A Brief History of Women on Dirt Bikes
The race to the finish has not been an easy one for women on dirt bikes. In 1910, Clara Wagner (daughter of the Wagner Motorcycle Company owner George Wagner) won a male endurance competition, only to have her title stripped away for being a women. In the 1940s, women raced in scrambles on rough terrain, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and the start of the Women’s Rights Movement that female racers made their way to racetracks and arenas.
The first national event for women, the Powder Puff National Championships, was held in 1974 in the US. The event brought 300 riders and over 9000 spectators together. That name did not stick around for long, because the next year the championship was renamed the Women’s National Championship. Women on dirt bikes would soon make their mark. By 1979, the Women’s National Championship was televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
In 1981, the top ten female pro riders did an exhibition run at a supercross event at the LA Coliseum, which sparked enough interest that the first women’s supercross invitational was held at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego in 1983. The first women’s class at the AMA Loretta Lynn Amateur National also took place in 1983. Things seemed to be going well, but in 1988 one of the biggest supporters of women in motosports, Mickey Thompson, died. Mickey Thompson had often insisted women be included in motocross and supercross events.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the Women’s Motocross League (WML) took over the Women’s Nationals, making it a part of the AMA National Circuit. The Women’s Motocross World Championships were also held in the US in the 1990s thanks to the help of WML founder Elaine Ruff. Miki Keller, who later joined Ruff, continued to promote the women’s class.
In 2004, the Women’s Motorsport Association (WMA) was established and was renamed the Women’s Motocross Championship (WMX) when MX Sports took over the brand in 2009. When the WMX series was taken over by MX Sports, a logistics problem occurred: there would just not be enough time in the day for the entire series. There was little to no TV coverage for women and their final races were usually held at the end of day when spectators were already leaving. As a result, many riders lost their pro sponsorship and their careers were over early. This problem continues today, with many women opting to ride in the men’s series. It’s not a new thing for women to race against men, but competition for sponsorship is fierce. There are many fast and fierce women riders, but without sufficient sponsorship many of them cannot devote their lives to riding. Considering the growing list of amazing female riders, we hope there is a change soon!
Top Female Motocross Racers
Sue Fish – Known as ‘The Flying Fish’, she was a pioneer in women’s racing and won the Women’s Nationals in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979. Fish was also one of the first women to compete in the Men’s Pro MX.
Nancy Payne – Payne was the first to win the Powder Puff National Championships in 1974.
Lisa Akin – Akin won five titles at the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals in the 80s and later married Bobby Wagner, a fellow motocross rider. They were nicknamed “America’s First Motocross Couple.”
Mercedes Gonzales – Gonzales was the fastest woman in motocross in 1992, before retiring to pursue mountain bike racing. She was five times Women’s MX Champion – Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Nationals and nine times Women’s MX National Champion IWMSA, WMXA, WMSA, WIMSA.
Jessica Patterson – Patterson won the AMA Women’s Pro Nationals on her first attempt.Tarah Gieger – Winner of the Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in 2004, 2006, and 2007. She also became the first woman to compete in the Motocross des Nations and won the first women’s supercross event at the X Games that same year.
Stefy Bau – The first woman to win every round of the WMA National Championship. Her list of titles and achievements is long, but includes a spot in the Supercross 2000 video game and a signature helmet. After her career was cut short due to an injury, Stefy went on to promote and develop motocross for women.
Steffi Laier – A female racer to follow. She already has seven World Titles (US). Six European Titles (enduro and MX) and many German Titles. She is also FIM WMX World Champion 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, and FIM Motosports Women Of The Year 2010.
The super-champion Laia Sanz began her riding story with her elder brother’s Montesa Cota 25cc. From Montesa to KTM, Laia became a Trial legend winning everything in the women’s category: 13 world titles, 10 European titles, 6 Trial des Nations, 3 Enduro World Championships… The Catalan rider also competed at Dakar, and in 2015 she came in 9th overall.
Emma Bristow – Young British female star who has won FIM World Women’s Trials Championship and FIM Women’s SuperEnduro World Championships 2014 and 2015. She has also won many British Championships and been on the TOP3 in FIM World Women’s Trials Championship since 2011.