A few weeks ago, I stopped by the Post Vintage Race Gathering over at Motorgrrl. It was a fundraiser honoring AHRMA National champion Tim Joyce. He needed a little help from the moto-community for some much-needed health care.
Dave Roper was also there as a featured guest and is a regular fixture around the Brooklyn motorcycle scene. Dave was the first American to win the Isle of Man TT back in 1984. We're graced with his presence mostly at Moto GP showings around town, but he was there to help out an old racing comrad. Check out this interview with Dave here.
As a few of us were standing about and listening, we wondered, what woman would race the Isle of Man TT? The name Beryl Swain came up. Did she win? How long did she race? I jotted this down to look up when I had a moment. Here is what I know…
Facts You Didn't Know About the Isle of Man TT
The Isle of Man TT began in 1907 and was 15 miles long, TT stands for Tourist Trophy. The race is held on the streets of the Isle of Man, which is an island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland.
Today, one lap is 37.75 miles with the Superbike class racing 6 laps with a total length of 226.5 miles. Top racers average about 130 mph, with the current top speed record at 206mph reached by Bruce Anstey in 2006. The current average speed record-holder to date in 2018 was achieved by Peter Hickman at 135.452.
Watching "Hicky's" on-board camera feeds give me goosebumps…
Needless to say, the TT has become the world’s most dangerous motorcycle race claiming over 270 racers since 1907. The beautiful Manx streets plus the extreme danger-factor brings a certain type of racer to even attempt this kind of racing.
Who is Beryl Swain and Why Did She Decide to Race?
This made me wonder what brought Beryl Swain to attempt this race as the first female solo rider in 1962? Her husband, Eddie Swain, most likely introduced her to the sport. He was a mechanic and an experienced rider.
They say Beryl didn't throw a leg over until 1959. This means she only had 3 years of experience as a rider when she took on the TT.
Apparently, she took to it like a fish to water. A reporter took notice and caught up to her after the race. She said, "My hands were frozen round the twist grip, but I was told I managed to get within three seconds of the lap record for the 50cc class”. She finished 22nd in the 50cc class on an Italian 50cc Itom, which had lost its top gear in the second lap.
Beryl was completely hooked and looked forward to returning the following year. She was determined to get closer to that lap-record. However, The International Federation of Motorcycling revoked her racing license preventing her from being able to legally compete.
Reading what happened to her next made me angry. I'm grateful I don’t live in an era where women are made out to be fragile and dainty.
"Women, the weaker sex, are muscling in on man’s domain, practically no sport is sacred,” said one reporter at the time….
-video from British Path TV
The reason they gave for revoking her license was that the death of a female rider would be bad press for the IFM. They said “…having a man racer get injured or worse is one thing, but race organizers were not prepared to take the risk of something like that happening to a woman.”
Swain tried to get her license reinstated and appealed to everyone she could. She even turned to the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, but to no avail. Beryl was never able to race again. It wasn’t until 16 years later in 1978 that another woman would be allowed to compete in the Isle of “Man”.
Which Women Ride the Isle of Man TT today?
Today, only a handful of women race each year, most on sidecars. I had trouble researching the most recent women who've raced the Isle of Man, but found some gems while looking for them.
Jenny Tinmouth broke the Guinness Book Record Holder for the Fastest Female Rider Lap at the Isle of Man TT in 2009. She broke her own record again in 2010.
Jenny had a perspective on what it’s like to race the TT in this short interview.
I’m not exactly sure what happened to Jenny after that because in 2014, 40 year old Maria Costello was the only solo female competitor that year and was the first woman to claim a podium finish at the Isle of Man TT. Here is more on this accomplished female racer, Maria Costello.
Hands down, the most unusual story of a female racer has to be of Claire Lomas. Paralyzed from the shoulders down, she trained to race in the Isle of Man TT Grand Prix. Her aim is to raise money for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.
I found this video of Claire learning to ride a race bike with controls made for a paraplegic.
However, The Manx Motor Cycle Club, which authorizes the road circuit races, decided to abort her mission this year due to her level of experience motorcycling to date. She stated, “…if I get to do the challenge another year then the more experienced I am the better it will be.” And, “I respect their reasons and am focusing on gaining more experience."
I have to say, I really thought I would be able to find out more about female racers, but am surprised that there still are so few. Maybe I’m lucky that I know so many amazing female riders, some who race, most who ride just for the fun of riding.