Monday, October 9, 2017

A Review of Motorcycling for Women by Nancy and Betty Debenham (1928) By BOKUS

The year this book was written was a period of great optimism; 62 nations renounced the use of war to resolve disputes and the sun shone, a fortnight in July that year recorded temperatures of 90 degrees and no rain. Significantly 'Motorcycling for Women' was published in 1928, when women achieved an equal voting age with men at 21. The book reflects a golden period when there were more motorcycles on the road than cars and anyone could ride a motorcycle at 14 without passing a test or wearing a helmet. You will see from the photographs in this book that the authors Nancy and Betty Debenham were attractive, adventurous and happy young ladies who thoroughly enjoyed their motorcycling. The sisters became poster girls for BSA motorcycles in 1927.

The Debenham Sisters Light Up While Out Motorcycling
However, they were also hardy, tough, brave, knowledgeable and resilient motorcyclists in their own right and not just selected for their looks. Indeed, Nancy won a Gold Medal at Brooklands Racetrack in 1926. They were often accompanied on their journeys by their little dog Poncho who would sometimes stowaway in the sidecars and cars of strangers. They were part of a small but very enthusiastic band of female motorcyclists who took part in all kinds of motorcycle events; including gymkhanas, trials and journeys to foreign parts. By modern standards the sisters escapades in riding a sidecar outfit with just a few minutes training, finding a certain lack of brakes and clutch and tying the sidecar on with rope would give a present day health and safety officer a heart attack. However, I'm sure none of these events were particularly unusual in the twenties. Perhaps some of the more enlightened manufacturers saw the equalisation of the voting age as a chance open up a new market at a time when motorcycle sales had dipped due to the introduction of cheap cars such as the Austin 7. This book seems to be part of a concerted campaign by British Motorcycle Manufacturers to promote motorcycling for women. However, in his introduction Major Watling (Director of the British Motorcycle Manufacturers Union) manages to reveal something of the prevailing attitudes to women motorcyclists at the time: 'Whilst none would wish the fair daughters of Eve to emulate the example of rude Adam at Brooklands or the Isle of Man' and 'motorcycling is well suited to the daintiest face and most elegant figure - it is not now only the enthralling occupation of the dirty handed schoolboy'. Although some manufacturers produced ladies models and promoted women riders on official factory brochures this did not result in large scale sales. Indeed women only occupied 4% of the market in the UK. Overall 'Motorcycling for Women' is a Cheery, Practical guide to Motorcycling in the 1920's written by two sisters who just loved motorcycling.

Nota Bene: Motorcycling for Women by Nancy and Betty Debenham (1928) was republished as a paperback in 2015 by Classic Motorcycle Manuals.

About Nancy and Betty Debenham

Betty and Nancy Debenham were a pair of young adventurous lady motorcyclists who entered trials competitions on equal terms with men in the 1920's. Although they were serious motorcyclists they never let this get in the way of their tremendous sense of fun. Their spirit shines through in 'Motor Cycling for Women'. A practical and yet at times eccentric and quirky book from a bye-gone era that will make you smile.

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