Her Story. A series of blog posts telling the stories of 'women who ride' from all corners of the globe. We hope that by sharing these stories we can help encourage other women to build their confidence, learn from others and inspire others.
Ria's the name and welding's her game!
This issue we had the pleasure of getting to know Ria, 33, from Canada. This legend has built a reputation for herself creating unique & custom sissy bars since 2015. She runs her own business and has now made over 300 sissy bars.
We hope you enjoy her story!
Please introduce yourself: (name, age, pronoun, location)
My name is Ria, I'm from British Columbia in Canada, I'm 33 years young. Always been a she, except sometimes in high-school when I had short hair and this dick would always tell me I looked like a guy. Luckily I had some good confidence so it didn't really bother me.
How long have you been riding and what/who got you into it?
I've been riding my own bike since 2014. Been riding on bikes since I was a kid. I've always been fascinated with motorcycles. My Mom won a Harley Softail when I was in grade four, she also won a nice shopping spree at Harley so I had some sick gear when I was young.
What was your first motorbike?
1999 Harley Davidson 883 Sportster
How was your experience in learning to ride?
I killed it. It was the most freeing feeling I ever felt. First day I got the bike I rode alone for a few hours to a bike rally.
Photo by @ashkaleigh
What is your current ride?
I sold my bike to build my workshop. So as of right now I am sharing my partner's 2014 Street Glide with him. I do plan to get another bike in the future. I'd like another Sportster. I had a Dyna at one point, but I love how the Sportster handles.
Did you do much custom work on your bike?
My bike was pretty custom when I had it. I built a few things for it, sissy bar (obviously) handle bars, air filter cover, licence plate bracket, upsweep straight pipes, heart shaped tail light.
Photo by @ashkaleigh
How have motorcycles impacted your life?
Completely impacted. Haha. All my friends are bikers. My work is motorcycles. My kid is obsessed with motorcycles. Everything I do somehow revolves around motorcycles, and I'd like to keep it that way.
Photo by @ashkaleigh
Can you tell us a bit about your incredibly brilliant sissy bar hustle?
I wanted to work for myself. I always had issues with employers and the way I dress, the way I talk, the way I am. I've never been able to censor myself, or have any kind of filter. Thankfully I'm a pretty good sissy bar maker that this "working for myself" thing kind of fell into my lap. I started off with a few random chicks asking me to make them a custom sissy bar.. these random chicks have actually become some of my good friends. Kristine, Meme & Diana. These three women trusted me with their sissy bars and if it wasn't for them asking me to build them one, who knows if I'd be where I am today.
How did you get started in making sissy bars?
I got a job right out of welding school at a fab shop and I stayed after work a few hours a couple of days a week making myself a sissy bar for my bike. It had a cute heart on it and people who saw it, loved it. Then people just kept asking me to make them one & now I've made over 300 custom bars.
Photo by @ashkaleigh
What's it like working for yourself?
It's a lot of work. I wouldn't change it for the world, but it's a lot of work. Not only do I work for myself, but I work for myself without any employees. Everything that has to do with 'Ria the Welder' is done by me (except the powder coat) I weld and I fab. I package and ship, I email everyone. I answer all questions. I keep my social media running. I run my sissies all over to the powder coater and the post office. I pick up metal, I pick up supplies. I love working for myself. I can start my day whenever I want. I can stop when I want. I don't have a dress code, I can listen to my own music. I feel like in this day, we are all very fortunate to be able to start our own hustle and make a good living at it. No need to work for the man!
Were/how/why did you learn to weld?
I went to welding school in Vancouver, BC. It's a pipe welding school. I was ready to go work on a pipeline for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I ended up going a different direction working in a fab shop building truck parts for the military. It was a good choice, I learned so much working in a fab shop instead of going right into pipe welding. I learned a lot about fab work that I wouldn't have learned if I went to the pipeline. I learned a lot about tools and about equipment. Safety and all kinds of shit.
