Wake Up Ladies!

Some chaps still become over-excited by the very idea of women riding motor cycles. In the early years of the 20th century they were certainly a rare breed but a determined one typified by Mrs Edward Kennard (married women were denied Christian names of their own in the pre-suffrage era) who wrote the following incitement to ride…

TWO YEARS AGO (in 1901), several manufacturers exhibited ladies’ motor bicycles at the Stanley and Crystal Palace shows. Messers Bayliss, Thomas & Co, Mr Citroen, Mr Van Hooydonk, Mr Dan Albone and the Singer Co all made praiseworth attempts to introduce a machine adapted for the use of the fair sex.
That these bicycles were not perfect in every respect was only to be expected. Nevertheless, had female cyclists displayed a greater spirit of enterprise, undoubtedly in a short time their wants would have still better catered for. There is no greater mistake than to wait for perfection. Moreover, man is so constituted that even were perfection attained, it is questionable whether he would derive half as much enjoyment as from a mount which delights him one minute, perplexes him the next, aggravates him the third, and restores him to good humour the fourth. The motor-bicycle of today, with all its defects, is a supremely interesting conveyance.

“Mrs Hulbert on her motor cycle. This lady is well known in Putney for her sporting proclivities… at the present time when lady motor cyclists are distinctly rare, her appearance always creates quite a sensation. Her bicycle was built by the Booth Motor Co of Putney.”

Personally, I ordered an ‘Ivel’ there and then and rode it over a thousand miles last season without anyone in attendance. My husband accused me of obstinancy, disobedience and I know not what: but I stuck to my guns–or, rather, my bicycle–and in the end converted him to the fascinations of the pastime. [So the vice-president of the MCC was introduced to motor cycling by his wife. I wonder if his clubmates knew?]
With sincere regret I noticed this winter that the number of ladies’ machines had diminished rather then increased. On inquiring the reason for this apparent retrogression I was informed on all sides that the ladies were holding aloof, and but a limited number had even made preliminary interrogations respecting motors. Having received so little encouragement the manufacturers did not persevere in their attempts to put an improved machine on the market. The consequence was at the latest shows I only saw one lady’s bicycle–the ‘Singer’. It is high time for the fair sex to wake up and to overcome their initial fear.
Anyone who has ridden a free-wheel will soon find herself at home on the mechanically propelled mount. Why should men have the field all to themselves? Among their number there are novices quite as ignorant and quite as stupid as any member of the fair sex. Everybody must make a start and everybody can learn, if disposed. A great many women have husbands or brothers who would help them when any little difficulty arises, and far nicer it is to ride a bicycle of one’s own than to be propelled in a trailer of forecarriage like a bundle of inanimate goods…If you mean to ride you may as well learn how to ride properly. Every sound of the engine ought to be familiar. and a quick ear should detect the smallest irregularitiy in the explosions…
I candidly avow that what to wear is a problem not easy of solution. If the roads are muddy, the feet and skirt must inevitably suffer to a certain extent, and good clothes are thrown away. Nothing is more serviceable than a strong tweed that will stand any amount of brushing. The best colours are grey or fawn. In winter a very warm jacket is imperative. At the same time it must be light enough not to impede the movements when dismounted. Big sleeves and capacious pockets are both useful and comfortable. Whatever headgear is selected, it should remain firm. No flowers, feathers, or fancy ribbons are permissable in conjunction with a motor bicycle. Furbelows are ridiculously out of place.

1903 lady's perkins
James Perkins of Leyton built the Crownfield lady’s model with a 2¼hp Kerry engine; nervous damsels were assured: “The control is very simple and the engine can be run at a very slow speed.” The rider is Miss Perkins.

