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Snippet from Motowitch Chronicles: Imogen Lehtonen, Rock 'n' roll Motorcycle Dream-life

Last Played: December 07, 2021
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You may be familiar with Imogen Lehtonen from her family’s business, The Great Frog, whose stunning silver jewelry adorns many a famous rock band. She's also a badass motorcycle rider who has driven cross country, and in this snippet, you can listen to her sum up the female rider experience. Maybe you know her from that time she rode alongside Norman Reedus on his TV show “Ride." Imogen talks to our host Kojii Helnwein about all things Great Frog, how her motolife started, her journey across the USA on a Harley, how she met Norman Reedus and rode with him up the PCH, and her journey through the Italian countryside for Ducati.
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all of the stuff that my dad was about, you know, he was a mechanic and also a jeweler and loved motorcycles. Basically loved any kind of machinery or thing that goes fast or weapons. So I mean, we I mean, I grew up without television in New Zealand, you know, with a big backyard. And, you know, my dad and my brother would make knives and throw them, and I would be down in the basement with my dad, like learning all the stuff he knew about. And he was always into motorcycles. He usedto have, ah, Harley Davidson Panhead when he lived in Florida in the seventies, which is still in my family. Now it's actually in London. I got to ride it last year for the first time, which was amazing, but he carried a picture of this bike in his wallet his whole life. It was his dream bike. He was going to get it back one day, but he never ended up moving back to the States. But yeah, I think I always knew I would eventually get a motorcycle. It was just interesting, because in the environment I grew up in New Zealand. It was quite far reached. You know, it was something I would see motorcycles and would go to like some of those like car shows. Motorcycle event. My dad, when he got his license in New Zealand to I would jump on the back with him and I was around dirt bikes and things a lot and sort of, you know, instinctively learned how to ride a motorcycle, especially my dad's sister. My aunt in Florida had a lot of land and had a couple of old Hondas. And that's where I really learned how to ride on family holidays to Florida. So we got we wouldn't go more than two years without going to Florida was. But every one or two years would go see my grandma, who's now 101 in Florida, and my she's still around and still also amazing. And my aunt had all this land and she had, like quad bikes and motorcycles and swamp buggies and fun things to sort of play around and ride on. And that was just a really cool place to learn on, really get the hang of it. Where his New Zealand we lived on, sort of a busier road with steep hills and driveways. And really, there was no one my age who was riding motorcycles. And most of what you would see around when I was a teenager was like sport bikes. You know, there was a lot of Kawasaki Ninja is around. That was mainly what it was. So I'd see that. And I was like, Oh, yeah, that's cool, You know, like there will be my time. At some point, I'll find what I want and be able to afford it or whatever. But learning in Florida was just such a cool experience. I mean, there's no helmet laws, and my aunt lived in this huge expense of space with neighbors were miles apart. And the first times I was actually really going at speed on a motorcycle is kind of like in shorts and no helmet and just kind of like trying to do yoga on a motorcycle, just kind of ridiculous to think about it. But it there's there's no I just I was having fun, you know? It wasn't really thinking about it as this thing, and it was like you go off the road onto the grass and you know I would be standing up on the bike and scooting around. And then it wasn't really until I moved to the States was when I was really like, Okay. And that was 78 years ago that I was like, Okay, this is it. I'm buying myself a motorcycle. And in between those times, I mean, I was in my think I was 21 when I moved to the States. And before that, the few years I've had a New Zealand, it was awesome. I would go to university on the back of my dad's bike so he would ride to work and drop me off university on the way, which was awesome. The fact that you were around bike so much do you remember like, that first feeling of the first solo ride? Where you, you know, you went out on a road trip on your bike? Do you remember that one? And how did that feel? Yeah, Yeah, mind would have been my Florida experiences. I mean, it's an indescribable feeling. I was hooked as soon as we got, and it was kind of nice way to work for it. A little bit like I'd written little blips of dirt bikes. And when my dad and I actually got this Honda running and just suddenly