With humility and an unwavering diligence, J. Shia of Madhouse Motors represents an elite caliber of people who grind - both literally and figuratively. As a motorcycle mechanic and builder, she brings unique talents molded with skill to the forefront. As a business owner, she shelters a plethora of bare bones motorcycles and the people willing to breathe new life to them. J and her team have restored and built a multitude of motorcycles over the years and continue to deliver pieces that stand the test of time.
Camaraderie has always been a pillar of the motorcycle community. It is the foundation upon which we build riding clubs, it is the basis for the subtle wave we send to passing riders, and it is what binds us together as a subculture and separates us from the masses. When Kristen first introduced me to J. Shia and the work of the Madhouse Motors team, what shined through amidst my fervent scrolling of their photos (which depict many powerful, yet beautifully-crafted machines) were the intangibles: family, passion, artistry and soul. It is the unique recipe of these ingredients that this team has mastered, and continues to replicate time and again, that qualifies J. Shia and her entire Madhouse team as legends in the making.
Attempting to be diligent in my preparation for this interview, I attempted to locate some background information on J.’s life and her many accomplishments. I was perplexed to find that this woman, who at this point I have grown to worship, is essentially “off the grid” and relatively absent from internet coverage. Upon admitting this discovery to J., ever so humbly, she replied:
It is this humility and grounded-nature that sets J. apart from many of the icons being broadcast within the industry today. Madhouse’s focus is always on the machines and the craftsmanship, not the pomp and circumstance of being a part of a growing clique within the biker community.
Upon inspection of both J.’s personal Instagram and that of Madhouse, one may notice the simple beauty reflected in the photography of the images. J. began her formal education in art school studying to be a travelling documentary photographer. Her artistic vision is evident in the attention she pays to the minute details of both the photographs and the machines depicted therein.
One can trace J. Shia’s mechanical roots back to skilled metal workers in Syria and Lebanon. With the rust and grit coursing through her veins, it is easy to assume that J. has been wrenching with her immediate family from day one. Much to our surprise, she told us that, while a majority of her immediate family are riders and mechanics, her mentor in the moto community is Sayre Anthony (Head Mechanic at both Madhouse Motors and Nova Motorcycles). To “whom I credit for most of my personal growth as a mechanic and the growth of the shop as a whole,” she shared.
As most often happens when we get to speak to people whom one finds inspirational, we were eager to know what inspires J. Shia. What are her aesthetics? What motorcycles get her blood pumping? In the realm of photography, J. aspires to channel legends like Bruce Davidson and Shelby Lee Adams. When it comes to bikes, she admits that her inspiration is dependent upon the nature of the build and the customer themselves. She implies that inspiration is easy to find in an industry “with so many talented folks out there.”
She did share that she’s in love with all things vintage, specifically pre- and mid-WWII era machines. “I’m most proud of a few restorations we did over the past winter on some bikes from the 1920s and 1930s. I’m a bit of a history geek, so I was super happy when we got the jobs,” J. said.
There is neither a bike too obscure, nor an engine too small for J. and her Madhouse family. Pride in true craftsmanship and the heart of each hand that touches it is left imprinted on every build Madhouse puts out. Everything they produce seems to acquire its own identity before it leaves their shop: from a beautiful little Honda Dream (cb77) to a rugged and historic 1951 Gillet Herstal (Belgian military bike), the perfection of each machine stands as evidence of the kind of dedication that can only be dredged up from a special place of the soul, one that is devoted only to truly passionate endeavors. It seems that J. and her cohort have harnessed this passion (one that many spend their whole lives chasing) and reproduce it again and again for each of their builds, making them unique in a scene where words like vintage and custom often become trite.
Ironically, what makes J. herself so unique, are some of the very qualities that many consider “normal”. She endures the standard daily grind: Waking up early, getting her “kiddo” ready for his day, loading her truck, opening shop, and depending on caffeine as the lubrication that keeps that machine running. She never subscribes to the idea that she is a pioneer in the women’s scene, insisting that what she and the Madhouse “family” have built is more of a community accomplishment than a singular effort. That community not only holds the employees of the shop, but the customers and the greater Boston riding community.
J. shared a bit of what makes Boston a haven for riders:
“...the people in Boston who ride are unbelievably supportive of each other. I’m not sure if that’s unique—I hope other city riding scenes are the same—but Boston riders are really fond of helping each other out and supporting each other with everything from builds to breakdowns.”
Images of lively barbeques coupled with video clips of bikes ripping through dirt prove to us that this Madhouse family has found a way to make their passions their livelihoods.
Ever-clinging to her cool demeanor, J.’s most valuable advice, characteristically, is also the most simple: “Do it because you love it, share your knowledge and keep the competition to a minimum.”
If presented with an album of their work, one can see that the Madhouse Motors credo of ignoring the instinct to compete, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: In the commitment of the Madhouse team to ignore competition, they have achieved a level of their craft that has made them a force to be reckoned with within the builder community, therefore putting them in a class all of their own.
Yet, what I love most about what J. and Madhouse Motors have built is neither held together by bolts, nor powered by fuel, but is an abstract. They carry an unpretentious image that concerns itself solely with family, motorcycles and community. There is beauty in simplicity and J. and the team at Madhouse Motors have become the champions of that ideal.
To drool over their raddest of creations and to follow J. and the team in action, check out www.madhousemotors.com or follow @madhousemotors and @jshia on Instagram.