Two menopausal North-East women decide to ride Harley Davidsons across America in aid of breast cancer research. Now ‘The Fairy Bikers’ have recorded their adventure in a book. PETER BARRON reports

MOTORBIKING mates, Liz Atkinson and Tina Oxley, happily admit it was “a bit of a mad moment” born out of a mid-life crisis.

“The thing about the menopause is that it triggers a spirit of adventure in you because you suddenly realise there are things you want to fit into your life while you still can,” explains Liz.

For her and Tina, it inspired a decision to say “sod it" and leave normality behind for a while to ride Harley Davidson bikes across 1,500 miles of America.

It was quite a contrast to their daily lives back in the North-East of England, where Liz is an accountant, and Tina works as a cleaner. But for nine days, they donned their personalised helmets and leathers, and swapped it all for the freedom of the open highway, from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

Now, their journey, which raised £2,000 for breast cancer research, has been captured in a book, Lipstick and Leathers, published under their nickname, The Fairy Bikers.

“Let's face it, it’s not every day you get two middle-aged, menopausal women riding Harleys across America in a bucket-list response to a mid-life crisis!” laughs Tina.

Liz, who lives in Darlington, and Tina, from Bedale, share a passion for motorbikes and met at a bike meeting in Northallerton in 2010, hitting it off despite having contrasting personalities – Liz being “the sensible one” and Tina “the clown”.

A couple of trips to the Isle of Man TT races followed before discussions turned to doing something more adventurous, and they spent 18 months planning for the ride of their lives in America.

Around that time, Tina’s mum, Marjorie, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that was the inspiration for them to finalise their plans.

“Mum was so positive about the diagnosis, and told us to go ahead with the ride across America because you only live once,” recalls Tina.

The women decided there and then to raise money for breast cancer research.

Now, seven years after their epic journey, Tina's mum has recovered from her illness, and the women have finally completed the second stage of their mission – to publish a book based on a diary Liz kept during the ride.

Lipstick and Leathers is dedicated to “all those who have suffered with breast cancer” and a donation for every copy sold goes to the Pink Ribbon Foundation.

“We were two Yorkshire lasses wearing our lippy and our leathers, so I suggested the title for the book and Liz loved it," explains Tina. "Then we needed a catchy name and the Fairy Bikers just made us laugh.”

The book is a “brutally honest” account of the challenges they faced during their journey, which they confess was “scary” at times.

The first page recounts how they visited a Los Angeles graveyard, looking for famous names, when they stumbled across a drugs deal and had to hide behind a headstone to avoid being spotted by a gunman.

“Looking back, it’s all a bit surreal but there were a lot of funny things along the way too,” says Liz.

And it doesn’t stop here, because the intrepid grandmas are talking about where their next fundraising adventure might take them.

In the meantime, they're planning talks and signings to promote the book, starting in Maidstone this Saturday.

Naturally, they’ll be going by bike.

  • Lipstick and Leathers is published by Olympia and can be ordered through bookshops and Amazon. The Fairy Bikers can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

THERE have been two outstanding “Voices of the Boro” in my lifetime.

One, of course, was the much-missed Ali Brownlee, who was Middlesbrough Football Club’s matchday commentator for Radio Cleveland, century and BBC Tees for three decades before his death from bowel cancer in 2016.

The other goes back to my younger days, when Boro matches were played at Ayresome Park, and the distinctive voice over the tannoy belonged to Bernard Gent, who has sadly passed away, aged 92.

The Northern Echo:

Like Ali Brownlee, Bernard’s voice was synonymous with the Boro for 30 years, and he also introduced the club’s iconic run-out theme, The Power Game, played by the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra.

I can still remember Bernard's catchphrase “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Ayresome Park,” booming out as I stood with my pals in the Clive Road end.

A generation of Teessiders may never have met Bernard, but they will have known his voice like a member of the family.

I swear that I also often heard his dulcet tones announcing the latest best-buys at Asda, in South Bank, although Bernard denied it was him.

“He’d have been delighted to get the supermarket gig, and he was frequently ribbed about it, but he always insisted it must have been a sound-alike,” says son-in-law, Graeme Thompson, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Sunderland University.

All I can say is that Asda must have had a mimic who was up to Rory Bremner standards.

Whatever the truth, I encountered the famous voice again when I started my career at The Northern Echo in 1984 and heard Bernard speak at a staff meeting.

It immediately dawned on me that the experienced Middlesbrough office reporter, who doubled as the paper’s motoring editor, was the Ayresome Park announcer.

The tributes that have flooded in since his death are testament to the mark he left on this area and, no doubt, there will be a deservedly big turnout when his funeral takes place at St Bede’s Chapel, Teesside Crematorium, at 1pm on July 26.

Rest in peace, Bernard – thanks for the memories.