A broken heart can lead you to do terrible things, or it can inspire you to do terribly good things. In the case of Elspeth Beard, it was heartache that pushed her to do the latter.
Back in 1982, there were far fewer female riders on the streets of London; it was still a very male dominated world. Elspeth was studying an Architecture course in London and soon met, fell in love and shared her passion with fellow student Alex.
Unfortunately, Alex turned out to be a little bit of a rotter and two years after they met, he left a letter on her kitchen table saying it was over. This is the 80’s version of being dumped via text message. Take note, anyone, thinking of ending a relationship, this is not break-up etiquette.
Devastated Elspeth kept her dignity and continued with her studies, however nursing her broken heart left her scraping through her education with average grades. When she reached the end of that year, she knew she had to do something. So, she did what all strong people do. She gathered up the pieces of her heart and went full on bad ass. Heading out to New York at the tender age of 23, Elspeth decided to take a year out with the other love of her life, a BMW R60/6 Motorcycle.
When she set off on her epic adventure, she had no idea she would become the first woman in the world to motorcycle around the globe. However, after 35,000 miles of solo riding, that is exactly what she became. She says that she found herself on the trip. It made her who she is today.
Riding from New York to Canada, south to Mexico and then back to Los Angeles she points out that traveling back then was completely different to now.
“There was no internet and no satellite navigation. It was a real adventure. I didn’t know where I would be staying that night or where I could eat or buy petrol. It was a real adventure. I would plan my route two or three days ahead and hope for the best. It was thrilling, and I finally felt free.”
She says people would see her arrive on her bike and be suspicious of her, but when she removed her helmet and revealed her identity, people from all over the world warmed to her.
Once she had traveled America, she shipped her bike to Australia and went to explore the outback. However, she soon discovered how dangerous this adventure was. Hitting a pothole, she was cartwheeled from the bike and landed straight on her head. Had it not been for two companions she had met on the way, Elspeth is certain she would be dead.
“I have no memory of the accident at all. I woke up in a hospital and still to this day I couldn’t tell you what happened to me. Accidents are part of adventure though. I was prepared for something like this happening.”
From Australia, she traveled to Singapore then Bali, Java and Sumatra, Malaysia and Thailand and then on to India, Pakistan and Iran, then through Turkey and back into mainland Europe before arriving back in London in November 1984.
Now, 30 years later, Elspeth has written a book about her adventure. She says “The trip completely changed my life and made me the person I am now. It taught me there was nothing I couldn’t cope with and there wasn’t a problem I couldn’t solve. Now I would never take no for an answer.
It has given me an inner strength and confidence to tackle anything.”
After nearly two years of traveling, Elspeth returned home and finished her architecture qualification. She now has her own firm in Surrey. Of course, she still rides and heads out as often as she can.
This story makes us think of all the bikers across the world who gave up their passion of biking for their partner and if there is anyone out there being given a choice “It’s the bike or me” perhaps you should remember Elspeth’s story and her beautiful last line.
“I still have my trusty BMW; it’s like an old friend,” she says, which is more than can be said of Alex and his little wimpy note.
You can head to Waterstones to buy Elspeth’s fantastic book, Lone Rider.