It’s Queensland Women’s Week, and we’re shining the spotlight on the talented women involved in motorcycle sport. Today we’re meeting Peggy Hyde, an icon in Australian Motorcycling.
In the 1960s, motorcycle sport was absolutely dominated by men, and women were not eligible for an ‘Open’ motorcycle licence. Peggy Hyde challenged these ‘rules’, and become a very successful rider in the Australian motorcycle sport scene.
Peggy lets us know a little more about herself, including the challenges she faced as a female rider throughout her long, successful career;
Who did / do you look up to in motorcycle sport?
When I started racing (late 1967) there was no-one I looked up to; I joined the sport for fun, not for ambition or following a hero. Having bought a bike for transport, I discovered it was fun. With my husband I started watching local scrambles before deciding to compete in road racing. Only then I started to follow the few media reports of British road racers (eg Mike Hailwood, Phil Read, Geoff Duke) and the Australians Maurie Quincey (cars and bikes) and Jack Findlay.
Locally (Victoria), the established riders I came to admire were Ron Toombs, Bryan Hindle, Len Atlee, Eric Debenham. Debbo was near the end of his career. Toombs above all, I think, the Master of the Mountain.
These men were successful on the track; as riders they played a clean game, and were generous with helpful advice.
As for A-graders in general, I soon knew there was only a fast bike and a sponsorship between most of them and myself. Kal Carrick, with whom I had some exhilarating dices, both of us Mach III-mounted, stands out as an exceptional race-mate.
Now I watch the top road race riders overseas with admiration and concern at how that level of competition can distort fair behaviour on the track. Locally I am learning who are our fast riders and good sports people in Historic Racing; so many old friends.
Non-racers I look up to include Arthur Blizzard (deceased), who taught me lapscoring and upheld the ethic of road racing; and his widow the unflappable Jan Blizzard, who has been running Event rooms for 1/2 a century.
What has been your all-time motorcycling highlight?
Probably the first Castrol six hour race, even though my team's result was ignored entirely in any race report despite A-grader Rod Tingate and myself being in the running with the three other (disputing) place-getters of the 500 class. After losing 20 laps with a broken-off muffler we still finished in fourth position, just one lap fewer than the Ken Blake/Kal Carrick team (who also had lost a few laps). We were one of the minority of teams (22 out of 68) which finished the race and did not crash at least once.
Beating all the A-graders at Calder the year before and dropping the Production Machine lap record by 2 seconds (to 55 secs) was pretty good, causing much consternation - it was difficult for the die-hards to explain that away, although they still try. Even in the last year I've heard "you must have had an advantage because women are lighter than men" and "there must have been something wrong with Ken Blake's (Angel-tuned) bike". That pleasant young men can speak such nonsense shows the unconscious sexism that still pervades our "enlightened" western culture.
Being in a leading pack at the first turn of Oran Park on my Z1 900 was a top experience. Laid over, immersed in the immensely exciting orchestral soundscape of big fours and triples inches away on both sides, hearing the canonic sequences of downshifts and upshifts, trusting one's competitors not to flinch, looking for the way through.
Why do you think Women’s Week is important?
Sadly, as I've been advised, women are still treated to some male intimidation and nastiness on the track and in the pits. It can be tricky for motorcycling organisations to do positive discrimination without being accused of favouritism. It might be hard to know when this is men just being nasty to anyone, or men being nasty specifically to women.
Women racers should be celebrated to encourage other women into a sport still in transition, gender-wise. When women are accepted in racing without remark other than appropriate commentary on their track performance we'll know women are accepted as equals. Women, just like men, should be able to finish at the back of the field without gender-related denigration. A complicating factor has been the occasional women on the track featured for purely company-promotional or personal attention-getting purposes, making it harder for women to be accepted as competent racers. I travelled to meetings where a promotional women was featured, just to counteract the public perception of women as promotional toys rather than as competent competitors.
For a concentrated view of women as non-equals, see Formula 1 internet posts highlighted by the appalling, illogical, evidence-ignoring comments of car-racing identity Stirling Moss. His remarks are not merely ignorant, in my view they qualify as gender xenophobia. This is what we are still up against.
Maurie Quincey made the transition with grace, back in the 1960s. This well-dressed older gentleman approached me at a social meeting to say "I owe you an apology ... I have always thought, and always said, that women could never drive like a man. But you have proved me wrong". He didn't need more evidence than watching me race at one meeting at Phillip Island. Edgar Penzig too acknowledged equal skill (REVS 1970). The comparison was always "like a man" (one could ask: which man?). That's when I knew my racing was important for gender equality. It would take time to get past that first barrier.
Before I left Melbourne I was invited to ride in a Moomba Parade. I was astounded at the crowds calling out "Peggy, Peggy" and the children hoisted on their fathers' shoulders, waving and calling. I wasn't comfortable with the adulation, but I realised it was important for women's place in the world: around the same time, when my presence in an Elizabeth Street motorcycle shop was advertised on a Saturday morning, men peered in from outside, but none entered. I was an intrusion into a male preserve; no-one wanted to talk with me, just to stare at the freak.
Forty six years have passed since I argued for and won women's right to a Motorcycle Racing Open Licence, here in Australia and, much later, followed by the rest of the world. Despite the formal right, in practical terms the acceptance of women is still in transition. Women may still be under pressure to behave "like a man" - too often meaning the worst macho-type behaviours. We don't have to fall for that; women are individuals who will set their own goals and standards.
What advice can you give to up and coming women in the sport?
No different to what I would say to anyone: learn how to ride; learn how to get the most out of your bike; make sure you oversee EVERYTHING that is done to it; understand your own reactions and limitations; keep fit; on the track, tune in to your bike, know your margins, stay focused on the next move.
Peggy is still very much involved in motorcycle sport, turning out to support events from the Broadford Bike Bonanza to the Island Classic. Although she’s recovering from a spinal injury at the moment, she can’t wait to get back out on the track!
First image: Peggy on crutches at McNamara Park at New Year's (Supplied by Peggy)
Second image: Peggy Hyde on her 350CC TR2B Yamaha racer in the early 1970's. (Bill Syndel )