Women Riders

Women in Motorcycling History: Theresa Wallach-Part 1

Written by  January 31, 2010

At an age when some women might be content to play with grandchildren, Theresa Wallach was “playing” with motorcycles. In 1973, three years after the success of her book, Wallach sold her motorcycle repair shop in Chicago, moved to Phoenix and founded the Easy Riding Academy. She was 64 years old.

Theresa was born in 1909 in London, England, growing up near the factories that produced the British bikes Norton, Triumph, AJS and BSA. She got to know the workers, the test riders, racers and engineers and learned to ride from some of her motorcycling friends. Her attempt to join a local motorcycle club was shot down because of her gender, but she continued with her love of riding and learned from her factory friends how to work on her motorcycle.

Her skills did not go unnoticed and before long, Theresa was competing at local meets, earning many trophies, which her parents insisted she keep hidden since a woman motorcyclist was “looked down upon.” In 1928, she won a scholarship to study engineering at the City University in London.

It was in 1935 that Wallach and her friend, Florence Blenkiron embarked on what was to be a historic journey--London, England to Cape Town, South Africa on a 600cc Panther pulling a sidecar and trailer. There were no roads, no backups and no compass. Facing heat, nomads, sand drifts, rain, politics and an argument with the French Foreign Legion to continue, the women completed an expedition that even by modern standards, was difficult at best. It had been the first time anyone had attempted the feat on a motorcycle.

Theresa’s knowledge of motorcycles came in handy when they had to rebuild the engine from scratch in Agadez and had to fashion a tow hitch after theirs broke. They faced lions, gorillas and snakes, stayed in African villages, and had an accident in Tanganyika with the only car they had seen in days. The journey made the women celebrities in the motorcycle world, and Theresa documented their trip in her book, “The Rugged Road.”

Once back in England, Theresa was accepted by the British racing world and attained her greatest accomplishment when she won the coveted British Motorcycle Racing Club’s Gold Star for circling the Brooklands circuit at over 100mph on her 350cc single cylinder Norton.

Wallach continued her pioneering ways into WW2 when she served in the Army Transport Corps, first as a mechanic and later as a dispatch rider for the British Army. But her extraordinary life of motorcycling did not end with the war.

Sources: AMA Hall of Fame
Bike World
By Louise Reeves

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