Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorney: It’s a shorter list, if you name the places Theresa Wallach DIDN’T go on a motorcycle. Born in 1909 and raised in London, her parents never wanted her to fall in love with cycles as she did; she learned to ride against her parents’ wishes. In fact, when she began winning in competitive trials, scrambles and road racing, they made her hide her trophies — a female motorcyclist was disapproved of in London in the 1930s.
Still, Theresa’s lifelong love affair was with motorcycles, and each chapter of her life brought her a new way and a new venue for her passion. She used her 90 years to overcome gender prejudices and riding conditions, to become a motorcycle racer and adventurer, a British military dispatch rider, an engineer and author, a motorcycle dealer and mechanic, and a motorcycle riding school instructor.
She won a scholarship in 1928, to study engineering at what is now the City University in London. But by 1935, she and her travelling companion Florence Blenkiron were the first people — male OR female — to cross the Sahara Desert on motorcycles. Their itinerary ran from London to Cape Town, South Africa! The trek across equatorial Africa, and South to the Cape, was a radical motorcycle journey, complete with nomads, sandstorms, blistering heat, torrential rains, rivers, breakdowns, and arguments with the French Foreign Legion for permission to pass — plus gorillas, lions, snakes and befriending native people to stay in African villages. We know all of this because Theresa chronicled the journey in her book, “The Rugged Road.”
In 1939, she won a prized Brooklands Gold Star for topping 100mph. She was the first woman to accomplish this, and she did it on a borrowed 350cc single-cylinder Norton! During World War II, she became the first woman dispatch rider in the British army, and spent seven years in active service. Theresa dreamed of touring North America by motorcycle, and in 1947 she began a two-and-a-half-year trek with just her bike and her sleeping bag, covering more than 32,000 miles through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
In 1952 when she returned to England, she realized she liked the U.S. better. She eventually settled in Chicago, and opened her own dealership selling and servicing British bikes. It was the dealership that pointed her toward her future destiny: when three male customers came in to buy BSA bikes in 1959, she saw how completely inexperienced they were on cycles. Theresa refused to sell them the bikes until she had taught them the basics of riding. Teaching those men one-on-one showed her the value of that kind of teaching; she sold her shop in 1973 to move to Phoenix and create the Easy Riding Academy. Theresa insisted that one-to-one was the ultimate teaching ratio. Along with running her school, Wallach helped form The Women’s International Motorcycling Association and became its first vice president. Her book “Easy Motorcycle Riding” was published in 1970, teaching people to be better and safer riders, and generating TV and newspaper publicity about her.
Theresa took initiative to create her own life and dreams and showed us all how to follow our own. Motorcycles were the vehicle of change in her life, as with many of the women in motorcycling today. The Sturgis Buffalo Chip® honors these women and more during their annual Biker Belles event, celebrating real women, real stories and real fun. Join the Biker Belles™ Wednesday August 8th during the Sturgis rally and share your journey while supporting a great cause. www.bikerbelles.com.
After the Biker Belles event, Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys® will continue the celebration at the Top Shelf Suite at the Legendary Sturgis Buffalo Chip. BAM members (Free Breakdown and Legal Assistance for Motorcyclists) who win tickets will score the best seats in the house for the nights concerts – details soon to be announced.