Three decades ago, 24 year old architecture student, Elspeth Beard, set out to ride her bike around the world– a trek that would take 3 years and over 48K miles. The young Englishwoman, who’d been riding since she was just 16 yrs old, had already taken a few solo journeys to Scotland and Ireland– and now was ready to take on more before she finished school and settled down into a career.
Beard’s bike was a used 1974 BMW R 60/6 flat-twin, already with 30K miles, that she bought from a friend of a friend. Her around-the-world bike trek began in New York– “It cost $340 to send the bike and $197 for my own air fare,” she recalls. From NYC she rode up through Canada, then headed south through Mexico and Los Angeles– racking up 5K miles. From LA Beard shipped the bike to Sydney, while she first headed to New Zealand for a visit while her motorcycle was en route.
That’s when her luck started to run out…
Elspeth Beard and her ’74 BMW R 60/6 that she rode around the world over the course of three years. “I worked for months in a pub saving the money to buy my BMW 600. That gave me the bug for travel on a bike. It’s the best way to get around – cheap, efficient and I enjoy the freedom.” –Elspeth Beard (photo of Elspeth shortly after returning home by Peter Orme) (via) She also made her BMW’s lockable top-box and panniers out of riveted aluminum sheets while living and working in Sydney during her around-the-world trek. It was a necessary stop when the funds she’d scraped together as working student ran out– she’d end up spending a total of seven months apprenticing with a firm in Sydney.
In Australia, Elspeth Beard had her first big accident on a dirt road near Townsville, in Queensland. The BMW R 60/6 somersaulted and she suffered a bad concussion which put her in the hospital for two weeks– but thankfully, no broken bones. She still has the Bell “bone dome” helmet that she’s convinced saved her life– and which she wore for the rest of her trek. (via) In Singapore Beard’s luck ran out again, when all her valuables were stolen– including her passport with all the visas for the countries she’d yet to visit, and the registration and shipping documents for her bike. It would cost her six week’s time to replace all the lost documents. Beard then rode up the Thai-Malaysian peninsular to Bangkok and beyond to Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle.
With the overland route to India (via Burma) out of bounds she headed back south to load the bike onto a boat from Penang to Madras. On the way she had her second and final big crash when a dog ran under her wheels from behind a truck, on the dangerous main road south. The bike hit a tree and Elspeth was once again battered and bruised but miraculously unbroken. She spent two weeks recuperating in the care of the impoverished Thai family into whose garden she had crashed! “They didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Thai, but we communicated with sign language,” she said. via
The Thais were fascinated by the rivet gun with which she repaired her battered panniers and Elspeth was surprised to find half the remains of the dog she’d hit in the family kitchen, having already unknowingly eaten the other half! “I understood why they were happy to look after me– I’d provided them with food for a fortnight!” Elspeth also repaired the R 60’s damaged engine herself– “I took the cylinder off, straightened the bent studs as best I could and packed the cylinder base with gaskets and goo to get enough compression back.” via
When Elspeth Beard left England for NY to begin her bike trek across the world, she was as strong and healthy a young woman as you’d find– weighing 143 lbs. Life on the road would take its toll. By the time she reached Turkey, she’d weigh a mere 90 lbs.
Upon returning home, Beard immediately went to work stripping and completely rebuilding the BMW’s engine herself, but tragically, she threw out the home-made aluminum panniers when she later left London. –photo of Elspeth Beard by Peter Orme via
Today, Elspeth Beard is still an active and enthusiastic BMW rider– with her own award-winning architectural practice.
Read the full account of Elspeth Beard’s journey here.