being out with the whole day to just go and ride and go wherever I want it was amazing feeling. I mean, it's indescribable. I was hooked from that minute and knew that I had to get one. You know, it's just obsessed, you know? Yeah. You know, I tended to do that as well. You know, I find something I really enjoy. And then I'm just like, OK, I'm going to be doing this for the rest of the rest of my life. You know, it was definitely that feeling of just, you know, a huge smile on my face just going in my hair. I Yeah, e forget the first feeling of I still get it. I feel like often when I get on a motorcycle, it's like, the first feeling I get super struck every time I get on a bike, you know? Yeah. Yeah. Since you're so talented working with your hands at the shop. Have you ever tried your hand at building bikes? I haven't. But that's something I really, really would love to find the time to Dio. It's one of those things that, like talking about the Great Frog, is it's amazing. But it's been the most time consuming thing for the past six years, and I have this constant list of things that I add two of things I want to do and want to achieve. And, you know, I have this fear of not doing everything. I've got so many things I want to experience and want to learn and want to be better at. And it's just finding the time and creating the time in the balance. Thio get going with some of those things, and building a bike is one of them for sures toe like really high on my list. My dad was a mechanic, as I said, and he loved putting things together. And I feel like that's something I would like to do for myself and for him. You know something? I have ideas about, what kind of thing I would like to work on what I'd like to build, but I especially like even little little details of I know my cousin has been getting into this as a jeweler as well, you know, making little custom pots, skulls and things like that. The little caps that can be attached and shift knobs with the skull. All that kind of stuff I'm like, s so cool. He set a gun it into, like, the tip of his headlights. So there's, like, a little a little that shines So it's like a gemstone in there. I'm like, dude. So I mean, I have ideas out coming out of my ears. I just need to really, like, get the time Thio and the space to make it happen, You know, working towards that for sure. Yeah, out there in L A. I've noticed that the female biking community seems to just be exploding. What do you personally think of all the female biking events? And you know, all the girls coming out on their bikes. And lately I have mixed feelings about it. I think on the one hand, it's so great. I mean, it's funny, we're kind of spoiled about it in l. A. I recently hung out with a girl who lives elsewhere, and, you know, I forget how in other places in the world, it's still kind of a phenomenon to be a female motorcyclists and where I'm in in l A. You're really not. I mean, you know, you're one in a million, you know, kind of one in the crowd, which is nothing wrong with. To be honest, it's refreshing and it's inspiring. And it's great to be around so many women who have gotten into this fun thing, which we can all share this passion with each other and get together and ride. And you know, all these events that are coming out in all honesty. If if I really put it out there, I mean, I'm grateful because growing up in New Zealand, I didn't have a huge group of female friends. You know, I kind of was a bit of a tomboy and went through some bullying it, like kind of precious teenage years, which really turned me off, sort of, you know, became quite introverted, traveled a lot and then move countries. And I really hadn't made adult female friends and honestly put it down. Thio going to the first ever female voters event I went to about seven years ago, and this is when it was still pretty new. It was rare. I hadn't met other women who would write a new off a few, but I hadn't met or hung out with any other women who wrote. And I put that event down to really meeting a handful of good, like five or so really solid chicks who ride, who have their own businesses, who are strong, independent, cool, funny women who, you know, I might not get to see all the time. But they're there, and I know we're solid and we, you know, we get to see what's going on in each other's lives, and we'll see each other maybe once or twice a year at a motorcycle event and others who I see more regularly and we ride together and all that kind of thing. And I'm really thankful for that. It's amazing. I think it's rare to find groups of women whose the things they have in common a such fun, adventurous, empowering, exciting things, you know. And on the other hand, I feel like it's been blown way out of proportion in a lot of ways. There are so many genuine and amazing women getting into it. But then, like anything, anything that suddenly thrust into the public stage and is becoming a big thing, and