Life

This is how three women turned their frustrations with underrepresentation into a movement

Women still have a lot to be frustrated about in 2018, but it can be hard to know how to turn those frustrations into decisive action. We talk to the women of VC London who channeled their recognition of the lack of women on motorbikes into a movement…

Girls shouldn’t ride motorbikes. At least that’s what you’re led to believe if you look on the roads, in the media or well, anywhere.

It’s something that dawned on Gemma Harrison, Namin Cho and Mai Storni when they were working on their bikes one night at their East London workshop.

What emerged was motorbike group VC London. More than just a bike workshop, it’s a movement empowering women to get on a bike and increase visibility.

We sat down with the three founders to talk motorbikes, starting a movement and why a trip back from Wales is the true test of friendship.

How did you all meet?

Mai: Gemma and Namin used to work together as fashion designers. Namin’s ex-boyfriend rented a space in the same place as Gemma’s husband, so they started to hang out. Gemma was already riding and Namin was just starting. I met Gemma at a bike party and mentioned how I wanted to learn to ride and she said she’d teach me.

Were you always interested in bikes?

Gemma: I grew up around cars. My husband used to race them, but when we moved to London we didn’t have space for cars so he got into bikes. He gave me this rubbish little one and taught me how to ride round the back of an Asda carpark! I don’t have a driving licence so it was a newfound freedom for me, but I wanted to find more girls to ride with.

Namin: When we met, I’d been with my ex for a few years and had gone riding on the back of his bike. Having said that, it had never crossed my mind to ride until I met the girls. Then it was like, ‘Oh, I can ride as well then.’

Mai: My dad used to race in Brazil, so I was always on the back of his bike, but I never thought that I could ride it myself. I hadn’t had driving lessons, so biking was a good way for me to get around because I was annoyed at paying too much for public transport. It was a practical thing, but also a confidence thing.

So, how did VC start?

Gemma: A lot of late nights cutting things off bikes we shouldn’t have done and then learning how to weld them back on again! We started to think about why there weren’t more women riding and what kind of barriers they faced – I guess we became accidental activists. We were just three friends being dorks and messing around with bikes, but we ended up building a community.

Namin: We put a post out on Instagram and opened the floodgates. We had loads of girls get in touch. From there we started giving free biking lessons. We invited girls to come down and give it a go. Fast forward to now and some of them race or have done massive road trips across America.

Gemma: We didn’t realise what we were creating at the time but it’s gone from strength to strength. It’s pulled in masses of people from all over the world and they’ve given their time and skills to help put on our biking events.

Why is the amount of women on bikes so disproportionate to men? 

Gemma: It’s about visibility – if you don’t see women in those positions, how do you think that you can do it as well? It’s ironic that it was through the men in our lives that we got into biking - traditionally women don’t have the gateway to get into it. 

It’s a wider question, too. It’s going to take a big effort from society – it’s not just a motorcycle thing. There’s not a lot these days where people of all ages and backgrounds integrate with each other. I think that’s what VC has been able to do. It’s non-discriminative to everyone. Having said that, we’ve had some guys call us sexist and it’s like, ‘You are so not getting this…’

What advice would you give somebody wanting to start their own movement?

Namin: Surround yourself with the right people who are going to support you.

Gemma: Don’t put pressure on yourself. There’s huge pressure to be someone and do something, so everything gets muddied within all of that. If you make sure your intentions are true, things will always go right and you’ll find your people.

There’s certain style clichés when it comes to bikers. How do you bring your sense of style into what you do? 

Mai: Me and Namin live next to each other and we always end up dressing the same. We’re always turning up in similar stuff, whether it’s J.Crew jumpers or the same trousers. But we ignore the cliches.

Namin: I know! I’ve even been avoiding those trousers because I know you’ve got them too.

Anything you wish you’d known?

Gemma: How fun bikes were a long time ago. I learned to ride when I was 26 – I was far too busy partying when I was younger to be bothered by motorbikes. I wish I’d found it sooner because it’s given me friends, a community and a family. 

Can you call out your most memorable VC experience?

Namin: The last day of Camp VC, our annual women’s biking festival in Wales. You’re so knackered and you want everyone to leave and never see a bike again. But then the girls come up to us and say, “I’ve had the best weekend, thanks so much for doing this.” And then you’re like, ‘Aw, that’s really nice.’

And the most disastrous?

Mai: The first time we came back from Wales I almost fell off the bike.

Namin: Breakdowns, running out of petrol. It can be a real test of friendship…

Gemma: If you can be friends after what we’ve been through you’ll probably be friends for a very long time!

Namin wears: Crewneck sweater in vintage ‘Fair Isle’, J.Crew, £120; High-Rise Toothpick Jeans in ‘True Black’, J.Crew, £115, both at John Lewis & Partners.

Mai wears: Polartec fleece half-zip pullover jacket, J.Crew, £128; High-Rise Toothpick Jeans in ‘Deep Indigo’, J.Crew, £115, both at John Lewis & Partners.

Gemma wears: Classic-fit shirt in brushed twill flannel, J.Crew, £89.50; Vintage straight jeans, J.Crew, £128, both at John Lewis & Partners.

Find your crew with J.Crew. Shop the collection in-store now at John Lewis & Partners.