Meet Shasta Smith – designer, mother and creator of famed Californian motorcycle shed and its associated clothing line, The Vintage Monkey. Take a look at her 1970 Triumph Trophy rebuild…
Q. What’s your biking background?
A. I had a keen interest in motorsport – and particularly vintage cars and motorcycles – from as early as I can remember. I saved to buy my first bike when I was 19, but was restricted from riding in my mid-20s by a spinal injury suffered in a car accident. Unable to ride, I needed an outlet for my passion, and so I started researching bikes with a view to beginning some bike-building projects.
Q. What kind of restoration work appealed to you?
A. I knew I wanted to start simple and work on smaller displacement motorcycles with engines no larger than 250cc. This made older bikes appealing, as did the fact that they’re not fuel injected – I was working in architecture, design and construction, but was no means a trained mechanic. Fortunately, my preconceptions that vintage motorcycles would be unobtainable proved to be mistaken. I was surprised to find there were more available than I’d expected and was even able to afford to buy two.
I taught myself how the bikes worked by slowly dismantling and reassembling them, coming up with concepts for how I’d like to give them a new look as I went.Shasta Smith
Q. And what was the reaction when people discovered what you were up to?
A. I’m still confronted with the same reaction today – disbelief! At first I suppose it bothered me and made me want to prove myself. However, as I started building more bikes and showing them at motorcycle shows more regularly, I grew in confidence. What I aim to produce are respectful modifications, and motorcycle enthusiasts appreciate this more measured and conscientious approach. They recognise my love for all the motorcycles I work on, and it’s that love that motivates my work, not anything else.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Well, I realise now that I’ve made my restorations a success because of my attitude, which is always to put the bikes first, and not motivate myself by the fact that I’m a woman in what is still predominantly a man’s world. I think my dedication to craft comes across in each of my motorcycles, and is what has made them popular.
Q. So how did things evolve to become The Vintage Monkey as it is now?
A. The Vintage Monkey name was only born about six years ago, when a friend – who’d called me Monkey since childhood – helped coin the nickname and created the original logo artwork. I moved from my own garage at home to a bigger space, but until now I’ve always worked behind closed doors. However, given the positive feedback I was getting at shows across the United States, I began to increase publicity for my work on social networks and, more recently, my relaunched website. I quickly began to get correspondence from followers all over the world and it became obvious that the appetite for The Vintage Monkey brand internationally was huge.
Q. How do you plan to capitalise on that potential?
A. I’ve just taken on additional space in the building where I do my work, some of which I’ll convert into a viewing platform for enthusiasts to see how I operate, and I’m close to taking on another full-time employee to help me meet the ever-increasing demand for The Vintage Monkey bikes and apparel. My dream is to grow the business, give employment to other people like me, who love motorcycles, and expand to additional premises, perhaps eventually overseas.
Q. You mentioned apparel?
A. Obviously, you can’t make or design bikes for everyone, but clothing is another opportunity to share my creativity, and so my apparel range was born and is an increasingly popular strand to The Vintage Monkey.
Q. Tell us about your latest Triumph project.
A. Having found what looked to be a rare 1970 Triumph Trophy 250 in good condition online, I bought it on behalf of a client. However, it turned out it would need stripping down to clean all its parts, and the client pulled out. I decided to continue with the project anyway to show my audience what I could do. I’m not about making radical changes, but you’ll see it has new handlebars, new bespoke upholstery on the original seat, new rubber pieces throughout, including the tyres, and a totally redesigned paint job, with a hand-painted chequered strip.