped improve her driving skills. ''You become more aware of your surroundings and other motorists,'' she explained. ''And you really come to respect other cyclists. There's a camaraderie among cyclists that you don't find with automobile drivers.''
Clara Marian Wagner (1891 - 1961) was the first documented woman motorcyclist who became notable as an endurance racer and was sponsored by the Eclipse Machine Co., a bicycle company, for using its braking products.
In 1907, Clara, aged 15 years old and the daughter of the Wagner Motorcycle Company (1901-1914 ) owner George Wagner from Saint Paul, Minnesota, became a member of the American Federation of Motorcyclists (FAM).
Clara put the company's motorcycles on the map by achieving a perfect score in a FAM 360 mile endurance race from Chicago to Indianapolis in 1910, aged 18, but was denied the trophy because she was female. She won several such events.
At the time, Wagner was celebrated on a series of postcards as "The most successful and experienced lady motorcyclist" and rode the first motorcycle designed specifically for women.
Elspeth Beard and her ’ 74 BMW R 60/6 that she rode around the world over the course of three years. “I worked for months in a pub saving the money to buy my BMW 600. That gave me the bug for travel on a bike. It’s the best way to get around - cheap,
efficient and I enjoy the freedom.” –Elspeth Beard (photo of Elspeth shortly after returning home by Peter Orme) (via) She also made her BMW’s lockable top-box and panniers out of riveted aluminum sheets while living and working in Sydney during her around-the-world trek. It was a necessary stop when the funds she’d scraped together as working student ran out– she’d end up spending a total of seven months apprenticing with a firm in Sydney.