J. Shia first drove a bike when she was about 8. Because she was small, her dad — a jack-of-all-trades with a penchant for bikes — would kick-start it for her and lean it up towards a tree so she might climb up and journey. This labored properly till it was time to cease the bike and get off.
“To get off, I’d have to line the bike up with a tree, and I’d miss all the time and smash my head, or fall off,” Ms. Shia stated. So she would preserve going. Her two older brothers, ready their turns, would turn out to be impatient. But although she liked using, she wasn’t being grasping. “I was too scared to stop at the tree,” she stated.
Ms. Shia, now 31, nonetheless has the previous Honda, and can nonetheless hardly contact the bottom whereas on it. But she now not has to cease using. She is the proprietor of Madhouse Motors, a 6,000-square-foot bike store within the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.
Madhouse performs routine upkeep and repairs, refurbishes classic bikes, gives winter storage and completes customization tasks. Ms. Shia additionally maintains a studio there, the place she creates inventive but ridable bike sculptures.
“There are a lot of people in the motorcycle world who are sort of poseurs for the culture,” stated Lucas Merchant, 30, the proprietor of a Boston actual property administration firm and a consumer of Ms. Shia’s for the previous 10 years. “J. is absolutely the authentic, real deal.
“She knows everything about motorcycles. She’s basically built the largest vintage motorcycle restoration company in New England, and it’s completely bootstrapped,” he stated. “But she literally started in a backyard.”
When Ms. Shia was a teenager in Cambridge, Mass., her father purchased a passel of previous bikes, planning to restore and promote them. “My family’s yard wound up getting filled up,” she stated. “At one point there was, like, 70 old motorcycles in the yard. So I asked if I could have one, and he basically said: ‘Sure. If you can fix one, you can have it.’”
Through trial and error, Ms. Shia bought the bike operating, and she would journey it round “to kind of show off,” she stated. When individuals requested how she had acquired it, she would say: “I fixed it up myself. I’m a mechanic.”
People started tapping her to restore their bikes, and what she lacked in talent she made up in pluck. “I’d give people my parents’ address and say, ‘Oh, yeah, come to the yard and give me 20 bucks and I’ll fix your bike.’”
She had developed an curiosity in pictures, and after highschool was accepted to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), one of many oldest American artwork faculties and the one impartial one that’s publicly funded. But the summer season earlier than her first 12 months, a former girlfriend grew to become pregnant and wouldn’t be capable to take care of the kid, so Ms. Shia volunteered to take accountability for the newborn, a boy named Audai.
“I wanted to be a documentary war photographer, and you can’t do that with a baby,” she stated. “And so I was kind of confused at what I was going to do with my career.”
She continued repairing bikes all through school, doggedly honing her skills and, when stumped, cold-calling expert mechanics. She attended courses full time, arranging with professors to reach late or go away early to take care of Audai, and counting on household for backup youngster care.
“One time, she had to bring Audai to school, and so she paid one of the girls in the photo lab to watch him for a little bit in the hallway,” stated Gretchen Devine, 31, Ms. Shia’s associate of 11 years and a classmate from MassArt.
“I came out of the darkroom and saw Audai, who was like 4 months old, playing in a cardboard box, and he was the cutest little kid you could ever imagine,” Ms. Devine stated. “So I sat down and started playing with him, and J. came out in the hallway. She’ll identify that moment as when she decided to try to get together. That was kind of it. But I met the kid first, technically.”
Ms. Devine was instantly drawn in by Ms. Shia’s artistic ambition and expertise. “I’ve never met anyone so self-motivated. Though I guess it’s not just self-motivated. It’s motivated for Audai,” she stated. “She wants to see him have every opportunity that she possibly can.”
This tenacity has served Ms. Shia properly, but it surely hasn’t at all times introduced her pleasure. “My schedule was all types of crazy, so there was many years where working on motorcycles was kind of an act of desperation, and both myself and my family didn’t have such a positive connotation with this,” she stated. “I was working in two layers of Carhartts, in the dirt, outside, for most of my teens and 20s.”
Opening her first indoor store in 2009 was a boon for Ms. Shia, as a result of she was capable of create a area of her personal. This offered a sense of consolation and security for herself and her patrons, a lot of whom — due to their gender, id or sexuality — felt excluded from the bigger biker inhabitants.
“I’ve definitely run into some motorcycle people who weren’t as open to the trans community, and it was very off-putting,” stated Krys LeMay, 32, an audio engineer who purchased his first bike from Ms. Shia in 2014 and stays a loyal buyer. “But that just makes the connection that I do have that much more special. Because I’m so welcomed with J. at Madhouse, I find no need to go elsewhere.”
Ms. Shia hopes to increase that sense of group by constructing out a espresso store at Madhouse and opening it this summer season. She and Ms. Devine additionally host an annual bike present in Cambridge referred to as Wild Rabbit. This 12 months’s occasion, on Saturday, is predicted to attract 2,000 individuals.
But some of the potent methods Ms. Shia has discovered to transcend the workaday has been designing bespoke bikes — for herself. It began in 2017 when she was invited to point out a bike at an occasion referred to as Motorcycles as Art. Though this appeared the proper alternative to meld her artwork college aspirations together with her present vocation, she resisted going, doubting her skills.
“Then a light bulb went off, and I was like: ‘Wait. I’ve never built a bike for me, in a style that I like. I can do whatever I want,’” she stated. “And it was this aha moment, where I finally, for the first time, after a life of being around motorcycles, designed a bike that was not for a customer.”
She created a 1971 BSA A65 that began with the crank of a enormous lever, in collaboration with a sculptor buddy, Michael Ulman. The bike was properly acquired, and within the aftermath, she started concentrating extra on artistic tasks. This resulted in a complicated, yearslong construct, impressed by “Swan Lake.”
“I wanted to do a project that was two bikes, and have them mirror each other,” Ms. Shia stated. “The same exact weight, length, height, same year, make, model. But polar opposites.” Like the Black Swan and the White Swan within the Tchaikovsky ballet.
She sourced classic components, as she at all times had, from eBay — microscopes, pencil sharpeners, rotary telephones, juicers, musical devices — and grafted them on, with each piece serving a operate. The bikes had been displayed in December on the Scope Art Show throughout Miami Art Week. One bought to a collector for round $100,000. Since October, Ms. Shia has collaborated with eBay Motors, and was featured in a latest marketing campaign referred to as “Let’s Ride.”
Despite all her on-line acquisitions, Ms. Shia has just lately scaled down her private bike assortment from “60 or 70” to “20, 25, maybe 30?” She laughed. “I’m trying to break free of the potential apple falling too close to the tree — of the hoarding idea, like my dad.”
Continuing to interrupt familial cycles, her son, now 12, “doesn’t really seem that interested in being a mechanic, and that is the greatest thing for me,” Ms. Shia stated. Though he’s snug on filth bikes and all-terrain autos, she stated, he has expressed an curiosity in turning into a trainer or a veterinarian.
For her personal future, Ms. Shia needs to maintain increasing her operation, serving her communities and broadening her output.
“She’s always wanted a bike in the Guggenheim, one of her motorcycle sculptures. And I think she’ll make it happen,” Ms. Devine stated. “Anything she puts her mind to, she actually does it.”