The overland motorcycle route from the UK to Cape Town, South Africa was made famous by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in their 2007 “Long Way Down” trip. With modern, large capacity BMW touring motorcycles, backup vehicles and all the communication, navigation and camping technology money can buy, the two friends made a popular TV series documentary of their overland adventure.
It’s worth watching.
However, motorcyclists have been travelling this way for years and perhaps one of the more arduous journeys was undertaken by motorcycle pioneer Theresa Wallach, and her friend Florence Blenkiron, in 1935.
EPIC LONDON TO CAPE TOWN JOURNEY
Born in London, England in 1909, Theresa Wallach was a trail blazer for women in the world of motorcycling, having immersed herself in the male dominated bike scene from an early age, including competing in road racing, working as a dispatch rider and, later in her career, she was a qualified engineer, motorcycle dealer and riding school instructor. A true pioneer.
One standout achievement was her amazing overland trip from London to Cape Town, that is documented in her book, The Rugged Road. With her friend Florence Blenkiron, Wallach rode a 600cc Panther 100 motorcycle, fitted with a sidecar and trailer, through the heart of Africa at a time when roads were poorly formed and there was very little infrastructure like bridges and fuel stations. And the route they travelled, across the Sahara and through equatorial Africa, was, and still is today, particularly difficult to traverse. Like all overland adventure motorcycling, the two women faced many challenges, not least the need to find fuel and navigate hostile regions, fix broken components and rebuild the bike’s engine while travelling through Niger.
Check out this silent movie, short documentary film of their trip. It's a montage of shaky handheld footage, grainy black and white moving pictures that gives a sense for the era and their journey, invoking the spirit of great British explorers to ‘The Dark Continent’.
After World War 2, Theresa Wallach moved to America and continued her love affair with motorcycles. In 2003 she was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame. If you’re interested in her story, read the Motorcycle Museum’s in-depth bio or buy a copy of her book for a full account of this wonderful motorcyclist and her fantastic overland journey.