Born in Melbourne, Australia on April 22, 1912, Dorothy “Dot” Robinson is considered the “First Lady of Motorcycling” in the United States.
Her experience and love of motorcycle began at a young age – even before she was born. Her father, James Goulding, engineered sidecars and was an amateur racer. When her mother went into labor with Dot, her father drove them them to the hospital on a Harley with her mother beside him in one of his reliable sidecar. James brought his family home the exact same way.
In 1918, her family moved to the United States and settled in Saginaw, Michigan. Her parents bought a Harley-Davidson dealership. Dot began riding at a young age and helped out at the dealership – where she met her husband Earl. She was 16 years old at the time when she met him, she later recalled, “Everyday after school, Earl would come to the shop to buy one part or another. By the time we were married, Earl probably had enough parts to start his own store.”
Dot and Earl married in 1931. Two years later, Arthur Davidson (as in the co-founder of Harley-Davidson Motorcycle) heard about the couple and encouraged them to buy her father’s dealership. Times were tough as the country was suffering through the Great Depression so Davidson gave them $3,000 to help them get started. Dot was the business manager and bookkeeper, Two years later they moved the dealership to Detroit. The dealership was later one of the top-grossing dealerships in the country.
At 5’2″ tall and 115 pounds, Dot entered many endurance runs. She won her first race in 1930. At the Flint 100 mile endurance race, she not only won but received a perfect score. In many cases, she was the first woman to win some of these races. Some were pair races and she entered them with her father or husband. In 1935, Dot and Earl set out to set the transcontinental sidecar record by driving from Los Angeles to New York. This was a difficult trip as the highways were not all paved yet. They still were successful with a time of 89 hours and 58 minutes. In 1940, Dot set another record – as the first woman to win an AMA (American Motorcycling Association) national competition. It was a grueling race in which only 7 of the 52 riders actually finished.
Dot planned on entering the National Endurance Run after winning both the Michigan State Championship and the Ohio State Championship but the AMA director did not want her (and women in general) to race. So she went around and collected thousands of signatures. Dot went to confront the director, she said, “So I loaded up that great big carton of petitions and went into his office one day when he was sitting at his desk, turned them upside down on his desk and snowed him under. Later, he became a friend, and he told me that nobody ever raised that much hell all over the country. I turned motorcycling upside down, and I intended to!”
Her motto was that you could still ride a motorcycle and be a lady. She took pride in always being ready for the camera and looking her best. Dot encouraged the participation of women in motorcycling. In 1939, she teamed up with Linda Allen Dugeau and rode around the country looking for women to join their new organization. Dot found 51 women to be charter members of Motor Maids of America (now Motor Maids Inc.) when it was officially founded in 1941. It was the first documented female motorcycle club. One of the only stipulations in joining was that the woman must own or ride her own motorcycle. According to their website:
She paved the way for women to ride motorcycles. The women of the nineties can still be professional women, doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, accountants, clerks, cashiers, home-makers, mothers, grandmothers, and they can still step outside, throw a leg over a bike and take off cross country. She proved that you can be a lady, still compete with the men and not be a man-hater.
Earl and Dot continued to ride even as they became parents and grandparents. They sold their dealership in 1971 and traveled extensively (by motorcycle of course!). She rode a pink Harley-Davidson with a built-in lipstick holder and often wore pink clothing. Due to health issues, Earl had to quite riding motorcycles so he would sit in the sidecar while Dot drove. He passed away in 1996. After a knee replacement at the age of 85, Dot had to give up riding motorcycles. She once commented, “I made the fatal mistake along the way, I got old!” Dot passed away two years later on October 8, 1999.
It is estimated that throughout her life, Dot logged in over 1.5 million miles on 35 different motorcycles. In 1998, Dot and Earl was inducted in to the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame – she was the fourth woman inducted into the Hall of Fame. As a pioneer in promoting motorcycling for women from the 1930s and on, Dot truly is the First Lady of Motorcycling.
Motor Maids Inc.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame
Sean Goulart, “Dot Robinson,” Throttler Motorcycle Magazine, June 7, 2012.
Kay Fekete, “First Lady of Motorcycling – Dot Robinson,” Real Women & Motorcycles, January 19, 2012.