The peaceful hills of Brecon didn’t know what hit them – 250 female bikers and skaters converged on a field to ride, chat and – of course – have one hell of a party
After last year’s successful Babes ride-out, the VC girls upped the ante this year with Camp VC. The weekend was overflowing with activity to keep riders busy – from beginner flat track lessons to enduro riding classes, and of course the ride-outs around the stunning Brecon Beacons.
Camp VC also managed to get 40 women to have their first blast on a motorcycle and a crew of allgirl skaters taught event-goers how to drop in on a 3ft skate ramp. There was even outdoor yoga.
The infamous Blondies Bar kicked off the party and kept it lit with Sailor Jerry, Monster-energy cocktails and unlimited free Pistonhead lager. Saturday evening entertainment was provided by The Pearl Harts, a two-piece girl band who summoned the power of Pwcca (Welsh for satan) on stage!
The most popular event of the weekend were the VC Team Talks – live discussions from four talented and courageous women, including Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride solo around the world.
Tasty brown nectar from Hackney coffee makers Grand Howl and delicious local food from Slow Pig kept the ladies going for all the other activities.
There was screen printing, the traditional Slow Race competition, a raffle table breaking at the joints with incredible prizes (from patches to custom painted helmets), and even a best bike award. With a schedule like that, it was inevitable that every woman there had an absolute blast.
“I have a Skyteam Ace 125cc [Chinese, based around a CG125-a-like engine] and I love it. I bought it because I love vintage bikes but simply don’t know enough to own one! I decided to get a bike that looks old but is totally new and reliable. The design is based on the Honda Dream from the 60s and it’s a real eye catcher. I’ve had it for over a year and had no problems with it.. Motorcycling is just fun. I love the freedom. Camp VC has been awesome. It’s been great to meet other female riders and listen to their stories. I particularly liked the talks.”
“My first bike was a road-racer which I bought for 400 bucks, purchased in anticipation for a trip in the USA. But I ended up sponsored by Harley which was fucking amazing! So I saved up for what I really wanted to build and a good friend of mine called me up and said; ‘hey I have a Suzuki Intruder VS 700 you can have for $500’.
What brought me to riding was that most of my artwork comes from dreaming, and at some point I had this dream that I was going to give away all my shit, cut all my hair off, get my motorcycle licence and do this big ass trip. So I thought ‘fuck it, I’m just gonna do it!’ I got my licence and six months later I went to California on a three month trip. I didn’t really think it through properly before going – fuck, there’s hills and mountains, crazy traffic and crazy everything. It was so good for my riding.”
“One side of my family is into sports bikes, the other side is into classics. I love my uncle’s Bonneville – the look and the feel of it. When my mother was 15 she threw a house party where ‘accidentally’ 40 bikers showed up. Picture it, a tiny semi-detached family home in Warwickshire full of bikers. There were bikes parked all over the garden, helmets piled at the bottom of the stairs, people falling over grasping sevenpint beer cans. When I heard this story I suddenly started noticing bikes, and couldn’t get them out of my head. My bike is a 1974 Honda CB125 cafe racer. We went to the Bike Shed event and met the VC girls. Mai was a big help in me getting my bike. I felt bad because I was sending her Facebook messages when I was looking at bikes to buy. Even though we’ve had a few hiccups with it, it’s always started.”
“I like retro bikes so I was looking at Vespas and Lambrettas but people I knew who rode said ‘get something with bigger wheels’. I came across a Honda C90 on eBay. It cost me a few bob to get sorted and then it got stolen – and needed repairing before I could ride it again so that’s delayed me doing direct access. But I love riding. I’ve not stopped smiling since I did my CBT. I don’t ever wanna get in a car again. All through the winter, open face helmet, riding to and from work, love it! This weekend has been wicked! I’m gutted the tattooist didn’t show up though as I wanted a momento!”
“In April 2016 I passed my big bike test but I saw this bike before my DAS and fell in love with it. It was built by Browny Cafe Customs – I saw it online and put a £600 deposit down, which is ridiculous but I was so obsessed. I didn’t even know if it started, but it just suited me. When I rode it I was totally in love and I’m on it every day. When I grew up my sister, who is 10 years older than me, used to drag race so I’ ve always been around bikes. My boyfriend had a Harley and I used to get on the back, but was never able to ride because I had kids. Then 18 months ago I thought, I’ve got to do this and now all I wanna do is ride.”
