A search for the first pioneer women motorcyclists yields very little before 1916, when Adeline (1884–1959) and Augusta Van Buren (1889–1949) became the world’s first women to ride across North America – on two Indian Power Plus motorcycles.
The early history in Britain is even sketchier: Born in 1900, Marjorie Cottle was one of the UK’s first female professional racers – but did not become famous until 1924. Indeed, in 1925 the ACU (Auto-Cycle Union) banned women from road racing, so Cottle moved to dirt track racing, with great success.
Another famous woman motorcyclist was Beatrice Shilling. In the late 1920s she was awarded the Brooklands Gold Star for lapping the circuit at more than 100 mph, one of only three women to achieve this. She was also a highly qualified engineer: recruited by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, she developed what became known as “Miss Shilling’s Orifice” – the fuel restrictor that stopped Spitfire and Hurricane Merlin engines losing power in steep turns, and thus almost certainly saved the lives of many British pilots.
But this week’s Snapshot takes us back earlier – to July 1910 – when Miss L. Berend entered the ACU quarterly trials from Uxbridge to Banbury and back. Her mount was a Swiss-made Moto-Rêve (“Dream Bike”); the name can just be seen on the side of the fuel tank.
Built in Geneva, Moto-Rêve machines were similar to those of Motosacoche, also made in Geneva. The company was founded in 1906 and from 1907 they were supplying V-twin engines to the British Norton company, who displayed the bikes at the Olympia show on the Moto-Rêve stand and named them the “Norton Energette”.
Moto-Rêve machines were also marketed in England as MR and Alp. The first Moto-Rêve “Model A” comprised a 2hp 274cc V-twin with automatic inlet valves placed in a bicycle frame without any change.
A report from the 1907 Stanley Show in Islington praised the company’s products – and alluded to the motorcycle in our Snapshot – a “lady’s motor cycle”:
“The little machine is well thought out, and well designed spring forks are fitted. One of the machines shown on the stand is fitted with the Druid spring forks, which allows for a rim brake being used. A new model which should not be missed is the Moto Reve lady’s motor cycle, which is, unfortunately, in an unfinished condition, the necessary parts had not arrived by the time the show ended. When completed the machine will weigh 80 lbs. The engine is carried in a looped frame, and flaps will be provided to protect the lady’s clothing.”
In addition to the V-twin engine, our Snapshot shows the looped frame and the protective flap over the engine.
The company did well up to 1914, but sadly faded way after World War I.
Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive.