VC London is an all-women motorbike collective founded by designers Gemma Harrison, Maite Storni and Namin Cho. Fuelled by their passion for motorbikes and a desire to encourage women to start riding, the three friends originally set out in 2015 to document their adventures on social media, while offering free riding lessons for beginners in an abandoned car park in east London.
Since then, VC has introduced over 200 women to motorcycling, with the overall aim of "creating a judgment and jealousy-free positive space for women to come and try something new". The founders hope that, through the collective, their riders will not only be able to hold their own on any race track, but will also have the confidence to step into any male-dominated space.
Despite the inevitable complaints by men on social media that women-only spaces are sexist – including one guy who threatened to sue them – VC has expanded over the past three years to include regular talks and panels with professional extreme sportswomen, skateboarding and surfing lessons, a weekend camping festival, an apparel line and collaborations with brands like Red Bull and Vans.
Last weekend, I joined 30 other women at VC's second annual VC x DTRA x Greenfield Dirt Camp in Lincolnshire. Not only did I learn to hit left hand corners on a dusty racetrack, but I spoke to Gemma Harrison about how VC was born, why they think racing is so important for women and what they hope to achieve in the future.
VICE: Hey Gemma. Why did you guys decide to start VC London?
Gemma: I don't think there was ever a conscious decision to start VC as it exists today, as I don't think we could have ever imagined that it would pick up traction like it has. In the beginning, we couldn't find other women like us in London who were into motorcycles, so we got to thinking about how we could help women get into riding. That's when we started up the Instagram account and put out a message telling girls to get in touch if they wanted to learn, which opened the floodgates.
What got you into motorbikes, and was it easy to pick up?
I originally got into it through my husband. But I also came from an upbringing of being pretty hands on and never hiring someone else to come and fix stuff at home, so I've always been used to getting my hands dirty. My dad restored classic cars for as long as I can remember, so the sights and smells of a workshop will always remind me of him.
Could you tell me a little bit more about the events and training you put on for women?
It all started with our riding lessons for beginners that we put on for free in a shitty disused car park near our workshop in east London, on our little 125cc bikes that we learned to ride on. As we went along, we started to see that the women who came to our lessons all shared a similar attitude towards trying out new things, and they were also already involved in other disciplines too – skateboarding, climbing, surfing, custom cars. Over time we started trading riding lessons with girls for skateboarding lessons or surfing lessons, so it organically became this big network of women coming together to trade their skills to help someone else learn a new skill.
This is what eventually went on to inspire the idea for our VC Team Talks events – live talks, discussions and Q&As with inspiring female adventurers or professional extreme sportswomen. After that, our main event for the year is CAMP VC, a weekend event in the Brecon Beacons where women can come and try out everything from riding motorcycles for the first time to dirt biking, skateboarding and climbing. We also have filmmaking and photography workshops, yoga classes, live entertainment with all-female bands and DJs, and free beer all weekend. This year, we're expecting over 400 women onsite.
Do you have any advice for girls who want to pick up racing?
Dirt riding is a great way to start out riding motorcycles, as you're in a controlled space off road. The Dirt Camp that we run in collaboration with the Dirt Track Riders Association and Greenfield dirt track in Lincolnshire is a great facility for anyone wanting to give riding a go. Otherwise, we run our intro to riding classes from our workshop, and we also do a monthly meet up at The Bike Shed in Shoreditch, where women can come down and meet other women that ride and ask tips and advice. Everyone's welcome, whether they already ride or not.
Are there any particular women out there who have been an inspiration to you all?
Two women who have really inspired us are Leah Tokelove and Elspeth Beard. Leah is a 20-year-old motorcycle racer who, up until recently, was the only female pro flat-track racer in the UK. We met when she was just 16 after being introduced by a friend, and we've gone on to work together on events to get more women into flat track. She's also been involved with some of our team talks. It's pretty incredible to watch and support what she does, and see her grow into the inspiring person and racer that she is now.
Elspeth Beard is a bit of a legend in motorcycling. In the 1980s, she became the first British woman to ride around the world solo. I sort of stalked Elspeth and somehow talked her into coming to speak at our first CAMP VC event, and we've been friends ever since.
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You guys also run VCC, a women's motorcycle wear line. Who designs the clothes and what's the process behind it?
We started VCC as a bit of an answer to being so massively under-represented when it came to motorcycle gear for women. Everything we could find was either covered in pink flowers or we had to buy guys' stuff that didn't fit. We just wanted to find gear that matched how we usually dressed, but with some protection for the road, so VCC was the result of that gap. As Namin and I were already designers, it made sense for us to marry what we did in our day jobs with what we were doing with motorcycles. We originally started making a few motocross jerseys for friends, which went down so well that things progressed from there, all the way to making Kevlar-lined jackets with abrasion proofing that you wouldn't guess were protective.
What are your plans for the future?
We've already got some pretty exciting stuff in the works for CAMP VC 2019 and our VC Team Talks project. But we've always said that if it stops being fun that's when we'll lay VC London to rest. But the more it continues to gather momentum with women, the more fun we're having with it. It's still the most incredible thing to come across a girl that you taught to ride, who has found other friends to ride with or is teaching someone else to ride like we did for them. So I doubt we'll be disappearing any time soon.
Scroll down to see more photos from the recent VC x DTRA x Greenfield Dirt Camp event in Lincolnshire.