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Trials History

Who is Renee Benett?

2016, March 31st
EW_AUTOR_TEXTO Javier Cruz EW_AUTOR_FOTOS Renee Benett personal collection

Who is Renee Benett?

posted by 31 March 2016 By in Varios Last modified on Thursday, 31 March 2016 10:56

Since motorsports was born, there are women willing to hop on a bike and compete as equals in a sport that was once considered only for men. Since 1920 we are aware of many women who ride competitions, including a very special; Renee Benett. In this report we will know who is she and will know more about the fascinating history of the trials.

Renee Bennet, one of the first women trials riders

We all know those women competing today in the world's most demanding trials and enduros; World Championships, ISDT, Scottish Six day trial. The names of Laia Sainz, Sandra Gomez or Emma Bristow among others are portrait in the covers of magazines and are respected and admired wherever they compete.

But Laia, Sandra and Emma are not the pioneers. Since there are motorsports events, there are women willing to hop on a bike and compete as equals in a sport that was once considered only for men. Since 1920 we are aware of many women who competed, including a very special one; Renee Benett.

I had occasion to talk to Julie Powell Bennett, daughter of Renee to ask for photos and information about her mother, told me that her mother was arround but was in the surgery room at the time, she told me that once recovered sure she would like to contact me. That same night she contacted me via email, hard woman with more than eighty years and wanting to keep in touch with the world of trials and enduro.

Renee Benett riding on her GreeevesAnother photo with the 250 Greeves

1939 ISDT, Nazi soldiers watching the bikeRene Bennett was born in East London in a poor industrial area, her interest in motorcycles comes as her father owned a motorcycle shop where he sold and rented bikes, and her interest in the competition started when she went to see her father participate in races that took place in the docks of London.

During World War II, Bennett kept the shop opened, and it was very popular among dockworkers who were attending freighters and warships involved. Renee that during the war, when she was 5 years old remembers how she stand in a box behind the counter at the motorcycle shop, helping checking light bulbs or giving change to customers.

In 1939 Renee´s father was selected for the English ISDT team,  taking place that year in Hitler's Germany, Renee recalls that was greeted by the Führer and Hitler shook her hand in the paddock. But the British team was required by their embassy to retire on Friday as the Nazi army invaded Poland and forced the declaration of war by Britain and the Second World War.

1939 ISDT posterRenee Benett at the 1967 SSDT

1965, in HampshireAs Benett´s motorcycle shop  was in the docks, a main target for the Germans, it was destroyed by a German bomb. Renee remembers how tough they were the war years, but says that it prepared her to have the necessary mental strength and be able to withstand in the SSDT and ISDT in which after she participated.

After the war, Bennet´s shop specialized in Ariel as it was one of the military models and there were thousands of this bikes in the country. Renee left school at 15 and went to work full time at the motorcycle shop.

Over time, the shop became famous and represented well known brands in the world of trials and enduro as AJS, Ariel, BSA, Francis Barnett, Matchless, Triumph or James. This was when Renee began competing with a James Captain 197cc transformed from road to trial as the one in the photo, used by the writer two years in the Scottish Pre65.

With other trials ridersThe shop in London

Testing a model 10 BultacoRenee remembers how tough they were her beginnings in the world of trials and enduro, and repeat many times; "I still do not understand how I did not kill myself".

In 1956 Rene married a trials rider in UK; Howard Powell. Her goal then was to become a Matchless factory rider as it was her favorite bike, something that at last she could never achieve. Both Renee and husband after the marriage were practicing almost daily and competing every weekend. Renee soon started to won in some regional events, riding a Greeves TFS Scottish.

Her first entry for the SSDT was in 1961. The first of a total of 25 entries in the Scottish tough event! She finished the event; and as Renee remembers "full of bruises all over my body". In her 25 appearances she got a total of 6 silver medals (equivalent today to a First Class Award).

In enduro she recalls as her favorite event the Three Days of Wales, event were she used to ride with a 250 Bultaco. This hard Welsh enduro was also attended by Renee for no less than 25 years without interruption.

1973 Welsh Three-Day Enduro, Bultaco 250cc. Renee on the way to win a medalRenee Bennett scored 6 SSDT silver medals

Renee Bennet with Bultaco Sherpa in actionThe prestigious BBC television portrayed Renee as "The Girl of the bike", short documental you can see in this article.

In the early seventies Renee continued to ride both trials and enduros with her Bultaco, Greeves and James Captain, bikes she still keeps at home.

During that time, Renee held open the shop of his father, and together with her husband made a competition off road center that was well known among fans of all over the World. They were sponsors of many young riders during the 1980´s that were helped with riding gears, spares and sent a check when they won competitions. Each time a new customer enters the store, apparently they always say the same thing: "I would like to meet Renee Benett".

Today she is a grandmother still interested in Trials and enduro competition, and her shop is still open.

Renee proud in her shopRiding the Bultaco

 Renee Bennett photo gallery, click here if you can't see it

 BBC film about Renee Benett:

  • 1 comment

    •   Dave Cox
      Comment Link Dave Cox 31 March 2016

      Bravo Javier, interesting article.
      We were very lucky to have 3 good trials shops in East London in the late 1960's. Renee Benetts. Don Smiths and Monty Banks, I traded my Greeves Anglian in for a Montesa Cota 247 Mk2 from Monty in 1971.
      I remember riding in Trial with Renee, Don and Monty, when I was young.

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