29 March 2016

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Shasta Smith on Motorcycles

As a child, Shasta Smith was a bright little lady who loved Tonka Trucks and Hot Wheels, and she longed for the day when she could finally have the real deal. Her family wasn’t much into motorcycles or cars; she became interested on her own. And since she was legally able, she has driven, worked on and owned race cars, race bikes, muscle cars and, of course, vintage motorcycles.

Along with her early love for motorcycles, Smith has also always had a fondness for anything vintage. “I vividly remember the first time I saw a motorcycle. It was an early-‘70s BMW that had been restored with gloss black paint, white checkers and a café seat,” Shasta said, “To this day I still think about how much I wanted that bike.” Now she has a garage full of vintage bikes that she has restored, and a few that are in various stages of restoration.

“I will say I love all bikes and see potential in every one, however, European and Japanese bikes hold a special place in my heart.” Smith’s favorite is her 1972 Honda CB175 café racer, the first motorcycle she customized for herself. It’s a small, sleek little rocket, and it steals all the attention at shows. “I’m a spitfire, and it’s a spitfire,” she exclaimed, “I’ve never owned a bike that has gotten more attention.” But her ultimate motorcycle would be an authentic vintage race-winning bike, preferably a Norton or a Triumph. “All I want to do is knock a little dust off of it and park it in my living room,” she said.

A few years after her son was born, Smith and her family witnessed a traumatic scene that resulted in a motorcyclist’s death. They had pulled over to help, but by the time the ambulance arrived it was too late. “My dad hugged me tight and begged me not to ride a motorcycle ever again,” Smith said, “Seeing a death before your eyes is not easily forgotten. It left a large scar on my heart, and to honor my dad’s wish, I stopped riding.”

Smith’s greatest influence is her father, and she lives following his example. “He is the hardest working person I have ever met,” she said “He pulls up his boot straps, works his ass off and still manages to fit in the occasional joke.”

About a year after the tragedy, Smith suffered a spinal injury unrelated to riding. “The doctors told me that riding a motorcycle would cause irreversible damage,” she said, “and going through that kind of pain after everything that had happened, I had to do something positive to keep myself sane.” She couldn’t ride, but still yearned to be a motorcyclist, so what could she do except buy an old bike to work on? “It was the only way I could be close to a motorcycle without riding one,” she said, but she soon realized how excruciating it was to sit for any length of time, let alone bend over. Her first project took a year to complete. “At times I wanted to throw my tools at the wall,” she said, “Even moving the bike was frustrating because I couldn’t do it alone.” She still owns that bike today, a beautiful reminder that she can do anything, despite all odds, when she puts her mind to it.

Smith loves sharing the bikes, culture and common interest with others. “I love when people become so interested in my art that they get excited about bikes,” she said, “I also love that I get to communicate with people all over the world about a common interest.”

Her inspiring career has included 17 years working in architecture, design and construction, and now Smith operates her business, Vintage Monkey, full time. The catchy name is also fitting: It comes from her friends constantly calling her a “grease monkey,” and from her passion for vintage bikes. The Vintage Monkey buys vintage motorcycles and respectfully modifies them based on Smith’s designs. She also likes recycling bits and pieces from motorcycles, cars and even tractors from boneyards and junkyards, whether to create a chandelier made from tractor wheels, design a desk lamp made from a crankshaft or even transform an otherwise too-far-gone motorcycle into an eye-catching vanity sink.

The Vintage Monkey is a brand focused on pure enthusiast-built bikes, and they are proud racing sponsors, too. “It’s a way for me to honor my love of speed and all machines on two wheels,” Smith said. Additionally, she designed her own clothing and accessory line to ensure that enthusiasts worldwide can enjoy what Vintage Monkey has to offer. “I do the majority of the work including bike selections, welding, mechanics, buying, hauling and selling,” she said, “It’s a lot of work, but I love every minute of it.”

“In 2010, I was asked by a cable channel to do a custom design for their show, and I wanted to do something that would really get people talking,” Smith recalls. She found an abandoned vintage motorcycle rotting away in a field with no paperwork and a seized engine, then sketched it out and turned it into a breathtaking vanity for a large bathroom. It is now a stunning art piece that is preserved into a unique design, and it was aired on the DIY channel in an episode of “Bath Crashers”.

More than simply building bikes, Smith does it for charity. On June 13, 2015, she auctioned off a stunning 1975 Honda CB550 Super Sport from her shop to raise money for the Sky’s the Limit Fund, an organization that provides support for youths in crises. “I just love giving back,” she beamed, “I've been very fortunate to have The Vintage Monkey featured on international TV, and highlighted in publications through out the years,” Smith said.

“In time we will be adding new items to the Vintage Monkey webpage, including expanding our apparel line, and I'm currently working on a full restaurant development for people to gather, eat and drink while enjoying the largest subculture in the world: motorcycles.”

Also look out for the Vintage Monkey 2016 charity bike that will be auctioned in May. Follow Smith’s work on The Vintage Monkey Facebook blog.

***Editors note: This article also published in print through Throttle Gals Magazine.

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