European Motorcycles

Women in Motorcycling

Fast Women: Famous Motorcycists and Notable Managers

An introduction to some of the great names in motorcycle history.

No Glass Ceiling at Brooklands in 1933

Florence Blenkiron, left, and Theresa Wallach on the BSA. Florence was the first woman to achieve 100mph at Brooklands, in 1933 when this photo is was made. Theresa also broke that barrier riding a Grindlay-Peerless.

A third woman also did the ton at Brooklands, the redoubtable Beatrice Shilling. She had an uncommon number of letters after her name which, had she been other than a woman, would likely have been preceded by Sir.

The following year Florence and Theresa embarked on a quite extraordinary journey from London to Capetown piloting a Panther with with sidecar and trailer.

Wallach & Blenkiron

Tilly Shilling

Beatrice (Tilly) Shilling was an accomplished rider who fettled her own machines and is best remembered in the motorcycle world as one of only three women to achieve the magic ton at Brooklands.

An aeronautical engineer, she also has a place in aviation history as the inventor of a device which saved many lives. Fitted to Spitfires and Hurricanes, the invention prevented the severe flooding to which Merlin engines were prone during negative G manoeuvres, making the smiting of the nimble Messerschmitt problematical during the Battle of Britain. Officially named the R.A.E. restrictor, her solution was celebrated by the RAF lads as Tilly's Orifice.

Tilly Shilling

Beryl Swain

Beryl Swain was the first woman to compete in a solo Isle of Man TT race, on a 50cc Itom in 1962. She was a talented and intelligent rider.
Beryl Swain

Ida Orsi of Maserati

Obviously a woman of some nous, Ida purchased the well-established Italmoto concern and rebranded their existing models as Maserati. Italmoto had a good sales network, with avenues into markets in Europe, North America and South Africa.... Ida Orsi of Maserati

Sophie Opel

As accountant and the primary investor in the Opel company, Sophie was responsible for the growth of the business from a small sewing machine factory to one which by 1895 had over 1000 employees.


Marjorie Cottle

One of the more famous, if somewhat unflattering, images of Marjorie Cottle pictures her on a New Imperial V-twin believed to have been the the fastest motorcycle to race there at the time. The single on which it was based was said to exhibit beastly handling characteristics.

Marjorie was a team rider for Raleigh

More about Marjorie Cottle

Gabriella Morini

When Alfonso Morini died in 1969 the reins of company were taken by his daughter Gabriella. Her tenure was beset by problems with unions in the latter years, beginning in 1983 with strikes which added to the already difficult financial situation.

Gianni Marchetti, General Manager of Morini for four decades, said of her during an interview published in Motociclismo Epoca in 1996, "Gabriella, a lawyer. Married to a physician, owner of a clinic, she had no children. Devoted to her father, she really took to her heart the future of the business. No other woman would have had the courage to devote herself to the Firm like she did. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, Morini had become a hotbed of Trade Unionists."

In 1987 she sold the company to the Castiglioni brothers, owners of Ducati. Gabriella Morini had hoped to see the marque revived by Castiglioni, using the new Lambertini-designed 60-degree V-Twin, but despite their initial enthusiasm... Moto Morini

Vittorina Sambri of Moto Borgo

Vittorina Sambri raced Motoborgo machines from 1914 until at least 1922 when she won a round of the 500cc Italian Championship. In the 1950s she ran a Moto Guzzi dealership in Ferrara with her brother Romeo, also a champion rider. Moto Borgo

Agnes Muriel Hind

Possibly the first female motorcyclist and famed for devouring her male competitors.

Muriel Hind

Vittorina Massano

Born in Genoa in 1934, Vittorina Massano, known as fornarina da corsa from her work delivering for her family bakery, began racing at the age of 16 in hill climbs and soon achieved fame winning many races including three wins in the Pontedecimo-Giovi. She competed against the likes of Angelo Tenconi and Giacomo Agostini, and against her husband, also a racer. She was also an ISDT competitor.

The talented rider is featured as the lead story in MotoCiclismo d'Epoca of November 2007.

Massano died in 2011.

In Memoria Di Vittorina Massano

Gwenda Stewart

  • "... she became exceedingly well-known and famous as Mrs Gwenda Stewart, wife of Col R N Stewart, with her record-breaking and racing achievements..."
    Trump Motorcycles

    "Fortunately for me, however, that moment has not yet arrived, as I can lift my latest mount, the 247 c.c. Levis, clear of the ground by my own unaided efforts."
    Gwenda Jansen

N.B. The image shows Gwenda shortly before she lifted the Levis off the wooden block to chest height. Her surname changed several times - Hawkes, Janson, Stewart and Glubb.

Fay Taylour

In the early days of speedway Fay Taylour of Ireland became a champion speedway rider. Born in 1904, she was travelling the world by her early 20s, racing on the incredibly popular speedway tracks in England, Australia and New Zealand.

A rider of considerable talent, she wowed crowds around the world until women were banned from speedway in England in 1930. Fay then became a racing car driver and excelled.

Fay Taylour

Louie McLean "In 1925 [Marjorie] Cottle, together with Louie McLean and Edyth Foley, had won individual gold medals at the International Six Days Trial, an achievement that led to the A-CU grouping them in a semi-official national team for the Vase category in following year's event. They finished equal first with no marks lost, dropping to 3rd place after special tests to determine the winners. Promoted to full Vase status for 1927 but given no chance of success by contemporary commentators, the trio rose to the challenge by winning that category outright, beating Denmark into 2nd place with the all-male Great Britain team finishing 3rd. "

Olga Kevelos

ISDT star and party animal who liked "playing with the boys".

Olga Kevelos

See also Anny Deim (Calthorpe), Marjorie Dare, Jackie Dare, Debenham Sisters, Maureen Swift (wall of death), Anka-Eve Goldmann and others.

Ero Sidecars was founded 1934 at the city of Oberursel by Anna Trauth.

Helga Heinrich-Steudel raced MZ motorcycles and Formula One cars.

Marlene Parker, Monza 1965.

In her form-fitting all-white leathers she took the miniscule 50cc streamliner to 130mph, shattering the record. Or so some reports stated.

Marlene Parker

Elizabeth Cotton Cotton Motorcycles

Signora Isora Negri owned and ran Meteora of Bolgona for ten years.

Maria Aspesi, whose father was a Viberti dealer in Gallarate, founded Moto Aspes which built quite successful sports motorcycles and offroad racers from 1967 to 1982. At the time these were some of the fastest available.
Aspes History

The Benelli company was established by Teresa Benelli in Pesaro in order to support her six sons, having been widowed. She produced her first motorcycles in 1921.

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