The VC Shop

More and more women are riding customised bikes. Built visits three girls leading the charge 

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Moto riding. Good times. Not giving a shit’. That’s how the girls of VC shout their corner on vclondon.co.uk. Arriving at their address in the back streets of East London you’re welcomed by a matt-black double door with ‘The Shop’ daubed in white paint with a ‘VC’ logo almost added as an afterthought. We were here for the Dice party last year and we’re back to discover more about the VC and a new clothing company two of the girls are launching. Gemma ushers us in to a room full of bikes ranging from

Honda and Yamaha 125s to a couple of neat bobbers and what looks like the makings of a cool Yamaha V-twin cafe racer. Tucked away out back is a chill-out space, with sofas, posters, magazines and books. Up on the mezzanine floor is a pristine studio, with rails full of clothing, stacks of fashion literature, part-made clothing and rolls of fabric. Jeez, talk about conflicting messages. So what is VC all about, and what does it stand for? “The whole VC thing started out two years ago as the guys taking the piss. My husband had a birthday party, we were pissed and discussing what we should call ourselves and one the guys said we looked like a load of vicious c***ts and the name took off. 

Mai and the CG125 she started out on. She now has a Yamaha XS650 chop.

Mai and the CG125 she started out on. She now has a Yamaha XS650 chop.

Namin and her W650 bobber We think the graffiti artist is being a tad harsh

Namin and her W650 bobber We think the graffiti artist is being a tad harsh

Honda and Yamaha 125s to a couple of neat bobbers and what looks like the makings of a cool Yamaha V-twin cafe racer. Tucked away out back is a chill-out space, with sofas, posters, magazines and books. Up on the mezzanine floor is a pristine studio, with rails full of clothing, stacks of fashion literature, part-made clothing and rolls of fabric. Jeez, talk about conflicting messages. So what is VC all about, and what does it stand for? “The whole VC thing started out two years ago as the guys taking the piss. My husband had a birthday party, we were pissed and discussing what we should call ourselves and one the guys said we looked like a load of vicious c***ts and the name took off. 

We didn’t think anyone would pay attention apart from friends. We’re just girls riding bikes.” VC is three girls – Gemma, Namin and Mai – with a love of motorcycling who have, by chance, become a mouthpiece for other females with a similar interest. And now there’s a network of motorcycling friends who have met through VC. Gemma is as surprised as anyone: “The name was a joke, but we’ve been all over the world as a result and have friends everywhere. We don’t take the VC thing seriously but, through the website, we’ve had people asking to join the club. There is no club. It’s not like that. The VC just opens it up for people to talk to us. We don’t do glamorous or cool. It’s just us – riding bikes.” 

Gemma got into bikes six years ago through her husband Howard, who owns the workshop with his mate Damien. Howard handed her down an SR125 when he moved on to a bigger bike.

“I rode the SR and got laughed at for getting around on a poot-poot,” says Gemma. “But I love that bike. Howard’s a mechanic and my dad restored vintage cars so I’m from a generation of fixing stuff – I suppose I was always going to find my way into bikes and working on them myself.” Graphics designer Mai’s interest in motorcycles stems from cruising around on the back of her dad’s bike. “Two years ago I met the girls and started to ride. I love the risk and feeling you get. But most of all I love the community. I met Gemma by accident at a friend’s place and we started to hang out and I met Namin through Gemma as they were working together. It means I can be with my best friends and have a great time doing stupid shit and meeting new people.” Namin got into bikes via an ex-boyfriend. “I started on a CG125 and have done a bit of work to it,” she says. Her ride now though is a neat W650- based bobber. “I’ve had it six months since I got my full licence. 

Namin bought the W650 bobber from a mate, but she has plans to build her next bike – an XS650 chop – herself... 

Namin bought the W650 bobber from a mate, but she has plans to build her next bike – an XS650 chop – herself... 

It was fate really. I was thinking of building a bobber and we were doing the drunken research, like you do, so I had in mind what I wanted. But then we went to the Black Skulls and Adam was selling his W650. It was exactly what I had in mind so I bought it. A lot of Japanese choppers are this style.” Mai already had a background in wielding spanners. “I do basic mechanics which I’m learning as I go along. My dad used to wrench bikes and cars back in Brazil so I got this from him. Whenever he could, he used to show me how to fix stuff and now if I have a problem with my bike I call him and he gives me good advice. The VC stuff definitely helped me be more interested in the mechanical side. Also the guys we’re with at the shop are always there to give a hand and explain things. I want to build my own bike soon – a Yamaha XS650 chop.”

