Meet Some of the Top Women Motorcycle Builders Right Now

The industry’s top female bike builders show off their customs at Portland’s annual One Moto Show

By Kirsten Midura, Brooklyn, New York

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Builders and motorcyclist enthusiasts from across the globe head to Portland, Oregon, for the One Moto Show each year to enjoy camaraderie, listen to live music, see motorcycle inspired artwork at the large array of vendors, watch flat track races, and of course check out the cool custom bikes.

Now in its eleventh year, the One Moto Show, organized by Portland, Oregon’s, See See Motor Coffee Company, is now one of the largest custom motorcycle shows in the world. Attracting enthusiasts, bike builders, artists, and craftspeople, the One Moto Show features custom motorcycles, decorated helmets, wall art, hand-tooled leatherwork, and more.

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The One Moto Show is where you can find one-of-a-kind accessories to stylize you and your bike, such as these hand-tooled leather motorcycle seats and belts.

one moto show flat track race
The flat track races draw a big crowd to the One Moto Show. The venue outgrew its original abandoned factory building space so it was moved to Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

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The multitier Memorial Coliseum spans nearly 200,000 square feet, five times larger than last year’s venue—adequate space for 200 custom builds, roughly 80 vendors, and the One Pro races. Indian Motorcycles served as this year’s headline show sponsor.

This increase in scale was not just a success for ticket sales; it also made way for a visible increase in the women who took part in the event. “The One Moto Show is actually run by around 80 percent women,” says Emily George, one of the organizers for the last eight years. Emily estimates that about 20 to 25 percent of the vendors are female-owned.

Emily also notes an increase in the number of women builders at the One Moto Show. “In the beginning, there were a lot of husband and wife teams,” she explains, “but now it’s more women on their own. They’re really stepping up the game for everyone.”

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With the number of women joining the ranks of pro builders at the One Moto Show, an informal meet-up the Friday before the event was arranged. For many, this was the first time the builders met or corresponded. Also in attendance were the press, as well as judge J Shia (not pictured here) a respected well known motorcycle builder, and motorcycle author and multiple Hall of Fame inductee Cris Sommer Simmons (third from left, standing).

This year, more than a dozen female custom motorcycle builders displayed their bikes at the One Show. The array of motorcycles ran the gamut, from a Wonder Woman-themed Sportster by Lea Holmes’ Uncaged Cycles, to a 1972 Arctic Cat mini-bike built by Portlander Emily Humphries-Baumker.

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Six years ago, Lea Holmes quit her corporate job, cashed in her 401k, and founded Uncaged Cycles in Longview, Washington, before she even knew how to change her own oil.

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Lea’s One Moto Show build was her first bike, which she used as a daily commuter. The 2001 Harley-Davidson Sportster is decked out in the theme of Lea’s favorite icon, Wonder Woman.

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The Wonder Woman theme is fitting for the Sportster—inspiring girls who want to customize their own motorcycles.

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When it comes to bikes, Emily Humphries-Baumker has always been attracted to “ridiculous things.” A pastry baker by trade, Emily has a B.A. in film, and draws on her range of experience in fields such as taxidermy for her creative inspirations.

meet top women motorcycle builders 1972 arctic cat minibike seat
Driven by deadlines, Emily’s unique 1972 Arctic Cat minibike was still in the works days before the show.

A number of the women builders hail from the West Coast, but Liza Leung shipped her Honda CX500 from Toronto, Canada, to Vancouver, B.C., and then hauled it to the show from there. Liza tells us, “It’s my first build. It’s been a work in progress for two years. I’m still tidying up loose ends.”

top women motorcycle builders suzy pilaczynski hexaglide
Suzy Pilaczynski’s ’70s-inspired “Hexaglide” carries a “five” theme throughout the build. There are details all over the blue chopper, from five-spoke wheels to hexagon-shaped fork legs. Suzy co-operates Old-Stf Cycle out of Yuba City, California.

While the custom bikes are varied, their creators are even more diverse. Jessica Ruse started working at a Harley-Davidson dealership at 18. As co-owner of Lacey, Washington’s, Dead Center Cycles for more than a decade, her commissioned Harley-Davidson FXDB Dyna Street Bob came together naturally.

