Olga Kevelos

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A few months ago, I had an email from Colin Turbett, asking if I’d like to review his biography of Olga Kevelos for the WIMA news. Now I’ll admit that prior to Colin’s email, I hadn’t heard of Olga, probably because I’m too young and know nothing about tri-als biking. But a quick Google furnished me with the basics and I happily agreed to review the book. For those like me, who don’t know, or need a refresher, Olga Kevelos was a big name in trials motorcycle events. Beginning to compete as the only female rider in the late 1940s and continuing right up until 1966, sometimes with other women, such as Molly Briggs but often alone. Long rambling short, I was sent a copy and dug in. 

The book, titled ‘Playing with the Boys’, consists of accounts of her childhood and the atti-tudes that paved the way for her entrance to the motorbiking world, her numerous compe-titions, anecdotes from old friends and relatives and a list of the bikes she had and compet-ed with over the years. These records are interspersed with copies of letters to and from Olga, photographs and a few paintings, newspaper clippings and drawings. 

The early chapters cover Olga’s childhood, her disinterest in schooling and an enduring in-terest in pirates and Errol Flynn. It follows on to document her work during the war, first with Mills (the hand grenade maker), then with the Admiralty in the nautical almanac office; lastly, she volunteered with the inland waterways, crewing on narrowboats transporting coal or metal around the country. My favourite anecdote from this section was Olga’s own account of encountering ghosts in a canal tunnel – make of that what you will. 

The rest of the book is naturally focused on Olga’s first experiences with motorcycling and the large number of events she took part in. Some were impressive suc-cesses, others less successful, due to accidents or just bad luck. I won’t go into too much detail, as that would spoil it for anyone who wants to read about it for themselves. Whatever the outcome though she was earning respect from the male competitors for her stubbornness, her perseverance and her physical strength. 

Playing with the Boys – Biography of Olga Kevelos 

As would be expected, Olga had to fight against all the prejudices of her time, but she strikes me, from what I’ve learned, to be the type not to care what anyone thought of her and she would have just carried on, unflustered by any disapproving looks she may have received. 

The rest of the book is naturally focused on Olga’s first experiences with motorcycling and the large number of events she took part in. Some were impressive successes, others less successful, due to accidents or just bad luck. I won’t go into too much detail, as that would spoil it for anyone who wants to read about it for themselves. Whatever the outcome though she was earning respect from the male competitors for her stubbornness, her perse-verance and her physical strength. As would be expected, Olga had to fight against all the prejudices of her time, but she strikes me, from what I’ve learned, to be the type not to care what anyone thought of her and she would have just carried on, unflustered by any disap-proving looks she may have received. 

These collected fragments help to build a picture of a woman who was determined to do her own thing, never mind what anyone else thought – a sentiment which I certainly admire, and I think would resonate with many members of WIMA. Olga did attend a rally in 1968, in Germany, which was when she was offered a membership, but she declined as she pre-ferred to ‘play with the boys.’ 

Olga died in 2009, just short of her 86th birthday. The family home was sold twice before its contents were fully examined and the material concerning Olga was found. Colin Turbett was fortunate in obtaining some of this and began the biography in 2015. 

I quite enjoyed the book. I’ve never read anything like it before – I tend to stick to fiction of the fantasy and sci-fi variety, and I know next to nothing about trials riding and early motor sport. But it was an enjoyable read, to anyone with an interest in motorcycle sport or just in the history of women in motorcycling then this is a good book for the shelf or as a gift for any independent-minded women. 

Molly Dibley 

The book is sold through Facebook ‘Olga Kevelos Biography’ but also from Colin at £20. Colin is reachable by email at: Ctur282388@aol.com