Two people with a shared passion for Harley-Davidson tradition meet in Vancouver, merge their talents, and form a new company, MotoChild, in the woods of Vancouver Island.
Last summer while on a trail west of the small seaside town on Vancouver Island called Sooke, I noticed two riders of what looked like hardtail Shovelheads hammering down a narrow dirt road that was all but hidden from view by a stand of Douglas fir trees. It was an evocative moment that left me wondering as to the identity of the mystery riders, and where the heck they were going. Till that moment I wasn’t even aware of that particular road, and I certainly didn’t know it at the time but this was my first introduction to Nik and Steve, who I have since learned are paired-up as life mates and as business partners with a diverse little start-up called MotoChild where she silkscreens and does custom leatherwork while he builds and services motorcycles. They summarize the meaning of MotoChild on their Facebook page: “Adding our two bits to the lowbrow chopper scene … Choppers, Seats, Detailing, Clothing. Price varies.”
Fast forward to early June of this year when I met Nik and Steve at a local show ‘n’ shine she had organized for Victoria-area dealer, Barnes Harley-Davidson. We got to talking about Steve’s 1978 Shovelhead set in a rigid frame with six-inch over springer front end built specifically for him by Paughco to accommodate the 21-inch Invader wheel. He picked it up as a basket case from some guy in Kelowna, and after an intense rebuild it’s an accurate reflection of where Steve is at when it comes to motorcycles.
There are of course many personal touches to this bike, including a clutch/shifter combo that resides just above the shaved primary. Steve manufactured the setup out of sheer necessity after a bad crash robbed him of most of the mobility in his left foot. The bike has a unique flavour: raw, basic, uncompromising, heavy metal, and industrial—in every sense of the term it’s a builder’s bike.
The handlebars are custom-made, the pipes are stainless steel; everywhere you look welds are boldly exposed, a roller skate wheel serves as a chain tensioner. There’s no need to search; you won’t find paint. Instead the bare steel receives a periodic application of penetrating oil that is drawn deep into the pores of the metal through the energy of engine vibration.
At this point I still had not connected the dots between Nik and Steve and the mystery riders of last summer. But when she said, “We thought it would be cool if you came and checked out our wee cabin and shop.” As she described its location, the light went CLICK! in my head. Cabin? As in …the woods? Hardtail riders? Now I finally knew who the “mystery riders” were and where they were going that day: home.
Taking them up on the invitation I arrived a few weeks later at their “wee cabin” where they split their own cordwood and draw water from an aquifer. To make me feel homely, they paused from their labours and showed me around the workspace they share. It’s a converted woodshed surrounded by towering fir trees. Steve’s mechanical projects, hoist, and shop tools occupy the front of the shop while toward the back is Nik’s industrial strength sewing machine on which she produces leatherwork pieces. She says the market is especially good for custom saddles right now and estimates she could do one every day if she were willing to take on the volume.
Saddle repairs are also in her repertoire, but Nik hopes that soon they’ll have the time to begin work on a line of custom accessories such as licence plate holders and sissy bars.
With a degree in fashion from the University of Fraser Valley, Nik once ran her own company that created lines of silkscreen clothing, samples of which are still brightly draped throughout the MotoChild shop. Silkscreening though is now more a hobby for her than it was when she first met Steve in Vancouver five years ago. Shortly after, they decided to sell their house on the lower mainland, combine their talents, move to the island, and start a new business.
Before I arrived, Steve had been busy putting the final touches on another Shovelhead rigid that he’ll soon kick out the door to the nearest available buyer. This one’s shinier than his personal ride, with tidy chrome and polished steel, some splashes of paint, and stylish upswept pipes. Steve tries to fabricate as many parts as possible and not just do bolt-ons. He reckons his target market is the older demographic of rider who might be looking for an interesting second bike.
“A big thing for us is respect for the old guys,” says Nik (and by this she means the traditionalists who are inseparable components of the culture of Harley-Davidson.)
It’s a sentiment shared by Steve. “Keeping the tradition of Harley-Davidson alive is what we’re all about,” he says.
They’re an interesting couple with a shared passion, and slightly before this issue went to press Steve popped the question while they were on a weekend ride to Gabriola Island, bolstering his proposal with a black diamond ring.
But for two people who spend this much time together, socially and in business through MotoChild, surely there must be times of tension?
“That’s when we break out the Kendo sticks,” says Steve, as he mock-parries with Nik just before I take my leave.“We really go at it sometimes,” says Nik, who explains that they wear body padding for the serious bouts.
Whatever works kids!
– Story and Photos By John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #334