Today is National Motorcycle Day, and therefore a great day to hear the story of one of the most legendary motorcyclists of all time: the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” Bessie Stringfield.
It’s not always clear which stories about Stringfield’s life and riding career actually happened as told, and which were part of her significantly larger-than-life public persona.
But even what we know for certain is pretty astounding.
She was born in the 1910s, and appropriately for a rider, she knew what direction she wanted to go in life early on.
She once said, “When I was in high school I wanted a motorcycle, and I got one.”
And she rode that bike and dozens that followed it.
Sometimes she performed stunts or tricks for crowds; more often she rode for long, long distances.
In the 1930 and 40s, Stringfield rode cross country, by herself, on a motorcycle, eight times.
Sometimes she’d pull out a map, drop a penny on its surface, and wherever it landed, she’d go there.
During World War II she worked as a civilian motorcycle courier for the Army in the U.S.
Riding through the United States as a Black woman wasn’t always easy.
She said she would stay with local Black families whenever she could, but when she couldn’t, she’d sleep at gas stations.
In many of her stories, Stringfield talked about overcoming prejudice and harassment by impressing white people with her riding skills.
By the 1950s Stringfield put down roots in Miami, taking domestic and nursing jobs.
And she kept riding.
As she got older, her doctors told her to give up the bike for her health.
Bessie Stringfield wasn’t well known when she passed away in 1993, but her legend has grown.
She’s been the subject of books, documentaries, and comic books, to name a few.
In recent years women riders have been riding across the country in her honor.
And each year the American Motorcyclist Association honors an individual who’s helped to bring new people into motorcycling with the Bessie Stringfield Award.
Today in Lisbon, Maine, the three day Moxie Festival is getting underway.
There will be music, an auto show, and a 5K road race.
Also: a Moxie recipe contest, so if you have a unique idea for this classic New England soda, now’s the time to come forward.
Photo by Luisfel via Flickr/Creative Commons