883 Or Nothing

Interview with Ella Montrose for Hairpin Journal

When you’re thinking about getting a motorcycle most people in the know will tell you to start off small and take it easy, which is exactly what Gabriella Montrose didn’t do.
Her all-or-nothing attitude kick-started with a love of Indiana Jones (cue archaeologist childhood dreams) before veering into an obsession with Harley Davidsons and a career in acting and stage combat - all while doing a degree in psychology, of course.
Hairpin journalist AMY MILES chatted to Ella over a few margaritas about all the plates she’s spinning, dream road trips and where to find the best girls’ kit.
Photos by Charlie McKay
Okay, first - and most obvious - question; have you always wanted to get on a bike?
Not always. I thought it was really cool but that it was too scary - I was brought up hearing stories of how many people get hurt or die. I tried a friend's lowrider bicycle and couldn't even ride it for more than a meter before falling off so thought a motorbike was out of the question. Then I rode pillion once and that was it - I decided I’d never be happy on the back of a motorbike, ever.
I kept my CBT a secret as I wanted to make sure I could do it - I didn't know anyone who rode either, so I was on my own. As soon as I was doing it there was a moment where it clicked and I was like “yes, this is it”. It feels like something that's slotted into my life that I’m always meant to have done.
And then you went for your full license straight away?
Yeah - my instructors were really helpful. I was riding a lowered version of the standard bike because I'm quite small and even then I couldn't really flatfoot but everyone was fantastic, and then I had this one examiner - he failed me and then gave me a big talking-down, telling me I wasn’t comfortable with the weight of the bike, wasn’t a strong enough rider and that my jeans were too tight. He made some racist comments because I have an Indian surname too, which was awful.
That’s not cool; I wasn’t going to ask whether you’d experienced any prejudice because a lot of girls tend to say that they haven’t, or that the positivity and community outweigh anything that has happened, but that can’t have been a good thing to hear when you were starting out.
Yeah, so I took it again, passed, and immediately went on holiday which was frustrating because all I wanted to do was find a bike. I would sit there all day on eBay and AutoTrader.
And you just decided to buy a Harley from the get-go, no small engine entry-level thing first?
I knew exactly what I wanted right from the beginning. The air-cooled engine sounds amazing and I have Vance & Hines Shortshots which sound incredible too, so I didn't think I could do a 125. Everyone said that maybe I should have considered it as a good way of learning, but to be honest, if I didn't have the sound of a Harley then I probably wasn't going to be happy for very long anyway. It's been so worth it.
Mine is a Sportster 883. I was really adamant that I wanted that model with those exhausts, which I expected to have to buy separately but then I lucked out and found the one. I've done a few things to it such as changing the seat to a nice Biltwell one. I switched out the mirrors which I tried to fit underneath but they got stuck on my throttle cable, and also I think that makes it a bit harder to ride - I have to remind myself that I've only been riding a year so maybe I should make some sensible decisions every now and then. I also picked up a sissy bar at the Bike Shed swap for 20 quid and it’s really changed the whole look of the bike. Oh, and I have the cheeky black number plate as well - on an all-black bike I couldn't not.
So without being able to get much advice from anyone who was into bikes, how did you manage to make yours happen?
Initially, I had been saving to go and work on a ranch for a while in America and then when riding really clicked for me I put all the money towards my bike, sold loads of stuff on eBay and did whatever I could to make that possible as this is my dream bike. I found mine online went and picked it up - I just kind of disappeared one day, came back, texted a couple of people and said: “Look, I did it!” That ride back without a sat-nav or anything was the best thing I could have done because it just felt like freedom and everything I wanted.
You’re about the same height as me, and at 5’2” did you feel a bit intimidated about the size of it as a first bike? People have said to me in the past that they reckon riding a bigger bike at our size is out of the question.
At first I thought it was too heavy and was scared I’d drop it, but the guys in the showroom were so helpful and encouraging that it hasn’t been a problem since. There are so many girls on Harleys, you just have to figure out what works for you. I met a girl a few weeks ago who managed to pick hers up when she’d dropped it one day, and I was so amazed - my goal is to get stronger to progress in my riding and the other stuff I do, too.
Finding girls’ kit is so hard, you know when you go into a bike shop and they tell you about their women's section but it’s actually just a couple of jackets with sequins on - that’s not what we want. So do you have any bits of kit that you really like?
A lot of the brands that I love are based in America so their stuff is hard to get hold of, like Atwyld, Strange Vacation or Breaking Hearts and Burning Rubber - their boots have Vibram soles and are amazing. Knox’s armoured shirt is really handy too because you can wear it under any jacket.
Have you got any dream rides in mind?
I would love to ride in Marrakech, through the Redwoods, down Route 1 - and actually all of America, it seems like it's amazing for riding because of the wide roads and open spaces. I'm riding up to Scotland soon which will be my longest distance trip so far. I’m really excited for the journey and stop-offs and all the amazing places on the way - that's the thing about riding, it’s an adventure with every sense around you, like the smell of summer and grass.

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