The rider will find an extra pocket on the left side of her skirt invaluable. In this she can stow away a good piece of spare rag wherewith to wipe her hands after any little repair; neither should she go out without a sharp knife. Her toolbag should be carefully stocked, for if any of the requisite implements are wanted she will soon find herself stranded. She must make a point of carrying one, if not two, spanners, a pair of long-nosed pliers, a screwdriver, a spare plug and trembler, also a platinum-pointed screw, some copper wire (stout and fine), a few nuts and bolts, and a spare exhaust valve that has been previously fitted. For testing the accumulators, nothing is as useful as a small lamp. A voltmeter is apt to prove deceptive, especially after the battery has been standing still. Experience alone can teach the numerous wrinkles familiar to the expert…Little by little knowledge is acquired until the difficulties fade which seemed insuperable once.
There are women and women. I should not dream of recommending a motor bicycle to that section of feminine riders who fly to the nearest cycle agent to pump up their tyres, mend a puncture, or any similar trifle. They are wise in not courting disaster.
But others have good heads on their shoulders are natty and quick, and know enough about their mounts to undertake tours of several hundred miles by themselves. These can master the intricacies of a motor bicycle if they are so minded.
I do not say they could handle a broken crank or connecting rod on the road. But they can acquire the elementary rudiments of electricity, so as to distinguish a high-tension wire from the primary circuit. They can screw a plug in and out, clean and set the points, put a belt on and take it off, shorten it, tighten up the contact screw, file the platinum points, attend to the carburetter (sic), and perform a variety of similar jobs which require knack and a certain amount of experience.
Where the lady fails is in strength. She cannot often make the obstinate nut yield which has been tightened up by masculine force. But every ride will teach her something, and by degrees the puzzle which at first seemed hopeless of unravelling will appear comparatively simple. If the worst comes to the worst the novice can always remove her belt and pedal to the nearest railway station. But this expedient need very rarely be resorted to. When time is not of importance it will be found more satisfactory to wheel the machine to a quiet corner and prosecute a systematic search for the cause of the stoppage. Often it may be easily found. A terminal shaken loose from the battery, a faulty sparking plug or a dirty trembler may prove the sole cause of the trouble.
Women nowadays are capable of so much that I do not believe they will allow themselves to be beaten as they have already conquered the majority of sports and pastimes. If they do so with feminine grace and tact, men will welcome them cordially and do their utmost to assist and instruct. But ladies whould be careful in one respect. They must not attempt to ape their male companions either as regards dress or performances. That would be fatal to their best interests. Nobody wants them to ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groat’s in record time, and then pose as champions who have gone one better than professionals. But a sensible woman has a natural intuition of the fitness of things. It is to her I appeal, as belonging to the class who will eventually ride the motor bicycle—the woman of nerve, of courage, of intelligence and of preseverance. To such as one success is assured. Those deficient in the above qualities will have to stand sadly aside and regard their more highly endowed sisters with envious eyes.

1903 ladies mary kennard
The redoubtable Mary Kennard with her trusty Singer.

The formidable Mrs Kennard was by no means the only proponent of motor cycling for what was commonly referred to as the gentle sex 

Motor Cycling for Ladies
AT THE PRESENT time motor cycling is not pursued by many ladies, though there are evidences, and these are increasing daily, which show that the pastime will undoubtedly become a favourite of the fair sex. The great objection from the feminine point of view to motor bicycling is the very general idea that it must of necessity result in the rider besmearing her costume and gloves with oil and dirt, and becoming more or less a grimy object. A good many motor cyclists have a wonderful way of making themselves remarkably dirty every time they go out; but it should be clearly understood that this is not a necessary accompaniment of the pastime.
Quite apart from the necessity of giving foot and dress clearance and entirely protecting the skirt from the possibility of entanglement or soiling, it is needful to remember the majority of ladies will be content with very much lower speeds than the average male cyclist wants. This means a lower gear can be used and a comparatively small and light engine, which in turn permits the use of a lighter bicycle, so that the machine as a whole can safely be considerably lighter than the average bicycle intended for male use.
As it becomes realised that a specially designed and constructed machine for feminine use is available, the demand will undoubtedly grow rapidly, not only because the fair votaries of the sport are sure to make converts among their friends, but also on account of the fact that the trailer and forecarriage are introducing a large number of ladies to the pleasures of motorcycling; but many of them are too active in disposition to relish the inaction and lack of occupation inseperable from the trailer of forecar. A number of them are already quite adept in theory in the management of a motor cycle, and require very little instruction indeed before they will be thoroughly qualified to take charge of and control a motor-propelled cycle.

Mills & Fulford of Coventry made the Milford Duadcar sidecar/trailer. Or fit two, for those times when one popsy simply isn’t enough.

Ladies, know your place…
The readers’ letters you’re about to read were written 15 years before the first women got the vote and 30 years before women routinely wore trousers. Working-class women had no access to the expensive joys of motorcycling. But a minority of plucky gels among their middle-class and upper-class sisters were already cycling, much to the chagrin of ‘traditional’ chaps.

Motor bicycle driving by ladies.
TO MY mind, woman was never made for an engine driver, and has not that cool nerve required so often in motoring. I saw a lady motorist riding a Singer lady’s machine for the first time some fortnight ago at Cambridge, and without being ungallant, I don’t want to see another. Her nervousness was pathetically obvious, and her facial expression was an index to the sustained nervous tension under which she was labouring. I am sure that the natural constitution of the gentler sex is not such that they can extract any pleasure or physical good from such a pastime as motoring, which requires strong nerves, and a cool and ready hand and head.
Of course there are ladies who are made of very much sterner stuff than the majority, but I am sure that if motor cycling is indulged in by ladies, they will be a source of considerable danger, both to themselves and other users of the road, and I pity the poor men when the ladies of the household come home from a hard ride ‘a bundle of nerves’.
The majority of lady cyclists are bad enough in observing the rule of the road and practising gymkhanas all over the place, hopping off in front of one without the slightest warning, riding three abreast, and doing other funny things, but Heaven forbid the lady motorist.

