Powersports is often viewed as a male-dominated industry—and indeed, many important contributions to the field have been made by men. But women have been integral to the development of high-speed vehicles and the culture that surrounds them as well, and their contributions are acknowledged far less often. We’re not making that mistake here today.
Read on to learn about 10 influential women whose work rocked the powersports industry. As you’ll soon see, women have been part of powersports from the very beginning, and they’re still making history today. Let’s shine a light on some of these kick-ass ladies.
#1: The Van Buren Sisters
Most folks weren’t used to seeing women riding motorcycles during WWI, but the Van Buren sisters set out to change that. The great-great granddaughters of former US President Martin Van Buren, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren became dispatch riders and carried messages across America on their 1000cc Indian PowerPlus motorcycles.
Traversing more than 5,000 miles of terrain (including cow paths and dirt trails when they ran out of road), Adeline and Augusta proved that motorcycles were versatile and useful vehicles. Paul “Dare Devil” Derkum (who broke 10 consecutive speed records on an Indian V-twin 5HP factory racer at a dirt track in a single session), once called their journey “one of the most noteworthy trips ever accomplished”.
#2: Maria Costello
Maria Costello hasn’t just logged more time in the saddle than the rest of us have on our couches—she’s also the only woman ever to have been awarded The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (so far, anyway), and her contributions to powersports are practically the stuff of legend.
Where do we begin? Maria Costello was the first woman to snatch a podium finish for the Isle of Man TT course, winning a total of eight Manx Grand Prix Silver Replicas and one TT Bronze Replica during her career of over 20 years. She also made Best TT Finish in the 12th Lightweight TT Class, set the fastest Female Lap Record at Northwest 200, and racked a Guiness World Record under her belt by being fastest rider to lap the Snaefell Mountain Course (with an average speed of 114.73 mph). Let’s just say she’s a big deal.
#3: Bertha Benz
Most of us recognize the name of Karl Benz—or at least, we’re used to seeing his last name after the word “Mercedes”. But this patriarch of the powersports industry might never have found success if not for a spontaneous decision on the part of his wife, Bertha.
Not only did Bertha’s entire dowry go toward funding Karl’s dream of inventing a gasoline-powered vehicle with an internal combustion engine—but when he struggled to convince potential investors to take a chance on his odd-looking machine (the not-so-glamorously-titled Benz Patent-Motorwagen), she provided the stroke of marketing genius that finally convinced them to get on board.
On 5 August, 1888, Bertha—counting on the scandal it would cause—hopped into the carriage of her husband’s car with her two sons and, without a word to her hubby, drove the contraption from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Her plan worked; she completed the route and succeeded at becoming both the world’s greatest PR agent and most spontaneous wife in one fell swoop.
Karl Benz’s work was financed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
#4: Anne-France Dautheville
Anne-France Dautheville was bananas for motorcycles—she had just traveled from France to Iran, completing the Orion-Raid motorcycle tour on a Moto Guzzi 750 and authoring her first book about the experience. But upon her arrival back in Paris, she was slapped in the face with a slew of rumors stating that she hadn’t completed the tour—that she was, in fact, just a groupie floozy who followed behind on a support truck.
Furious, Dautheville decided to shut up that shallow gossip in the best way she knew how: by completing a solo ride around the world on her motorcycle, and being the first woman to do so.
Dautheville succeeded at her task, covering 12,500 miles (20,000 km) over three continents. Her route started in Montreal in July of 1973 on a Kawasaki 125, and she finished her massive trip towards the end of November that same year. Her second book was hugely popular—and as for the gossip, there wasn’t a peep after her return.
In her words, quoted from The Vintagent: “This trip has taught me two things: That I am built to travel alone, and that I must have a bike I can pick up by myself.”
#5: Patsy Quick
The Dakar Rally’s original Africa route was a gruelling race. It was considered one of the most risky in the world, and the need to endure two-straight-weeks of extreme temperatures didn’t make the terrain any easier. But Patsy Quick was determined not to let that stop her.
Quick first attempted the Dakar Rally in 2003, but suffered a messy accident that required the removal of her spleen. Most people would give up after something like that, but not her—she healed and made two more attempts, becoming the first woman to complete the rally in 2006.
Today, Patsy divides her time between caring for her clients’ motorbikes and mentoring at her Desert Rose Racing academy. She still completes Rallies as well—although her original love, the African Dakar, is long gone.
#6: Lois Pryce
In 2003, Lois Pryce left a job with BBC music and undertook a 10-month motorcycle journey that spanned some 20,000 miles between Alaska and Argentina. A book (Lois on the Loose) soon followed—and that was just the beginning.
Today, Lois Pryce has three books under her belt, along with numerous travel articles for publications that include The Telegraph and The New York Times. She also co-founded The Adventure Travel Film Festival with her husband, fellow long-distance motorcyclist and filmmaker Austin Vince.
#7: Debbie Evans
A former observed trials competitor and current motorcycle stunt performer, Debbie Evans learned how to ride a motorcycle at the age of 6. When she was just 19, she competed in the notoriously difficult Scottish Six Days Trial—and earned a respectable 4th place finish in the 175cc division.
Evans also became known for performing her signature trick at exhibition shows—during which she stood on her head while balanced on the seat of her bike as it rested upright with the kickstand raised. This prowess eventually led to a career in motorcycle stunts for film and TV; Evans has appeared in over 200 productions to date, including The Matrix Reloaded.
#8: Bessie Stringfield
One of the US Army’s few civilian dispatchers during WWII, Bessie Stringfield was also the first African-American woman to ride solo across the United States. Her exploits earned her a place in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and the American Motorcyclist Association’s “Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist” award is named in her honour.
Stringfield continued riding right up until her death in 1993, when she was in her early 80s. Her riding career included 7 additional long-distance trips across the US, as well as travels throughout Europe, Haiti, and Brazil.
#9: Laia Sanz
Most people would be content to win a Women’s Trial World Championship once, but that wasn’t enough for Laia Sanz. She’s been named a World Champion no less than 14 times, and is also a 10-time Women’s Trial European Champion in outdoor motorcycle trials.
Like Debbie Evans, Sanz began riding motorcycles when she was still a child. She also won the first edition of the Women’s Trial European Championship when she was only 12 years old and competing against a host of more experienced riders. Since then, she has participated numerous times in the Dakar Rally, and has also earned a name for herself as an auto racer.
#10: Ana Carrasco Gabarrón
The first woman in history to win a World Championship in solo motorcycle road racing, Ana Carrasco Gabarrón rode her first minibike when she was only 3 years old. She has since competed in the 125cc Extremeño Speed Championship, the 125cc Murcia-Pre-GP Championship, the FIM CEV International Championship (where she was the first woman ever to score points in the series), the CEV Moto3 Championship—all before age 15.
Ana Carrasco Gabarrón earned her World Champion title in 2017, during the Supersport 300 World Championship. Despite fracturing 2 thoracic vertebrae in a 2020 accident, she continues to race competitively and shows no signs of slowing down.