Elspeth Beard: One of the First British Woman to Ride a Motorcycle Around the World, Alone

What drives a 23-year-old woman to navigate the globe on a bike by herself?

Ride with WRN and Elspeth Beard

Editor's Note: WomenRidersNow.com (WRN) is teaming up with Blue Strada Tours this September for a “Ladies First” tour of Portugal and Western Spain (details below.) Space is limited to keep the group small, so make your reservations now for the epic 8-day motorcycle tour. Join WRN editor, Tricia Szulewski, Co-Chairwomen Erin Sills and Sarah Schilke, and one of the first British woman to circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle, Elspeth Beard.

Elspeth Beard’s book, Lone Rider (2018), is available on Amazon as an audiobook, e-Reader, or paperback. A riveting read written in first person with blunt honesty, Elspeth reveals intimate details of her personal life. She shares how she succeeded in fulfilling her life-changing pursuit of riding around the world despite heartbreak, breakdowns, illness, and crashes. She faced corruption, civil unrest, harsh landscapes, sexual attacks, and countless other obstacles on the remarkable adventure. Read on for a brief summary of her journey.

Elspeth Beard
23-year-old Elspeth Beard aboard the BMW she began her round-the-world journey on.

Elspeth Beard, Motorcycling Pioneer

In 1982, a 23-year-old Elspeth Beard left her family in London, England, and set off on her 2-1/2 year, 35,000-mile solo motorcycle world adventure. She had little money and no sponsorship or support in an age before email, cell phones, or GPS.

Elspeth first rode a motorcycle at 16 years old when she rode a friend’s Husqvarna in Salisbury Plain in southern England. Shortly after, she bought her first motorcycle, a Yamaha YB100. A year she later upgraded to a Honda 250. She was quickly bored of the Honda, and in 1979 brought the BMW R60/6 that inspired her world adventure.

Elspeth Beard woman rider
Elspeth’s first bike, a Yamaha YB100 was a cheap and efficient way of getting around London. Although a great first bike, she quickly outgrew it.
Elspeth Beard woman rider
This photo shows a young Elspeth Beard, at just 23 years old, on the BMW R60/6 she had spent countless hours learning to repair before setting out on her solo journey.

The Inspiration

Elspeth had already ridden several long solo tours before deciding to tour the world. Her first solo motorcycle trip was to Scotland, then Ireland, then mainland Europe and Corsica. She racked up over 10,000 miles in her first two years of motorcycle ownership! In summer 1981 she flew to Los Angeles where she upgraded to a BMW R75/5 and rode across the United States. Bitten by the adventure bug, Elspeth was hooked on two-wheeled travel.

Starting Out in English-Speaking Countries

In October 1982, after completing her first three years of architectural training, she made the decision to ride her motorcycle around the world. Working behind the bar at a local pub, she saved money and prepared her bike for the dream trip.

Elspeth Beard prepping bike
Teaching herself how to fix and maintain her bike was a necessary task considering the harsh conditions Elspeth would face, often in places where parts would not be accessible.

Having traveled across the United States the previous year, she decided to start her journey in New York. She rode north to Canada, then south to Mexico before reaching Los Angeles. From there, she shipped her bike to New Zealand and rode through some surprisingly harsh terrain before continuing on to Australia. Nearly penniless at this point, Elspeth then spent seven months working in a Sydney architectural practice, both gaining experience in her chosen field and replenishing her diminished funds.

Elspeth Beard fabricating motorcycle luggage
During her seven month stay in Sydney, Elspeth constructed lockable top-box and panniers out of folded and riveted sheet aluminum. As you can imagine, this made the bike handle quite differently, especially when filled with supplies.

Rough Roads Ahead

While riding in Queensland, Elspeth experienced the first big crash of the expedition on a dirt road near Townsville. After hitting a large pothole with her makeshift unwieldy boxes, she cart-wheeled the bike and was left badly concussed. After recovering, she repaired the bike and continued on, riding through the severe extreme conditions of the outback to Ayers Rock. She then crossed the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, and through Indonesia to Singapore. Then she traveled up the Thai-Malaysian peninsular to Bangkok and beyond to Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle.

With the overland route to India (via Burma/Myanmar) closed, she headed back south to load her bike onto a boat from Penang to Madras. On the way Elspeth had her second big accident when a dog ran under her wheels from behind a truck. She was once again badly battered and bruised, finding herself recuperating in the care of an impoverished Thai family for two weeks.

Srinagar Leh road Elspeth Beard woman rider
At 13,479 feet, Fotu La is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway in the Zanskar Range of the Himalayas.

Once in India, Elspeth rode up to Calcutta then on to Kathmandu where she met a Dutchman on another Boxer BMW, an R80/7, with whom she eventually rode back to Europe with after exploring much of India alone. Having safely crossed Pakistan, the duo arrived in post-revolution Iran and crossed into eastern Turkey. They continued on through Greece and across Europe, finally returning home to London.

Elspeth Beard stuck in sand Turkey
Being stuck in sand in Turkey makes for a fun photo op, but you can imagine the countless mechanical, transportation, and issues facing a lone woman Elspeth dealt with along her journey. We highly recommend reading her book, Lone Rider, for some great stories about overcoming such obstacles.

From One Dream to Another

Elspeth Beard completed her architectural studies and in 1988 brought a 130-foot derelict Victorian water tower. She spent the next seven years transforming it into a unique and beautiful home for herself and her son. After the tower won five prestigious architectural awards she set up her own practice specializing in creating and remodeling interesting and unusual buildings. She still enjoys riding her collection of motorcycles, which includes the trusty BMW R60/6 that carried her around the world.

Meet and Ride with Elspeth Beard

Join Elspeth Beard and WomenRidersNow.com staff on an 8-day “Ladies First” motorcycle tour through Portugal and Western Spain. Brought to you in partnership with Blue Strada Tours, the trip takes place September 27 - October 4, 2024, and includes riding the Iberian Peninsula’s most exciting and picturesque roads. Enjoy 4-star hospitality in the accompaniment of like-minded riders. Men are welcome as long as they accompany a woman rider. For more information, visit Blue Strada Tours or email BillK@BlueStradaTours.com.

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