Theresa Wallach dreamed of touring North America by motorcycle and in 1947, headed for the United States to fulfill that dream. In two and a half years, she covered over 32,000 miles through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, taking odd jobs along the way to support her journey. In 1952, she returned to England only to find a depressed economy and what she later called “narrowed horizons.” She returned to the U.S. and settled in Chicago, making her living as a motorcycle mechanic. Eventually she would open her own dealership selling British bikes. It was at her dealership that her future as a riding instructor was set. In 1959, three businessmen came in, looking to purchase BSAs for a European trip. Their inexperience with bikes was so obvious, Theresa refused to sell the bikes until she taught them the basics of riding. After their lessons, the men had a very successful trip, and Wallach started devoting more time to instruction.
In 1970 her book, Easy Motorcycle Riding, became a top seller that led to TV appearances and numerous newspaper articles about her. She sold her shop in 1973 to begin the Easy Riding Academy. Said Wallach of her approach to teaching, “One-to-one is still the ultimate teaching ratio. With 20 students in a class, each student is lucky to get a mere 10 minutes or so of instruction. An instructor must be there to guide and direct each person as he is performing.' In the ensuing years, Theresa taught hundreds of students to become better and safer riders.
Along with running her school, Wallach became heavily involved in the formation and was the first vice president of The Women’s International Motorcycling Association. She was active with the organization until her death on her 90th birthday in 1999.
Her book, The Rugged Road, chronicling her journey with Florence Blenkiron from England to South Africa, was written when Theresa was in her late 80’s and was not actually published until after her death. Considered a classic, it is still in print today. Theresa filmed the adventure as well, and footage may very well still be out there.
It is interesting to note that Theresa never owned a car. She continued riding motorcycles until she was 88, when failing vision forced her to give it up. In a 1977 interview with Road Rider Magazine, she said, “When I first saw a motorcycle, I got a message from it. It was a feeling – the kind of thing that makes a person burst into tears hearing a piece of music or standing awestruck in front of a fine work of art. Motorcycling is a tool with which you can accomplish something meaningful in your life. It is an art.'
Theresa Wallach is the sixth in this series of Women in Motorcycling History. In researching each of my biographies, I found interesting little tidbits of information and commentary that help to understand why these women were so adventurous with their choice of transportation.
At the turn of the century, motorcycles were not much more than bicycles with engines. Along with automobiles, they were still in their infancy, but because they were “only” motorcycles, they were much more affordable and thought of only as a way to get from point A to point B, not as a joyful pastime. Thusly, it was not unusual to see women riding. What was unusual was that these women who, decades before their time, realized the freedom and enjoyment of riding and wanted to experience more than just a necessary journey.
As cars became more affordable with the Model Ts, et al, motorcycles became less and less a necessity, and most women found cars more conducive to their lifestyles. Motorcycles became a novelty and a man’s domain for the most part right up until just a decade or two ago. The latest figures show women own just 12% of all bikes on the road, but the numbers increase every year. Women still make their mark every day in the motorcycling world, and when they do, I will hopefully be telling you about it.
Thanks for reading these biographies. They were fun to write and a true learning experience for me. I will keep looking for more in the months to come, and if you have any suggestions for future biographies, drop me a line by clicking on my name below.
By Louise Reeves