Mary Kennard was never going to let him get away with that…

YOUR CORRESPONDENT ‘SMTB’ seems very nervous where ladies are concerned. I must say I think he is unnecesarily so. I have riden over 2,000 miles on a motor bicycle, and only had one accident. This was occasioned by a male cyclist, who ran into and upset me, as well as himself.
I ride everywhere alone, doing journeys of one hundred miles and under. I do not consider a motor bicycle is pleasant in thick traffic or on greasy trams, but with the Bowden system of control a lady can manage her mount quite easily, and run comparitively few risks if she rides with ordinary prudence.Dogs are the principal danger, and foolish cyclists (male and female) who possess little or no headpiece.
Why forbid the lady motorist? She exists already and will surely increase.
Mary E Kennard

AS A WOMAN, and a rider of a Singer motor bicycle, I would most respectfully call the attention of SNJR to a few facts which he has evidently overlooked.
Far be it from me to take up the pained and painful attitude of a brow-beaten Premier; but is your correspondent fair? I think not.
Every woman (“ladies” preside at wash-tubs!) can do what her particular nature permits her. There are some women, and also men, who ought not to approach within ear-shot of a motor bicycle; but with motors at their present price, the fact that a woman invests in one with the intention of riding it shows she is not one of these. Practice makes perfect, and if circumstances forced the Cambridge motorist into traffic before she felt sure of her mount, she is to be sincerely pited, and not made the subject of an appeal to an even higher power than the local Robert – plus stop-watch. There are, I believe, six women motor bicyclists within the British Isles, and there must be six hundred waiting for the right moment and the right machine.
As for SMJR, all the consolation I can offer is that, despite my best efforts, it seems probable that there is still some little time beetween him and the day his nerves seeem to dread – the period when absolute equality in all things, subject to an individual capability, will be afforded to all human beings, without regard to the somewhat delicate point as to whether they mote in French boots or Stohwasser’s puttie leggings.
Woman – an engine driver

WHEN I penned my recent letter to you I quite anticipated a reply from that well-known lady motor cyclist, Mrs. Kennard. I sincerely hope she has not taken my remarks personally, as she is one of the few exceptions which prove the rule, and one admires her nerve in going in for a pastime-even moderately as she does-such as motor cycling. Even Mrs. Kennard must confess (and should be proud of the fact, perhaps) that she is one of those ladies made of “sterner stuff,” to which I referred.
With regard to your other contributor, who signs herself “Woman-an Engine Driver,” I really cannot see what to answer to her gentle vapourings, as they are pointless. What has the price of motor bicycles got to do with the principle of the suitability or otherwise of motor cycling for ladies (beg pardon – women)? She seems to have gone to some trouble also to ascertain the number of lady (my mistake, I quite forgot – woman) motor cyclists in the British Isles. It would be interesting to learn how she made her census.
I should be very sorry to be forced to the conclusion that “Woman-an Engine Driver,” is a “new woman,” but her concluding paragraph certainly points in that direction. She has entirely misunderstood my letter, and seems to have drifted into the question of that old chestnut, so-called “women’s rights.” I referred to motor cycling for ladies purely from a physical and constitutional point of view.
Neither of your correspondents has disproved my contention that motor cycling, ie, the actual driving of a motor cycle, is particularly unsuitable as a pastime for the “gentler” sex. If they can do so, I will willingly concede my point. As a matter of fact, it is with tremulous feelings that I take the audacious liberty of crossing pens with your fair correspondents, and it is only my conviction that I am right which forces me to do so.

it would be nice to know how each of the three correspondents reacted to the following letter. Women motor cyclists must have had their heads in their hands.

IT MAY interest your lady readers to know I have been using one of Messers Dunhill’s patent safety pins for motor caps for some time, and am quite delighted with it. I had previously found it most unpleasant in windy weather having to hold my cap (or hat) to prevent it blowing up. I have used the pin on both hat and cap with the same result, and am sure every lady will be delighted with it.

1903 lady's norton
Sydney Turner of Derby wanted a lady’s model for Mrs Turner (pictured) so, as he was a Norton dealer, he asked Norton to produce one and they duly obliged. The Motor Cycle reported: “Taking into consideration the fact that lightness and simplicity were of greater necessity on a lady’s machine than one intended for the sterner sex, they adopted the Clement-Gerrard engine, using a spray carburetter and driving with control lever.” The 85lb two-speeder was said to take hills with no need for unladylike LPA.
The contemporary caption read: “Several motorcycling terms illustrated: ‘If tyred hub spoke could he silencer torque?’.” Ho ho ho.

You’ll find an excellent selection of images of pioneer women riders and passengers in Chapter 7 of the Images of Yesteryear section.