Friday, December 23, 2022

Off-road with Royal Enfield and Mrs. Riley

Woman sidecar rider attacks hill.
Mary Riley and Royal Enfield attack Hardknott Pass in 1915.
(Photo from Motorcycle Timeline.) 

 Mary Riley, "the noted Enfield enthusiast" smilingly suggests a half-day roaming the hills on her Royal Enfield 8-horsepower Royal Enfield sidecar rig in a magazine account entitled "With a Lady Pilot Over Lakeland Heights." 

Published in The Motorcyclist on Jan. 1, 1920, the account written by passenger George D. Abraham describes a delightful jaunt "from Keswick on a perfect afternoon with sunny Skiddaw all draped in full splendor of heather and golden bracken." 

The party of three hopes to find and conquer "the old packhorse road which ascends directly from near Thornthwaite." Their mount, a then new Royal Enfield model, would be aided by its two-speed gears of 1:5 and 1:8.7. 

Nevertheless, the hill climb proves rugged, and writer Abraham is forced to get off and walk up. But the Royal Enfield and woman pilot made it. 

"Ladies know all about 'hairpins' and the treacherous sample now engaging attention was negotiated most skillfully. Up and up the sturdy machine came, bumping and swerving as the driver keenly felt for firm grip on the steep, rugged gradient. At one point an unusual obstacle, in the shape of a drooping branch from an oak tree, had to be dodged cleverly below the toughest struggle, but this was passed, and ere long the writer was left to walk upwards with only the song of a pretty mountain stream stirring the soft silences of the gorge." 

I encountered an excerpt of this article in the 1920 section of the blog Motorcycle Timeline, by Brit Dave Richmond, which I heartily recommend for deep nostalgic dives into motorcycling as experienced by early riders.

A bit more of the same article appears in Jorge Pullin's blog My Royal Enfields.

Jorge even provides modern views of some of the sights Mary Riley and company saw in that long ago day. They remain inspirational.

Jorge's blog introduces us to Mrs. Riley, of Birmingham, writing in her own words on March 20, 1915. At the time she was using a 6-horsepower Royal Enfield sidecar outfit. She wrote:

"I learnt to drive on a 3.5-h.p. with side-car, but quickly decided to buy a 6-h.p. Royal Enfield. I became so accustomed to this outfit, and its reliability, that I decided to try competition work, and have done remarkably well. My Royal Enfield has never failed on one hill, and I have now covered over 15,000 miles on it."

Her words appeared in Royal Enfield's 1916 pamphlet "The Lady Drives," published to encourage women riders to buy Royal Enfield's motorcycles equipped with sidecars. Apparently this was believed more manageable for ladies or, at least, they would not be venturing out unaccompanied by a passenger.

The brochure concluded that "Mrs. Riley is probably one of the most experienced lady motor cyclists of to-day."

Probably true, but the overall impression the 1916 pamphlet leaves is less flattering for women riders. Jorge gives us its conclusion:

"'Mechanics' is a terrifying word to the average fair reader, but with a Royal Enfield Side-car Model the pleasures of travelling and touring are never blended with any thoughts of mechanism. For that reason the reliable Royal Enfield is essentially the one model for the lady driver."

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