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‘I took my helmet off and one of them said: It's a woman!’

By gavin jones  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

Olive on the bike, without helmet.

Olive on the bike, without helmet.

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WE KNOW from the responses we get from our readers that the Black Country has long had a deep and heartfelt bond with the motorcycle, and no wonder, considering that so many of the famous, pioneering names were developed and built in our part of the world.

Three editions ago (10th January) we featured some photographs, loaned to us by West Bromwich reader Olive Bedworth, which were taken by her late husband George at a motorcycle Tour of Birmingham in the 1950s. Most of the bikes pictured were already vintage machines at the time of that Tour, and one, identified by readers as a Rudge Multi, would now be a hundred years old if it has survived.

But George and Olive were as interested in the modern bikes of that period as they were the old classics. Both were keen riders, and though they would often go out on the same bike together, Olive, unusually for those times, was not content merely to ride pillion. She had her own motorcycle as early as the nineteenfifties.

"My first bike was a Royal Enfield 125," she told us, "and later I had a BSA 150. I learned to ride down Park Lane in West Bromwich, with George showing me what to do. I did first and second gear no problem, and said 'a bit more training then, and I'll put in for my test.'

"Then George pointed out that I still had third and fourth gear to do, as well as going backwards!" She took it all in her stride of course, and was soon going it alone on her bike — much to the surprise of a group of mechanics she once had to call on in an emergency.

"I was out on the bike on one occasion and it cut out. Something was obviously wrong, and I realised what it was, so I went to a local repair place, Motor Sales on St Paul's Road in Smethwick, and I said 'can you help me please? My spark plug has whiskered.' "I took my helmet off and they were amazed.

One of them said 'Look here! It's a woman!' "And they were amazed that I knew what a whiskered spark plug was (a build-up of carbon in the gap between the plug's electrodes that shorts it out). It was a problem you only got with two-stroke engines."

 One of the shops Olive and George regularly visited in the '50s was Vale Onslow in Handsworth.

"It would be full of motorcyclists all looking at each other's gear,” sauys Olive, “and there were bikes all over the pavement outside. Mrs Onslow knew everything regarding parts, and whatever you wanted, she knew where it was and would promptly fetch it."

 The Bedworths' enthusiasm for cycling didn't stop at riding, they were also keen followers of motorcycling as a sport. They were regulars at national events such as Silverstone, Osmaston Manor and the infamous Red Marley hill climb in Worcestershire.

"We went to Red Marley every Easter Monday, and often stood there in the pouring rain,” Olive remembers.

“We must have been mad. There was a lump in the track that each bike would hit, and go flying through the air. Some landed on their wheels, some landed without their bikes!"

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