Trailblazers of Adventure Riding
The Pioneers Who First Tackled the Unknown on Two Wheels
One hundred years ago, brave women and men rode their motorcycles into unknown territory. It was indeed the unknown back then... They were true explorers and pioneers, the first motorcycle adventurers.
A 22-year old man climbed on a 1912 Henderson motorcycle and pulled his flat cap. He left Dublin to travel the world, becoming the first adventure motorcycle rider.
It was almost unheard of to ride a motorcycle. You can forget about luxuries such as travel insurance, GPS, petrol stations, and the internet. He was all by himself. He was the first of his kind. The maps were colored with uncharted lands. Some countries didn't even have petrol stations, repair shops or inter-what.
Adventure riders' biggest worry today is their next Instagram post. Back then, they had revolvers in their belts and fought bandits. This was a new world, and the brave and determined few who discovered it were the first to see it. These are the stories of pioneers. These pioneers were the first to travel the world on two-wheels and paved the way for others.
The First person to ride a motorcycle around the world
1913: Carl Stearns Clancy, a 1912 Henderson Four pilot, circumnavigates all of the planet on a Carl Stearns Clancy
Imagine yourself riding a motorcycle that looks like a steam engine. You're dressed in a suit and tie, and you point your front wheel towards Africa. You have 18,000 miles to go through Europe, Africa and Asia. There are no resources, no help or clues as to what lies ahead. This is the first time this has been done in history. It's 1913. This is one year before World War I. You're about set to ride a two-wheeled machine through countries that have never seen a motorcycle.
It was a 934cc 1912 Henderson Four with one speed, 7bhp, and no front brake. The bike was advertised as the fastest in the world at that time. It would have been like setting out on the equivalent of a Kawasaki H2R spaceship. At 22 years old, Carl Stearns Clancy set off anyway.
Clancy rode from Dublin south through Europe until he reached Tunisia. Clancy reached 65 mph in Algeria and only had to stop because his eyes were too watery. It was then east to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Clancy bought a helmet for a fighter pilot in Japan and shipped it to Francisco. He then rode back to New York. Clancy's 10-month-long epic journey made him the first motorcycle adventurer to travel around the world.
The First Solo Motorcycle-Driven Women to Cross the American Continent
1916: The Van Buren Sisters ride 5,500 Miles from New York to Mexico
America was about enter WW1. Women weren't allowed vote, and sisters Augusta Van Buren and Adeline Van Buren wanted their country to have military dispatch riders. This is a job reserved for men only. The Van Buren sisters weren't satisfied with this. They wanted to prove that women can serve as well as men so they rode their Indian motorcycles 1915 1000cc Indian 5,500 miles in 60 day from New York to Tijuana (Mexico). It didn't work out well.
Multiple times they were arrested for wearing men's clothes. National papers ran wild with accusations that they used the trip to 'excuse themselves from their roles as housewives', and 'display feminine contours in nifty uniforms made of leather'.
They had to fight the elements, thick muddy swamps, and a lack of roads to keep their old machinery running. Police tried to arrest them because they were females riding a motorcycle.
They ignored the misogynism, and continued to push on. The Van Burens had to deal with severe weather and off-road routes. They also lost their way in the desert, ran out of water, and were forced to abandon their home. They persevered, and were the first women to ride solo bikes across Africa.
The sisters were not granted their wishes. Their applications were rejected by the military and motorcycle magazines reported only on their bikes, which was a blatant disregard for their efforts. The Van Buren sisters didn't give up, however. They achieved an amazing feat and inspired women all over the globe to be true pioneers.
The First London-to-Tokyo Motorcycle Ride
1932: Robert Edison Fulton Jr. covers 25,000 miles in eight months, from England to Japan
A 23-year-old Robert Edison Fulton Jr., who had just graduated from Vienna's university, stopped in London to visit a friend for dinner. A young woman approached him and asked him when he would be returning home. To impress her, he replied, "No, I'm going round the world on my motorcycle." Later, he admitted that he was surprised by his off-the-cuff statements. Douglas Motorcycles' owner, however, was right next to him and immediately liked the idea, offering a free motorcycle.