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Dead Center Cycles owner Jessica Ruse has been working in the motorcycle industry since high school. Today, she is a master of her craft, particularly when it comes to American V-twins. She had two builds in the One Show: this commissioned 2008 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob, and a 1992 Harley-Davidson FXR aka “The Mullet.”

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Dead Center Cycles’ riders took third place in the amateur races and third place in the Super Hooligan race.

Meanwhile, Jacquie Jaeger began riding just a year ago, and her first motorcycle—a 1969 Honda CB350—glistened in the halls of the Memorial Coliseum.

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Jacquie Jaeger, a digital marketing entrepreneur, found her dream bike in Savannah, Georgia, in early 2019: a 1969 Honda CB350. It was torn apart, giving her the perfect platform to create her masterpiece.

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With the help of Coastal Empire Moto in Savannah, Georgia, Jacquie created this vibrant showpiece for the One Moto Show attracting the attention of BMW’s engineering team from Munich.

Zoe Taylor and Shirley Petchprapa did not set out to become builders. Rather, they each leveraged the skills and craftsmanship of their former careers and dove in headfirst, fully committed to their projects.

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This 2015 Ducati Scrambler Icon is Zoe Taylor’s first build and serves as her daily ride on the streets and trails around Portland.

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Zoe has been wrenching since she was a kid, working on cars in Arkansas with her family. She was prohibited from having a motorcycle as a child; her first bike was confiscated by her mother as soon as Zoe brought it home at age 18. Zoe has since become an accomplished mountain biker, chef, and DJ.

These women all have unique stories, but each of them conveyed the same resounding advice for aspiring builders: if you want to do it, do it. As Jacquie put it, “Don’t let your fear hold you back; when you hear the call, go for it.”

meet top women motorcycle builders now shirley Shirley Petchprapa moto guzzi
Shirley Petchprapa’s 1978 nickel-plated Moto Guzzi was a show-stopper.

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Shirley is an award-winning filmmaker who worked her way into building motorcycles. After learning to wrench at Charlie’s Place in San Francisco, she discovered her passion for working with her hands. Today, she is a fabricator and has a slew of bikes stashed throughout her home.

Builder Ava Wolff works out of her shop, Gray Wolff customs, in Los Angeles, California. She brought her first and only custom-built motorcycle to the One Show. The “Tobacco Tracker” is a 1984 Yamaha XT600 and sponsored by Tobacco Motorwear Co.

top women motorcycle builders ava wolff tobacco motorwear
Ava Wolffs custom 1984 Yamaha XT600, sponsored by Tobacco Motorwear. In addition to modifying the frame, exhaust, tank, and seat pan, Ava designed the color scheme to contrast Tobacco’s kevlar-lined jeans. The resulting bike is intended to be “equally rideable and show worthy.”

She says, “I chopped and reworked the rear end of the frame so that when it is stood upright, its horizontal center line runs parallel to the ground. I also extended the exhaust pipe to follow the new line of the frame.”

She continues, “The gas tank is originally from a 1979 Yamaha XS750 Triple and I fabricated a seat pan to accommodate the new tank and frame modifications. The leather on the Tobacco Tracker is the same leather that is used for the branding on Tobacco Motorwears products and is stamped at the rear of the seat so it is slightly illuminated by the tail light. The color scheme was chosen to act as a contrasting background for Tobaccos clothing line, primarily their Kevlar-lined jeans. It is because of this that I avoided as much use of the color black on the bike as possible. Overall I constructed this bike so that is equally rideable and show worthy.”

top women motorcycle builders ava wolff
Ava Wolff, mentored by the late legendary fabricator, Jessi Combs poses with her first-ever custom, “Tobacco Tracker.” Photo by Julia LaPalme.

For Ava, attending and displaying her custom at the this event was an unforgettable experience. She says, “The show is definitely unlike any other motorcycle show I have been to. I was in awe of the quantity and variety of custom bikes, and honored to be among them. The food, vendors, artists, and dirt track racing are all incredible. I may have had too many See See coffees, but it was totally worth it. It was undeniably a rewarding and inspiring experience that allowed me to meet so many talented people and admire every aspect of the motorcycle community.”

Editors note: As the One Moto Show continues to grow we at Women Riders Now are excited to see more women among the talented builders represented at custom motorcycle shows like this one.

Have you customized your motorcycle a little or a lot? No matter what you did, we want to show off your bike and you on WRN! Find out how to submit your bike photos here.

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