“I first started riding when I lived in the Bahamas. I couldn’t afford a car so, I just got a really cheap dirt bike and strapped my spear and fins to the side. I’d never even ridden a bike when I ordered it. It arrived in a box and I had to build it! I got a local bush mechanic to help me out in exchange for a bottle of Bacardi. When I came back to the UK I got my bike licence but had a life changing cycling accident in 2014. In the aftermath of that, I decided I needed a motorcycle to avoid the traffic so I got a little Suzuki Bandit which turned into Harleys. It’s all about the journey, the cruising and the growling of the exhaust. Harleys are a lifestyle and I know that sounds really cliché, but there’s something about strapping whatever we need to the back and just hitting the road. Camp VC has been awesome. I didn’t realised there were quite so many female riders around.”
“Getting a bike was something that slowly simmered in my subconscious. You see bikes and think ‘they’re so cool, I love it, I wanna ride’. My boyfriend rode but I didn’t know anyone else who did. So I had a go on his bike and did the test. I originally wanted an XT500 and was telling Andrew at Bolt and he said he knew a guy who had a trail bike for sale. It was awesome. You ask me what motorcycling is like – it’s funny because it’s like when people ask ‘what does feminism mean to you?’ It’s a part of life isn’t it? You choose options in life, and motorcycling is one of those. I have the outdoors available to me, therefore I choose it. I have bikes available to me, therefore I choose it. All these little choices make up who you are. Camp VC has been wicked. I’ve seen so many faces that I’ve wanted to speak to but I’m really shy. I’m nearly 28 and I’m still a nervous wreck about everything so I’m trying to change that.”
“My bike was a total impulse buy. I gave my bro some cash and off he went in his van with a mate then dropped it off to our place in Hackney at 4am. I woke from this dream with it sitting in the back yard! It is totally original and we haven’t done anything to it in over three years. It was a bit stupid as a first bike to be honest, not having a workshop or indepth skills to do her justice with a re-build or custom job. I think this year I’ll begrudgingly put it up for sale. This is the first time I have ridden it outside of the M25 and she is lovely sitting in the higher gears. The open road is freedom. It’s great to be free, even if it’s just for one weekend. Camp VC is awesome, no dickheads, no pressure, no rules – just good vibes and smashing countryside! And I’ve met some really amazing people from all walks of life and I really can’t wait for the next one.”
“This was just a regular old bike – some stuff was wrong and I wanted to change it, so I bought some parts with my ex-boyfriend – a bike builder – but all of a sudden the relationship ended! So I was like, ‘shit, what to do?’ I started being creative, but actually didn’t know how to do it. My dad helped me figure it out. We started with the sissy bar I bought at a swap meet. That was the piece I really, really, wanted. Then I changed the bars, and added glitter grips because I love glitter. There should be glitter on a bike, and pink too to match my hair. I did all the graphic stuff myself, including the tank. I’m a big fan of 70s posters and pinups so I felt there should be flames. Because I’m on my own now, I want to do road trips. I wanna hang out with biker girls and see stuff, so this needs to be a fun machine. It doesn’t matter if it’s not all that neat. Sometimes you see bikes with everything matching and fitting but it’s just a starting point to me.“
Camp VC was organised by the three characters who are VC London: Gemma Harrison (32, fashion designer, below centre); Namin Cho (29, designer, right); and Maite Storni (21, graphic designer, left). They have relatively similar bikes, yet each are aesthetically different. We asked them if they match their personalites... Gemma: Yes. Mai’s XS650 chop usually looks spotless even after a 500- mile round trip, just like her. Namin’s W650 bobber has a bit of a dark sense of humour like her. My 1966 5TA Triumph bobber? It’s loud, British, and rough around the edges…
"VC London encompasses quite a few things. We’re not a club or a gang. We’re more like a collective of different people doing different things, from messing around with bikes and running events to running our women’s label VCC. It all stems from what we do with motorcycles. We started with just a small Instagram and everything grew from there which was really unexpected. The events we run are hopefully promoting and encouraging women to get out and experience new things. Future goals? The only goal we have over the next few years is to keep having a good time together!”
