By Diane Brandon

I was cruising the bike displays during the Northwest Thunder weekend at Portland’s Expo Center, and spotted a motorcycle that brought on the memories. It was a 1962 BSA DBD34 Gold Star.  That’s a single-cylinder 500c.c. British bike produced by Birmingham Small Arms. It had an authentic blue tank and chrome fenders, and every detail appeared to be just as I remembered; it was THE bike to have in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s. You see, I bought one just like it in 1958.  Nothing remarkable in that, except that it was 1958 and I was – and still am – a girl.  I was 18, having just graduated from high school, and knowing that the Fall would bring my enrollment in an all-womens’ college, and with it the rapid onset of adult responsibilities … which in 1958 spelled marriage/kids/dog/station wagon (or the only other alternative: becoming a librarian).  This was my last chance for freedom.

A 1958 photo of Diane Brandon from her High School yearbook. Sadly, no photos of her with the BSA Gold Star, for the reasons outlined below. [Diane Brandon]
The bike was new, the bike was blue, and I was a very inexperienced rider. I had occasionally gone for a putt by myself on a boyfriend’s AJS and another boyfriend’s Triumph TR6, but this was a new adventure. My considerable experience showing horses aided balance and coordination, my love for all things mechanical provided the enthusiasm, and my lack of years provided the ignorance I must have possessed to just get on the thing and go. There were no motorcycle safety classes or license endorsement requirements in Kansas City, Missouri, circa 1958. My dad wouldn’t speak to me. My mother spoke to me of her horror that I would be killed in a terrible accident, but she was even more horrified that one of her friends might see me. My boyfriend at the time, who also had a BSA, was pretty silent on the subject, but I think he liked the extra attention it reflected onto him. No other woman I had ever known rode her own motorcycle. My girl friends were pretty indifferent to the whole idea as well. I learned then for the first time what we now see on the tee shirts, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”Learning to ride well on the Gold Star taught me two things: courage and patience. I learned that if I possessed the passion for something, had the courage to make the necessary sacrifice and follow through, I could do just about anything. I also learned patience… waiting on the side of the road for the engine to cool enough for me to change the fouled KLG spark plug, or patience when a tiny oil leak would escalate to a steady drip, and I couldn’t afford the repair until the next payday. These were good lessons to learn at the age of 18.  By the end of the summer, with about 5,000 miles on the clock, I was riding pretty well, and hadn’t dumped it yet. Well, maybe once or twice, but no one saw me and nothing or no one was hurt, so it didn’t really count. It was time to stretch my skills and enter a widely-publicized upcoming race. It was to be a two and a half mile “road race” in Dodge City, Kansas on Labor Day. I sent in the entry form, and when the week-end arrived, I fibbed to my mother: something about staying overnight with a girlfriend. I strapped a borrowed Bell helmet and a denim jacket to the back of the seat, crammed a five dollar bill into my jeans (gasoline was 17 cents a gallon that summer) and rode that thing all night the 350 miles to Dodge City, stopping only for gas and a bottle of Nehi orange soda.

The BSA Gold Star was the factory’s premier model, and could be ordered for any type of competition: scrambles, road racing, trials, or normal road use. [The Vintagent Archive]
Morning found me at the hot and dusty race site which was the dirt runway of an old airport. The course had been defined by hay bales (hey, this was Kansas, remember.) My bike was checked over, everything was stock, so the headlight was taped,  and I was told to go to the pits (and they were the pits) to wait. I munched on a tepid hot dog and waited for my race to be announced, mentally ticking over my personal check list in preparation for my time on the track: long hair tucked up under the too-loose helmet to help anchor it to my head a bit, cowboy boots, 501’s tight as a second skin on my 5’9″ 100 pound frame, topped off by one of my dad’s white dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up and the tails flapping. This ensemble comprised my protective race gear. No goggles, no leathers, no gloves, no brains. The other 20 or so entrants in the novice class were similarly attired (except they wore tee shirts, not their dad’s Arrows) and were riding an assortment of stock 500 and 650 c.c. bikes, mostly British; Triumph, AJS, Matchless, Ariel, Norton and of course, BSA. The race was of the cold start variety: wheel the bike to the assigned starting position and at the drop of the green flag, start the bike and begin the laps. That was it. The first six finishers would receive a trophy. Piece of cake! My race was announced, and along with the other inexperienced riders; I donned that miserably uncomfortable helmet (some things never change), wheeled my thumper to its designated spot, swung a leg over its stock bolster-style seat and waited for the flag to drop. As it dropped I acted on my mental list…I knew the bike was in neutral since I had just pushed the damn thing 100 yards in the 90degree midday heat. Stay calm, just reach down and tickle the carburetor, retard the spark advance lever over the left grip, pull in the compression release lever under the left grip, open the throttle halfway, place right boot’s arch on the kicker and kick down while simultaneously releasing the compression lever.  Started first kick, thank goodness. Advance the spark a bit, pull in the clutch lever, lift the right cowboy-boot under the gear lever and snick it into first and get outta there. Rev’it ’til it screams, kick down through the next three gears, and stay close to, but don’t hook, one of the hay bales with a peg. Low gears up, high gears down, and with the right foot. British bike… I remember very little of the race itself except that in about ten seconds I was screamin’ past the checkered flag. Hey, I placed fourth!

