Gemma Harrison from motorcycle collective VC LONDON on what it’s like to be a female biker
DtL: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the VC Collective?
Gemma: My name is Gemma Harrison and I run the VC LONDON, a motorcycle collective made up of myself, and my friends Mai & Namin as well as a network of other women who we’ve taught to ride or have met through a shared passion for motorcycles, skating/whatever else we get up to. It’s very non-definitive and we like it that way as it encompasses many things from events and The Shop Customs (our shared motor workshop and studio) to the VCC clothing line. Basically it’s just us having fun!
DtL: When/how did you first discover your passion for motorcycles?
Gemma: I was a latecomer to motorcycles by a lot of people’s standards. I’m not someone who started riding when they were 3 years old or anything like that. I grew up mostly around cars as my dad restored classic cars – but I suppose the roots of something maybe started there…
My husband bought a small motorcycle with our wedding money 6 years ago which quickly got passed down to me. From there I started to learn about mechanics and building bikes and I thought I would try and find other women who also shared this passion (it wasn’t easy at that stage as there weren’t many women into the same type of custom bikes as I was getting into back then). After meeting VCC co-founder Namin Cho through work, and Mai through her then-boyfriend who was into bikes, we started to ask ourselves why there weren’t more women into what we were into in the UK. We also travelled to Joshua Tree for the Babes Ride Out event last year (an event where 1000 women ride out to camp and party in the desert every year) and saw how many women in the US were getting into motorcycles. We thought if there wasn’t a scene already here in the UK then we would help grow it! We put out a post on Instagram asking if any women wanted to learn to ride and we had a huge response, so it all just went quite organically from there for the VC.
DtL: How do you find being a female in an industry that is heavily dominated by males? Have you ever experienced prejudice/stereotypes/sexism because of attitudes towards your gender?
Gemma: The motorcycle world is actually really supportive of women in my experience, just as it’s supportive of everyone. It’s a great community. The only bad experience I’ve had was very recently after almost 6 years of riding; I was on my 66′ Triumph Chopper and a guy on a scooter stopped alongside me at some traffic lights. He leaned across and said he liked my bike. I thanked him and looked away…he then went on to tell me that I should obviously be riding his scooter and really he should be riding my bike, me being a woman and all! Luckily the lights changed and I left him for dust…so it obviously still exists but that’s honestly the only time I’ve ever encountered it. It’s a very small, old fashioned demographic that believe motorcycles belong strictly in a man’s world.
At the workshop we share in London (The Shop Customs) we work in a really mixed environment; both girls and guys work there and we support one another and share our skills. We never feel like our gender separates us – that’s something we really believe in and try to instil in others – I’m not just a woman who rides; I’m just another rider, irrespective of my sex.
DtL: What does biking mean to you?
Gemma: Time with people I love, as well as alone time. A place to test myself and a place to relax by myself. Sometimes an uphill struggle and a downhill freewheel. Learning new skills and passing them on to others. And, having a damn good time!
DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe their gender will have a negative impact on their career. What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a hobby or career in an area which is largely male-dominated?
Gemma: Growing up, I was never the kind of girl who wore much make up, I’m not the shy and retiring type and I constantly have a colourful array of bruises all over me from whatever I’ve been doing that day. I’m not exactly what you’d call a ‘shrinking violet’, but on the other hand I can still be very feminine when I want to be. Having this personality means everyone around me (my husband, my family and friends ) have always accepted and encouraged me to pursue the things I wanted to do, whether they are considered masculine or feminine. I hate labelling people and personalities and I don’t believe in stuff like the “tomboy” pigeonhole. I’ve always had quite a dominant personality; it wasn’t until after years of being labelled ‘bossy’ by every school report, that I realised that boys were never called bossy! Qualities like that in men don’t seem to be frowned upon….in fact they are encouraged and referred to as ‘leadership qualities’! That’s when I started to accept that I am who I am and it’s done wonders for me in my career, and also what I do at VC. Having a strong personality means I can use my confidence to support and encourage others.
The world is changing; women can do absolutely anything they want to do. I’ve never felt held back by being a woman and neither should anyone else.
DtL: If you could go back in time what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Gemma: Don’t sweat the small stuff, climb more trees and ride a motorcycle.