Itom Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Beryl Swain IOM Racer

Beryl Swain was the first woman to compete in a solo Isle of Man TT race, on a 50cc Itom in 1962. As may be noted in the commentary to the video below, the sexism was appalling. It got worse.

The following year Beryl had her international racing license revoked and was banned from competition by the FIM solely on basis of her sex, as were all other women, a ban which persisted until 1978.

She fought it, unsuccessfully, for some time before finally hanging up her leathers for good.

In her IOM debut she achieved 22nd place - a good deal faster than the vast majority of male riders could achieve, and on one of the most thrilling - and dangerous - racetracks in the world.

Her efforts bore fruit. In 2009 Jenny Tinmouth came to the fore, winning numerous world records including a near 120mph lap of the Isle of Man. That same year, Carolynn Sells was the first woman in history to win an IOM Manx Grand Prix.

Born 1936 in Walthamstow, Beryl married Eddie Swain in 1952. Eddie ran a local motorcycle shop, and her interest in the sport was soon was piqued. Eddie fettled, and Beryl spread her wings at Snetterton and Brands Hatch, and then on the Isle of Man. Following her debut, she announced her plans to return the following year. It is believed that the sporting body was afraid of the negative publicity engendered should she be killed, and took the regrettable step to ban her, and all women, from international competition.

Excerpts from a transcript of the Pathe film:
"Mrs Beryl Swain is a housewife with an unusual hobby for a woman -- she competes in motorcycle races."
“Slowly but surely, women, the weaker sex are muscling in on man’s domain.”

Thankfully this type of chauvinistic language has become far less common - except perhaps with those under the spell of a certain US politician.

In later life, having separated from her husband, Beryl worked as a manager with Salisbury's in London. She died, at the age of 71, in 2007.

  • Women in Motorcycling