Fulton was not a fool and he accepted the offer. He immediately set to work. Fulton gathered all the maps he could and began to plot a route. To make repairs and find a replacement, the 1930 Douglas Twin was fitted with common car tyres and a second fuel tank.
He was riding his bike towards Dover two weeks after the dinner party, concerned that his parents might discover what he was up to. Robert Edison Fulton Jr, armed with knee-high socks and boots and a.32 revolver and a pith helmet, set off from London to ride 25,000 miles to Tokyo in 18 months.
He rode through an area still under Colonial control, crossed 500 miles in scorching Syrian desert, spent one night in a Turkish prison, and was then shot at by tribal men in the Khyber Pass. The Rajah of India was his guest, and he recorded a film of his journey with 40,000 feet of motion-picture film that he had on him.
You might end up changing your entire life by what you say at dinner parties.
The First Motorcyclists to Ride From London to Cape Town
1935: Theresa Wallach, Florence Blenkiron and 13,500 miles across Africa in eight months
The 1930s wives were instructed to cook dinner at home, but Florence Blenkiron and Theresa Wallach were fighting through the Sahara Desert to reach South Africa. They became the first male and female motorcyclists to cross the Sahara after eight months and 13500 miles.
They didn't follow in the footsteps of anyone and had no backup or maps. They were the only ones riding a 1935 Panther Model 100 600cc motorbike with a Watsonian sidecar. They were confronted with dangerous animals, sandstorms, treacherous offroading, tribes.
Theresa Wallach was more than an adventurous explorer. She was also a skilled motorcycle racer who won the British Motorcycle Racing Club Gold Star for completing the Brooklands race circuit with a 350cc Norton at over 100 mph. She was an engineer and a motorcycle instructor. Theresa was the first female dispatcher in the British Army during the Second World War. Theresa returned to America after the war and took a 32,000-mile motorcycle trip through Mexico, Canada, and the USA. These were all unheard of adventures for women back in those days.
Theresa Wallach once stated, "Motorcycling can be a tool with the which you can achieve something meaningful in your own life." It's an art." This is true for all the adventure motorcyclists who have braved the roads of the world, as well as the many others who have followed their lead.
First Female Transcontinental USA Ride
1915: Effie with her mother ride in a sidecar outfit from New York to San Francisco.
Effie Hotchkiss rode 9,000 miles in a Harley-Davidson sidecar outfit with her mother Avis. They were the first women to bike across the USA, and they are an inspiration to future generations.
Effie, who was 26 years old at the time, was Avis' 52-year-old counterpart. Effie had a dream to see the country and was determined to become the first woman to make the trip. The Harley-Davidson 11F 3speed was equipped with a sidecar. Effie had tools and did her own repairs.
It took them three months to travel from Brooklyn to San Francisco, and they averaged 150 miles per day. This is remarkable considering the poor road conditions and lack infrastructure. The trip was a difficult one for American women, but they persevered and became pioneers.
The First African American Woman to Ride across the USA
After WWII, women were finally given the right to ride despatch bikes. Yet breaking down barriers wasn't always an easy feat and Bessie Stringfield, a woman of color, bravely set out on her motorcycle journey across America - becoming the first person of her kind to accomplish such an accomplishment.
Bessie's journey was not without its challenges. While traveling across the lower 48 states, she encountered racial discrimination, denied accommodation and even refused prize money for her winning performances in flat track races. But Bessie refused to be deterred by these hardships and eventually earned herself the title of "Motorcycle Queen of Miami". Despite all odds she endured, her unwavering determination and unflinching courage earned her this title.
Bessie's story serves as a testament to the resilience of human spirit and the strength that comes from perseverance when faced with hardship.