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Interview with Elspeth Beard

At the age of twenty-three, Elspeth Beard became the first woman to motorcycle around the world.

35,000 miles with just a tent, some tools, her savings and a ton of determination, she reveals what she learnt about herself on the road.

You don’t need to be motivated by a grand agenda

‘I’d been biking for years. I’d just been dumped and I’d got a third in my architecture degree. All I knew is that I had to get away!  Six months later I was in Australia and thought, ‘I may as well head back in the opposite direction!’’

Rather than focus on problems think, ‘what are the steps I need to take – and in what order?

‘If anything goes wrong, I get off the bike, break things down and think first before I do anything. My process goes, ‘ok, what’s first? Right, I fix this. Second, I deal with my broken foot. Third, I fix the panniers. Fourth, I do this or that.’ I then realise I’ve just solved four problems and only have two left until I’m on the road again.’

Assimilate your successes – you’ll learn a lot about yourself 

‘I didn’t just achieve a ‘First’ with that journey. When I reflected, I realised that I also discovered that I could enjoy my own company. And that I could cope with anything that’s thrown at me. And that there’s not a single bolt on my bike I don’t know.’

Imagine how your achievement will affect your life

I regularly wondered who I would be if I didn’t do this bike ride. And I knew I would never have found out exactly what I was capable of. Finding that out changed my life.

In truth – there is nothing to be frightened of

But you don’t know that until you push yourself a bit. I’m not saying go to the Sahara on your first outing, but take small, regular steps over your edges. Most people can do extraordinary things when life pushes them to it. It’s about learning how to push yourself. I hope my achievements will encourage others to discover what they can actually be brave enough to try.

Ask yourself: ‘if nobody cared about what I am about to do, would I still do it?’ 

We live in a world in which everyone wants to be seen doing what they are doing, rather than how important what they are doing is to them!

If no one cared – would you still go ahead? If the answer is yes, you’ll have the reserves to persevere.

30 years ago, no one cared what I had done. Ultimately, do anything big for yourself – it also makes it easier to brush off prejudices.

It can help to reframe your achievement for your audience

Hold an awareness of the potential negatives of what you are setting out to do so that you can develop your way of handling them. The more I achieve, the more I feel apart from others because we share less common ground.  A few years ago, if I told people I’d biked the world they looked at me as if I was weird. So instead, I’d say, ‘I’ve just travelled from Australia’ which was easier for them to connect with.

Know the territory of your goal inside out before you start

I took my bike apart completely and rebuilt it in my garage before I began that trip. I wanted to know that bike inside out on my terms, rather than trying to figure it out in the middle of nowhere at the side of the road. This gave me more confidence to take risks and ride more confidently. The unknown is only unknown until you teach yourself to know it.

Don’t fear failure

‘Failure’ is just something else you’ve learnt on the way.

You can read all about Elspeth’s motorcycle adventures in her book, Lone Rider – The first British woman to motorcycle round the world published by Michael O’Mara

Interview by Deborah Willimott

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