Dot Robinson – Biker Babe From Cradle to Grave

A Trailblazer in Promoting Motorcycling for Women

Dot Robinson, co-founder of the Motor Maids of America
In the mid-20th century, Dot Robinson pioneered the concept and formed a club of a female bikers who owned, maintained, and rode their machines as well as any man and, in some cases, even better. She and husband Earl (above left) became leaders of the pack at their Detroit Harley-Davidson store.

Dot Robinson, born in Australia in 1912, was quite literally a biker babe. When her mother went into labor, her father loaded his heavily pregnant wife into a Harley-Davidson motorcycle sidecar rig and rushed her to the hospital. And when her mother came home, it was in that same sidecar, holding her tightly swaddled newborn daughter.

Headshot of Dot Robinson

Considered a trailblazer for promoting motorcycling for women, in 1941 she helped found Motor Maids — the first American Motorcycle Association-sanctioned, all-female motorcycle club.

She also opened doors for women riders to ride competitively. As a regular competitor in endurance runs in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, her desire to race came under attack and attempts were made to prevent her from participating in the sport she loved. Nevertheless, she persisted … and was allowed to compete, making it possible for other women to race in later years.

Father and daughter with an early 20th century motorcycle
Robinson as a young girl with her father.

Her father, Jim Goulding, was a sidecar designer and amateur racer in Australia whose designs were renowned for their reliability. Her family came to America in 1918 when her father wanted to expand his Goulding Sidecar business, settling in Saginaw, Michigan. Growing up around motorcycles, Dot began riding at an early age.

She met Earl Robinson in high school while she was working behind the parts counter of her father’s Harley-Davidson dealership. A fellow biker, he courted her as you might expect — returning to the shop every day after school to buy parts whether he needed them or not just so he could talk to her. As Dot Robinson recalled, “by the time we were married, Earl probably had enough parts to start his own store.” The Robinsons married in 1931, and participated together in endurance runs and races.

Dot and Earl Robinson pushing their motorcycle up a forest trail during an endurance race.

She stood only 5’ 2” tall; but, boy, could she handle a bike. Many weekends in the 1930s were spent competing in endurance runs in the Great Lakes region where she was often the only female competitor. In 1930, at 18, she won the Flint 100-mile endurance run with a perfect score.

In 1937 she finished second in the brutal two-day Jack Pine endurance race where less than half the entrants managed to complete the race. These were off-road races with numerous obstacles and varied terrain, where riders had to guide their bikes through rivers and miles of deep sand, over slippery rocks, up and down hills, and through mud and thick underbrush. In 1940, Robinson broke the transcontinental record for sidecar riding — with Earl riding shotgun in the sidecar, then repeated her win in 1946.

A 28-year-old Dot Robins in 1940
A 1940 shot of 28-year-old Robinson on her 1939 Harley-Davidson EL.

But she was always a lady. A Honda dealer in Florida recalled how he “chased that woman for two days, through mud and trees,” but never caught her. At the end of the race, all the guys tramped into the local bar — but not Dot. She went to her room and got cleaned up first. “I’ll never forget the picture: Dot walking into the bar in a black sheath dress and a pill box hat.”

After the Robinsons set their transcontinental record, Harley-Davidson asked if they would like to run a dealership. Soon afterward, the couple moved to Detroit and opened a successful Harley-Davidson dealership which they ran until 1971.
It was while Dot Robinson was attending the Laconia National in 1940 that she was approached by a New England rider named Linda Dugeau with the idea of starting a women’s riding organization.

The Robinson Harley-Davidson dealership in Detroit
Robinson’s Harley-Davidson dealership in Detroit.

Within a year, Motor Maids of America was established when Dugeau and Robinson found 51 ladies who became charter members. To this day, the founding premise — that the group consist of women who own and ride their own motorcycles — remains the backbone of the organization.

When America entered World War II, Dot Robinson did her part for the war effort, working as a motorcycle courier for a defense contractor. The war ended and she went back to racing. The fact that by this time she and Earl were raising a family didn’t slow her down.

A large gathering of Motor Maids
A gathering of Motor Maids.

It was in the Fabulous ‘50s that Dot Robinson began wearing what would become her trademark pink riding outfits. Nobody knows for sure why she turned away from the traditional black leather. Did she want to get away from the image of black leather-clad biker outlaws portrayed in the movies? Did she want to make the sport of motorcycling less intimidating and more friendly to non-bikers? Whatever her reason, her styles set a precedent for women’s motorcycle gear that lives on. In fact, she even rode a custom pink Harley with a built-in lipstick holder! Always a lady.

Dot Robinson riding her motorcycle at age 85
Still riding in her 80s.

In 1971, the Robinsons sold their dealership but continued to travel extensively by motorcycle. Dot recalled her favorite trip — a 6,000-mile excursion through the country of her birth, Australia. Earl Robinson died in 1996, but Dot kept on riding until January of 1998 at the age of 85, when knee replacement surgery made it too difficult to get on and off her sidecar rig.

Dot Robinson passed away on October 8, 1999, at the age of 87. Before she was done, she had logged an estimated 1.5 million miles on her motorcycles.

The American Motorcycle Association inducted Dot Robinson into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame before her death. Today her signature pink Harley-Davidson touring bike is in the association’s museum in Milwaukee, WI.

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ALSO SEE: Badass Biker Chicks in the Dawn of the Motorcycle Age

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