HUCK × VANS
How VC London are changing bike culture from the inside
Since their formation, the all-women crew have been an integral fixture in the UK’s bike scene. With their open-minded activism and unpretentious attitude, they’re committed to creating an inclusive space for anyone with a love of motorcycles.
TEXT: Michael Fordham ARTWORK: Picnic Studio & Chris Sayer
Custom bike culture is often accused of taking itself a little too seriously: an exclusionary world, full of cliches and posturing, that can feel quite elitist from the outside.
Enter VC London. The all-women crew – led by Gemma Harrison, along with friends Namin Cho and Mai Storni – is at the centre of a growing community of people who simply love to ride motorcycles. With a mission to create a more inclusive and accessible culture within the UK’s bike scene, their mission is one of positivity. It’s about getting more women on the road.
“We identified a problem — the bike scene didn’t have obvious access points for many women,” says Gemma. “We offered a space where women could have a taster of bike culture without making a great big commitment.”
“We’ve given over 400 women, and quite a few men, their first go on a motorbike. Through our events, we’ve inspired so many more [people] to think about motorcycles and themselves differently. The community is growing by the day.”
Gemma – a fashion designer, and the first of the crew to start riding – initially got into bikes through her partner, whom she’d accompany to bike shows and events. While he sat astride a full-fat Triumph, she began on a smaller 125cc machine. “A lot of the hardcore bikers would take the mickey a bit,” she remembers. ‘’But I thought, ‘I’ll be back!’”
After passing her bike test, she eventually got hold of a Triumph for herself (a 1965 classic) and, with a little help from mechanic friends, tweaked it to suit both her personality and riding style. Today, Gemma’s bike is a stripped-down classic, with a pinstriped design and hand-built tank. Aesthetically rugged, with intelligently thought-out detail, it was precisely what she was after. This commitment to customisation was the genesis of the whole VC project.
“VC started because there was so little information available to us about how to ride, fix and customise bikes,” she says. “But customising a bike is a nice way to be able to understand the machine. Being able to break down a bike and put it back together makes you feel you really own it. You come to identify with the machine and that’s rewarding at many levels. It’s a great way to learn basic mechanics too – so it’s a real creative outlet and a great practical skill.”
Gemma and Namin knew each other through work (they both had jobs in fashion) and later met Mai at a party. There, the three of them bonded over a shared love of bikes. Mai was looking to learn how to ride, so Gemma and Namin offered to teach her – soon, they were riding together all the time.
In 2015, they started an Instagram account under the VC title, documenting their exploits on the bike. It quickly blew up, connecting them with a network of women who, like them, were looking for a way to dive into the world of custom bikes. Now, VC are the first stop for people who want to find a way into the alternative end of the bike scene – and it’s gone much further than just sharing pictures and videos.
“It started with a simple offer of a free lesson and we decided simply to represent the change we wanted to see,” Gemma adds. “We were inundated with responses and we found that people wanted to swap their skills with us in return for us teaching them to ride.”
Today, working out of a reclaimed workshop in London’s Limehouse, VC have become an integral part of the city’s bike scene. They’ve run multiple workshops, launched a womenswear clothing line and their annual ride and camp-out event has since evolved into ‘Camp VC’, a weekend festival where women are encouraged to turn up and learn all about riding, fixing and tweaking bikes. For the collective, it’s about creating a community within a community: a culture within a culture.
“The reason this community has blossomed so well is that we’re approachable,” says Gemma. “This community is built on friendship. Everything we do is about friendship – about real empowerment. It’s about making yourself feel great, really exploring sides of yourself that you didn’t know existed.”
“We’re hopefully doing things a little differently from what has been before. It’s a shared mindset. We’re just a bunch of mates having a great time. If we can create something lasting within bike culture for women and men, then that would be a real legacy for us.”
Thanks to VC, a whole new generation is being turned on to the joy of riding motorcycles. Their determined, unpretentious attitude is making change from the inside out.
“If you want to be a member of VC, you already are!” Gemma concludes. “VC is more of a mindset than a membership club, more of an infinite community, more of a long, slow burning of influence that we hope can positively change the culture of motorcycling from within.”
Find more stories from This Is Off The Wall, an editorial partnership from Huck and Vans.