Gemma: “We’re into a mish-mash of Japanese-styled choppers. We’re inspired by the Japanese fashion sense with the bikes and clothing. They dress mental. You’ve got guys who will wear a Moto3 suit in crazy colours on sparkly metalflake choppers. There are lots of awesome bikes there. We need to do the Mooneyes Show.” Gemma also rides a bobber, a 500cc unit Triumph. “I was going to build my own bike too but then this came up. My dad had British bikes – he was a rocker in the 1960s with a Triumph. There is something special about British bikes. Me and my husband have six bikes between us so even if the Triumph isn’t always running – I need to fix an electrical problem with it at the moment – there’s always something to ride. The SR is really reliable.” But why the chopper thing? “My husband had a (Hinckley) Thruxton but it didn’t fit me,” replies Gemma. “I never got into it. I prefer small, low bikes so bobbers suit me. I did ten days riding Namin’s W650 and loved it. It was really comfy.” 

We’re not making it purely for fashion. It all ties in with our rather nice motorcycle life!

“I’d really like a sports bike next,” says Namin. “I can’t lean this over enough. In May we went to the Milan Reunion and had some Yamaha press bikes to ride. I had an XSR and it was so lovely to ride – everything worked which made a nice change. I’m no purist. “I’ve just sold my SR125. It’s been hanging around here for a while now so I rode it the other day and I’m almost sad I’ve sold it. I want a 250 now – something I can work on. I love flat trackers too and I want a CRF...” Gemma chuckles. “We went to Dirt Quake [from London to Kings Lynn] on the little bikes. It took a while but we got there. People laugh but when we get these little bikes in the dirt and start messing around all the boys want to have a go!” These girls do ride. And not just around town. Their joy is breaking out of the urban traffic. 

“We organised a Babes Ride Out in Wales and got 170 people turning up,” says Gemma. “There were all ages on all sorts of bikes, from all over the country. There was no judgement, just some amazing rides. We hooked up with the US Babes Ride Out and they brought helpers over to our event and helped with sponsors. Our bar was sponsored by Sailor Jerry. “Next year we’ve got Camp VC which is going to include off- road riding. We’ve got a woman who owns a farm who also happens to be an ex-enduro rider and instructor.” The workshop and VC website has given Gemma, Namin and Mai the ability to spread the word. Gemma says: “We’ve met so many people – they may ride different styles of bikes but everyone comes here. When we got this place (the workshop) I loved having the opportunity to tinker with bikes. There’s that affiliation with something tangible. ”

And that’s really what VC is all about; riding bikes, having fun and connecting with others who have a similar passion for adventure. Meeting lots of other female bikers through VC helped nurture an idea to launch VCC – a new clothing range that Gemma and Namin have developed. “VC started with our friends riding bikes and we discovered most of us had the same issues with moto gear,” says Gemma. “We were having so much fun that we thought why not use our  fashion skills and do something positive? “We both worked in fashion before this but 15 to 16 hour days didn’t give us any time to spend riding bikes. Now it’s tipped the other way. We spend too much time riding bikes and not working!” 

It’s a big risk to chuck in the day jobs but the girls reached the same conclusion as many of their peers – that we all have too much stuff and there’s more to life than accumulating wealth to invest in even more. Gemma says: “We’re the generation who were told to go out, get fancy jobs and we could have whatever we wanted. Well hang on a minute, we don’t need all that. We’ve found that by cutting back, you can enjoy your life more.” To get the business up and running, they needed a studio and the girls pitched in to build the mezzanine above the bike workshop.

Gemma says: “I like working with my hands. Playing with bikes in my spare time helped me get back in touch with what I loved doing. We design and make samples which we test before going into production. A lot of the fabrics are UK-made and we use our own prints.” The factory is 15 minutes away – a good excuse to jump on the bike. They also have a factory in Devon making VCC gloves. “Of course, we’ll have to make regular trips down there to check out production. Everything revolves around bikes. We love road trips and festivals. It’s the worst business plan ever,” laughs Gemma. “VCC is our way of being in control of our future.” 

From what we saw of the product range prior to launch, the clothing reflects their interest in Japanese culture. Namin adds: “I think everyone is looking back in fashion, music and films. Maybe they did it right with bikes in the first place? It’s not just the aesthetic – it’s all cultural. The Japanese have an obsession with American and British fashion. They take it and make it their own by taking it to extreme levels. The Japanese make American 1970s choppers their scene.”

The range includes a hoodie and a bomber jacket with full Kevlar linings. Fabrics are sourced from a wool mill in Yorkshire. Gemma again: “We aim to produce timeless clothing that you can wear on or off the bike. We looked at the market and decided to make what was missing. You could either get full safety jackets with pink flowers or nothing. And everything was downsized from a bloke’s pattern so the body was too long, the sleeves aren’t right. So we make jackets for us, the kind of things people are asking for. We’re doing MX jerseys, with shorter bodies that fit – and gloves with narrower fittings.” Namin adds: “We’re not making it purely for fashion. It’s interesting for us that we’re designing clothing that’s an answer to a problem. We’re not going to be seasonal either. We’ll come up with fresh ideas when we want them. It all ties in with our rather nice motorcycle life!”