35 years ago, Elspeth Beard became the first British woman to ride solo around the world, and she accomplished this feat aboard an aging BMW Boxer. The book Lone Rider tells her tale, and RC regular Ian Woolley has read it…
I first met Elspeth Beard when I was on a tour of Europe organised by Nick Sanders. She was there as one of the support team, and became a vital part of the organisation on the trip. When I first met her, I thought she was a lovely, intelligent, articulate lady but I was ignorant of the legend. Here was THE FIRST British woman to ride around the world and I didn’t know. Nor did she let on. She just carried on with what must have been quite a stressful job of helping to manage a disparate group of motorcyclists as we made our syncopated way around Europe.
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That was in 2004 and very shortly afterwards there was a write-up of her trip in one of the motorcycling magazines. I remember thinking that it would be brilliant if there were a book of her trip. After 13 years: here it is! And what a good read it is too. The book starts with a thumbnail sketch of her family life and how she came to be setting out on such a magnificent adventure. The details of her upbringing are germane to the rest of the book and not just an ego trip. In fact, the book is remarkably free from ego; Elspeth details her trip with wit and humility, including the highlights and low points in a way that makes me (and I suspect you) wish you were there.
The trip itself was a round-the-world journey starting from London, going to New York, through North America from east to west, to New Zealand, Australia, through Indonesia, to India, then back to Britain via Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia. The bike was a BMW R60/6 that started the journey with over 45,000 miles on the clock.
The BM did not have an easy time of the trip, ending up in a hedge bottom more than once, but Elspeth mended and maintained it so that it completed its journey. It’s a testament to BMW and to her skill and ingenuity. Here was a 600cc roadster that managed to cope with pretty much any road surface you can imagine, completing the 35,000-mile trip. There are those who would tell you that you need a 1200c Bavarian off-road behemoth to go to Filey these days.
The book is just over 300 pages and includes many personal images from the trip. It also includes an appendix that details the tools and spares that she took, the service schedule for the bike and the fuel consumption and prices paid. It is much more that a list of places and happenings: it is a very human story beautifully and honestly retold. It is a proper page-turner too. You really do want to see what happens next.
Yes, I know that you start the book with a presumption that she returns to England, but you do want to know how, and what happens on the way. The book is also very accessible: it is easy to read for non-motorcyclists and equally enjoyable – a rare thing in motorcycle travel books.
I’d love to start telling you all about the crashes, the people that she met, the romances, the sex pests, the effort of digging an Australian Road Train out of the gloop, but you really should read it in Elspeth’s words: they’re far better than mine. Suffice it to say this book has become one of the favourites in my shelves.
RC reviewer Ian Woolley
Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard is published by Michael O’Mara Books in hardback, RRP £14.99