I highly recommend that if you plan on going into welding, go work in a welding and fab shop for a year, you'll come out with so much more than you get going to just trade school. I went to welding school because I needed something different in my life. I was working as a Community Support Worker and a Behavior Interventionist with youth and young adults with autism. It was a very rewarding career and I did it for about ten years. I had a growing love for motorcycles and I wanted to be able to make my contribution. I don't have patience for being a mechanic, but I knew I wanted to do something to make motorcycle shit, or work on bikes. First thing they wanted us to do in school was to make a five year plan. My plan was to make my own motorcycle parts. Here I am almost eight years later with 300+ sissy bars under my belt, a home shop with a ton of equipment and tools, and one hell of a reputation!
Your work is far from basic, where do you get your creative inspiration from?
Mostly from my customers. The customers tell me what they envision and I make the magic happen. Sometimes they give me an exact drawing of what they want, but most of the time they give me a few ideas on things they're into, or what the 'theme' of the bike is. Then at that point I just turn on my music and let the creativity flow.
How have your skills & designs developed over the years?
I feel like I get better every time I build a new one. They tell you in welding school "practice makes permanent".
Keep making and creating and your brain evolves and you're doing things you didn't even dream of doing eight years ago. I also learned how to run a CNC Plasma Yable at one of my fab shop jobs. I learned how to do drawings on the computer and take people's drawings and turn them into a sissy bar. I can't stress this enough. If you want to get into welding, go work in a shop. Listen to that old guy that works next to you, because he's gonna retire soon, and you're going to have to take those skills you learned from him and teach it to the next kid.
Do you have a favourite piece you are most proud of?
Of course I do, my old sissy bar from my sportster. It was five hearts stacked on top of each other with a custom heart shaped stained glass and stainless steel brake light welded to it. Regret selling it to this day, but the woman who has it rides it hard and loves it just as much as I did.
Where do you see your business in five years?
I love the custom stuff and I plan to continue doing the custom work forever. I would like to eventually have five or six generic 'Ria The Welder' sissy bars that I produce and sell in motorcycle shops, and always have in stock on my website.
Do you work exclusively on sissy bars or are there other motorcycle parts you enjoy fabricating?
I just do sissy bars right now. I've actually had to turn down all other welding and fab jobs for the time being until I can get some of these sissy orders out. I have a big year-long wait list at the moment.
Has working in a male-dominated industry/craft impacted you or your business at all?
What advice do you have for womxn thinking about getting into the trade?
Don't go into the trade thinking it's going to be hard. Don't go into the trade thinking you're going to be bullied and belittled by men.
Go into the trade with confidence and concentration and do the damn thing. I never had any problem doing my job because of the men working around me. I always did my job properly and confidently and always got praise. I even had men at my job sometimes ask for advice or help lifting.
There is too much garbage about women working in a 'male dominated whatever' but times are changing hard. Go be a Welder.
When you're not behind bars or making bars, what are you doing to keep busy?
Taking care of my little boy. He's almost two years old now. We live in a small town out in the country. We grow vegetables and raise chickens. We have been living the simple life the last couple years.
What has been the biggest hurdle for you in relation to biking?
At the moment, finding the time to ride with a two year old and not feel guilty for riding, instead of constructive things I could be doing like cleaning the house, working or playing with my kid. Everything needs balance. I need to remember that riding is a huge mental health thing for me. Riding takes away all the worries. It feels so damn good.
Photo by @ashkaleigh
What’s the biggest lesson motorcycling has taught you?
Don't trust anyone in a car.
How has the motorcycle scene changed since you started riding?
It's become really popular and it seems like everyone I know is a biker now but maybe that's just who I choose to spend my time with.
What's the process of fabricating a new bar, do you need the bike to get measurements or can you do it via online communication?
I get measurements from the customer for every bike. I need them. There are too many bikes out there and modifications and everything. I need photos and good measurements. There are some bikes I can't even do without having the bike here, but that's rare.
And most importantly, do you ship internationally?
We would love to share your story!
No matter where you're from, what you ride, how old or experienced you are, we all share the same love of motorcycles!