“I chose the XS because I felt it was the right bike for me – not too powerful or heavy and a few people told me that the XS is good if you want to turn it into a chopper. Barry (@skateinteriors) agreed to build the bike for me. I’ve re-done the whole thing. The only parts that are left from the original bike are the engine and the front part of the frame. The rest it was all built by Barry or bought online. The key feature is the scorpion – I said to Barry, ‘can you embed a real scorpion in the tank?’ The result is stunning! I wanted something that would be a bit over the top...”
“My Kawasaki W650 is great. It’s a hard tail, and at first I was slightly worried about being uncomfortable and stuff, but it’s not too bad. It’s really low, which is perfect for me as I’m quite short. It’s not too heavy either. It goes pretty fast and it’s got the look that I want, but it’s a new engine so I don’t really have any problems. I love it. Motorcycling is a bit about practicality, but mainly about having fun. It’s a very social thing. You meet so many people through it and you have so many different experiences. Camp VC , for example – it’s just taken over my life now. It’s really all consuming, but in the best way.”
It’s a long way from brapping around London on your little 125s. Do you miss them?
Gemma: Ahhh, we love those 125s. We had so many fun trips on those bloody things! I’ve actually still got my SR125 and Mai’s still got her little CG125 for when the chop doesn’t start (laughs). I guess we can’t quite let go of those first little bikes as they have so many memories attached to them.
What have you changed on your bikes – and why?
Mai: My bike is a total rebuild from the ground up by Barry Kay (@skateinteriors) from a stock 1981 Yamaha XS650. We started it in March this year and it took roughly four months. It’s been hard-tailed, new tank, bars, new bigger wheels, and a custom sissy bar and seat that were all made by Barry. We’ve added a few twists along the way too with the pearlescent paint and the scorpion encased in resin that we sunk into the tank. It’s a real mix but it fits me pretty well.
Namin: I actually bought my W650 pretty much as is. It was built by Redmax and I just added a few bits like grips from Lowbrow.
Gemma: My Triumph was built about six years ago by Steve Marshal. I know some people have a stick up their asses about ‘built not bought’ but I fell in love with this bike as soon as I saw it. I’ve changed the grips, had the tank pinstriped with flames by Von Leadfoot, added the sissy bar that my husband Howard at The Shop Customs built for me but that’s about it. The thing I love most about it is the people who come up at bike events and have a crazy story about it from years ago.
What made you want to take on the monstrous task of organising Camp VC?
Gemma: Yeah, why do we do it to ourselves? We just wanted to expand what we’ve been doing with VC with our recent smaller events into one big event. As we’ve gone on with VC we’ve met so many incredible people doing so many great things who all came together to help us out with the event. Hopefully people get some good vibes from the event and have a good time. That’s the only aim really.
What was your moment of Camp VC?
Mai: Our friend Viv crowd-surfing to The Pearl Harts was pretty nuts. Also, one group of ladies that got caught out in a storm as they were on a ride-out and went into a pub where they had a tumble dryer that the landlady allowed them to use. They were all sat in this little Welsh pub in their pants. I’m sure that was a pretty unfamiliar sight for the locals!
Why did you decide to organise the team talks?
Gemma: Me and Namin run our womenswear label VCC alongside VC London and we’ve run VCC team talks before. The idea was for racers, adventurers, groundbreakers in extreme sports and motorcycle builders to come together to talk about their lives. At Camp VC we were lucky enough to have Leah Tokelove (the only female pro flat track racer in the UK), Tamsin Jones (enduro racer who has competed in both the Dakar Rally and Romaniacs extreme enduros), Sophie Allen (an ex-pro skateboarder) and Elspeth Beard (the first British woman to travel around the world solo on a motorcycle).
Do you have a favourite bike from the weekend?
Namin: We had a best bike award onsite sponsored by Red Wings and it deservedly went to one sweet Honda CB400-4 which had lots of original features but some twists thrown in to produce a neat cafe racer.