There were definitely women riding in the Midwest in the 1950s, and in every era, but sadly Diane didn’t know any of them. [Pinterest]
There were two more heats to watch and then the awards ceremony. The race organizers had built a clumsy wooden platform in the center of the hay bale course as a stage and over the screeching mike feedback, I listened carefully to each trophy recipient’s name being called. When my name was heard, I trotted proudly up the steps to the platform, finally remembering to remove the helmet and when my long brown hair fell down below my shoulders, the announcer took another look at me, mumbled something about a mix-up, and the fourth place trophy I expected to receive was handed to the fifth place rider. I can still feel the humiliation and the accompanying hot red flush coloring my face, but cannot recall how I must have hurriedly stumbled off the stage, made my way back to my bike, nor do I remember much about the 350 mile ride home in the late summer evening’s oppressive heat. I was disqualified because I was female!From that moment on, every time I looked at that sweet bike, I felt sick. My thrill in placing fourth in my first race had been replaced by embarrassment. My enjoyment in riding was gone. I put the bike and the memory of that afternoon away for the winter and the next spring, I just couldn’t face riding again. Another boyfriend suggested I buy a different bike so I wouldn’t associate that disappointment with riding. Good idea! I traded the BSA in on a 1960 Triumph Bonneville, a 650 c.c. vertical twin configuration and if I recall correctly, this was the first year of the dual carburetor. It had dual carbs anyway, the left one leaked, the right one didn’t work much at all. As gorgeous as this new bike was, my heart just wasn’t in it. I even tried some drag-racing since there weren’t any rules forbidding women on the drag strip. But, for me, it was all over and within a few months, I had sold the Bonnie, and bought an MGA roadster. I didn’t look back for thirty-five years.

The Dyna that brought back that two-wheel feeling. Diane Brandon out on a road run. [Diane Brandon]
Fast forward…It’s 1995 and after selling my car and waiting more than a few months, I took delivery of my ’95 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide. I’ve put thousands of miles on it, mostly riding weekends alongside my husband on one of his stable of bikes. The passion and the thrill of riding is back. Now it’s a giggle to pull off my helmet revealing my silver hair (my husband, Paul, says, “It’s chrome, not gray.”) and watch the reactions of those who seem to be amazed that an older woman is riding a Harley, and who still think riding a bike is akin to being a convicted felon. I’ve also noticed that on many of the rides we participate in with our HOG group, that often more than half of the riders are women! It’s a whole new world out there, and it only took thirty-five years!

That obscure object of desire…a blue 1958 BSA DBD34 Gold Star. Still the hottest big single around! [Mecum]
[Ed- Diane notes that the Kansas City dealership where she purchased her 1958 BSA Gold Star is still in business – Engle Motors.  It’s ironic that the BSA Gold Star is named for a pin given to riders who had lapped the Brooklands speed bowl at over 100mph in a race.  Women were banned from riding or driving there between 1908 and 1928, and were finally allowed to race against men from 1932.  Three women won Gold Stars on motorcycles; Beatrice Shilling, Frances Blenkiron, and Theresa Wallach.  We tip our cap to them, and to Diane – a badass before her time.]
Diane Brandon has been a judge of Rolls-Royce and Bentley at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since 1984. She currently resides in Tualatin, Oregon.
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