more people see it and want to be a part of it. And that's amazing. You know, good on you. Like anyone who wants to ride a motorcycle, I encourage you to do it. But what I do see is that, like anything when it becomes a fashion statement or a trend, there are a fair amount of people who get into it who won't be writing in five years time. You know who are really getting into it, because it's cool and it looks cool and it is fun. But there is a danger that comes with that. I feel you know you can get on a motorcycle, and if you have a great time and you love it and you have that feeling that you and I know of like, this is amazing and I'm having this is just changing my world, and I feel refreshed and excited and I could go anywhere, and it's shaping who I am. Those are the people that should ride, you know, and put the miles and put the miles down, get better at writing, be safe and put yourself in every situation until you know you're good and safe writer, and that makes all the difference. I'm a bit afraid of riding in groups, and I don't go to a lot of the big events anymore because I feel like from 50 to 100 women, it's 2000 women and a lot of it again, like it's new and it's exciting for a lot of these girls. But there is a danger. I mean, every time this one of these events, you know, there's a couple of major accidents and a lot of girls getting a maybe a bigger bike, then they can manage yet that they haven't put experience in because it's cool or they want to ride in a bikini, you know, which I have done. But, you know, make sure you're confident first, you know, I've met a bunch of people who are like, Oh, yeah, I'm so excited to write. But I'm actually shit scared, and I'm like, Well, then you shouldn't do it. You know, Don't ride in a group of 50 people. If you're shit scared and you, you know, you're obviously not got the confidence yet to put yourself out there and just I mean, be safe, have fun and be safe. But if you're in it for the right reasons, then by all means, all right, do you find a difference in writing motorcycles with men versus women? Um, yes and no women. It's a sweet. Women tend to be a little more like when I ride with a group of women were all looking out for each other and we, you know, hand signaling and making sure everyone's cool and pulling over together and like having chats and pictures together. Whereas guys we get, you know, I don't know. With girls, I feel like we keep a good formation and we're all like, we're being awesome, good safe writers, which is awesome, I think guys in general, just because of the way guys, a lot of the guys I've written within groups, it's like, All right, we're on our bikes like going fast and we're trying to do this, and we're like getting real close to each other and hitting these corners as fast as we can and really like, you know, showing off a little bit and having a bit more of a wild time. So I mean, it's different. For sure. It's run both ways. It's just a very different experience. I've led a group of women on, you know, a group right before. And it can be a little more high stress of old, different size bikes and trying to keep everyone at a good pace and keep everyone together and trying to split lanes through traffic and things like that. Guys that tend to, like, take a little more risk and, you know, push it a little more for sure. Yeah, totally. Have you ever dealt with any negativity towards you over being a woman on a bike? Yes and no. I mean, yeah, negativity, always. I mean, in general, as a human being, I guess not even a woman on a month like you deal with negativity. But the majority of its not the majority of the feedback I get from people or whatever is usually there's still a lot of surprised, to be honest, especially on longer trips. And I've been in, like, in the South in the state. So, like, you know, smaller states, smaller town. You get out of l. A in L. A. There's a kind of bit of respect with it, like people, rather than be excited over like, Oh, cool bike. That kind of like give you, like, kind of little nod like, Oh, that's cool kind of thing. Whereas I've had people follow me off the freeway in smaller states and and follow me to a gas station and be like, Can I take your picture? I've never seen a woman on a motorcycle before, but it's usually, like, in or interest, you know? I mean, I was just at Moto GP racing in Austin last weekend, and you know that there still is usually older guys. It's still a bit of it, like, really, That's like, That's your helmet. You write a motorcycle like That's crazy like good on you go kind of thing, but in a kind of a bit of a patronizing way, I guess, but never, never had, like people would be like. I mean, people have fear for, you know, safety and things like that, but I haven't really had negativity is it's not your place to be on a motorcycle kind of thing. Um, not to my face, anyway.
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