MOTORCYCLE HERO: ELSPETH BEARD
THE LONE RIDER
The first British woman to ride a motorcycle around the world and become an award-winning architect, Elspeth Beard.
Beard was born on April 28th, 1959. She started learning how to ride motorbikes at the age of 16 and bought her first bike a year later. It wasn’t until 1979 that she bought her famous BMW 60/6.
Beard was studying architecture in London, and began to feel unsure about her future. She had ridden around Ireland, Scotland and Europe, and in the summer of 1981, rode a BMW R75/5 across America. After breaking up with her boyfriend the following year she decided she needed to clear her head and thought about whether she could ride her bike around the world.
For the moment, this seemed like a crazy dream that could never happen. But why not? Beard began soul searching, asking herself if architecture was her future and if not, what could make her happy?
Raising money for her globe-trotting dream would not be easy, Beard would need to fund it herself. Her mother had tried talking her out of the trip a few months before her departure and in a last attempt, threatened to disinherit her. Regardless, she worked tirelessly for months in a pub to save up for her trip. She managed to put away £2,600, of which she said “… I knew it wasn’t enough, but if you wait until everything is going to be perfect, then you never go!”
There was no plan for this journey and, for many of the places she would visit, no map. Beard had some idea how much it would cost to get herself and her bike to the US. She could only hope she would have enough left over to get to New Zealand and Australia.
On October 2nd, 1982, Beard flew to New York to begin her adventure. She had planned how to trek across the US by riding 400-500 miles a day, but soon learned to enjoy her freedom and not pressure herself with time.
Upon arriving in Sydney, she had just $50 to her name. Luckily, there were friends she could stay with until she could fund the next leg of her journey. In the day, she would work at an architectural practice – which would also be part of her university work experience – and in the evenings she’d work in a pub, to save as much as possible.
It would have been very hard in the 80s to plan a budget as flights, shipping and any other useful information weren’t readily available. In short, there was no way of knowing how long the trip might take or how long until she would get back home.
After riding across Australia she shipped her bike to Singapore and travelled through Malaysia and Thailand and then on to India, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran. In India she met a Dutch motorcyclist also on a BMW and they continued the journey together.
Crossing Iran proved to be a mission for Beard and her companion, as the Iran-Iraq war was being carried out. They were then given a 7-day transit visa, which allowed them to travel through Iran. Upon arriving in Turkey, Beard was seriously ill with hepatitis and stopped at the first hotel they came across. The Turkish Secret Police thought it was suspect that two westerners coming from Iran would stop in Turkey and believed they were peddling drugs. This resulted in the police bursting in their room, pulling apart their luggage and stripping their bikes down in search of narcotics.
Beard loves travelling to this day and has travelled a lot since her big trip. She believes you can’t stop once you’ve undergone such an amazing adventure. She was and still is very happy with her BMW 60/6. After travelling 70,000 miles together, Beard recalled “I don’t think there are many bikes that could have gone through what she did and got me home, but I was very good at looking after her, servicing her religiously, change the oils on time and in the end nursed her home.”
In 1984, she arrived back in the UK, returned to university to finish her degree in architecture and in 1988, bought a decommissioned water tower which she spent seven years building her home into. The redesigned Munstead Water Tower in Godalming went on to win five architectural awards including the 1994 RIBA Regional award for South East England.
In 2017, Beard was invited to join an all-ladies riding tour to Pakistan. They would stop and visit schools along the way and talk to Pakistani women, inspiring and encouraging them, as well as teaching them how to ride motorbikes.
For riders who are curious about doing a similar trip, Beard recommends they learn everything about their bike. “You don’t have to be an amazing mechanic, just buy a Haynes manual, get yourself some basic tools and follow the instructions.”
To learn more about Elspeth Beard’s journey, pick up a copy of her book “Lone Rider – The First Woman to Motorcycle Around the World”, avaliable on her website, Waterstones and Amazon.
Elspeth Beard has ridden motorbikes for over 40 years now and says she always will. On this National Women’s Day, we celebrate her and the many inspiring women in our lives.
All images in this article are copyrighted to elspethbeard.com
09/03/19: such a cool and interesting lady
08/03/19: Had the pleasure of listening to Elspeth do a talk on her round the world experience, and it was so interesting! She’s also a really lovely person :) total inspiration
08/03/19: She's doing a talk where I work today - I'm sneaking in for a listen!
08/03/19: Top Woman!
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