We’ve been following the exploits of motorcycle builder Zoe David on Instagram (@zoesecretplans) since we met her at Wheels&Waves in 2017, in the company of Frank Chatokhine and a very nice Trackmaster BSA racer.  We found out she’s a trained architect, who’s been spending more time with a wrench in her hand than at her drafting table recently, and was very proud of the BSA she’d helped build at Atelier Chatokhine.  We recently noted on her Instagram feed a string of interesting photos of Zoe riding and visiting motorcycle shops in Vietnam and Taiwan, which piqued our curiosity, so we asked her a few questions about the trip.

[Nine David]
You recently visited Asia – where did you go?

I went to Vietnam first, the country where I lived for 8 months (two years ago) and where I have so many feelings and good memories. And then I flew to Taiwan, where my sister lives.

[Nine David]
What were you looking for?

At first I wanted to visit my sister who lives in Taichung as a student. But I’ll never be a tourist, I can’t travel without a goal.  As I said, I lived in Vietnam and met a lot of people there, and many interesting ones with motorcycles. They taught me how to make do with what you have, and stop asking for more, and that everything is possible even if you have nothing.  They gave me a lot, so I wanted to give back to them, and tell their stories in Europe.

[Nine David]
Whom did you visit?

I first visited Binh, a Vietnamese builder, who’s absolutely unbelievable. He looks like a man who never leaves his workshop, he’s even told me that sometimes he doesn’t feel human, because he doesn’t really need social interactions. He works on old Ural side-cars and other Byelorussian motorcycles, like the Minsk. He Machines parts as well, he makes his own frames, is really good with metalworks, and a good welder and mechanic…and he works on the floor. This guy is one of the most important people I’ve ever met.

[Nine David]
In Vietnam I also met ConxArt, a group of 11 people working and living together, including Le Cong and a French guy, Mario, at the head of this association. They work together; Mario specializes in metalworks and Le Cong is more a mechanic, the others are people who had talent but never found a place in the outside world. Most of them are really young, and they doen’t all work in the workshop; some of them are tattoo artists, some of them are painters, but they all have a place in the crew. They work mostly on Minsk and small road bikes from Asia, and like to transform them in a vintage enduro style.

[Nine David]
In Taiwan I met Simon, a good guy who helped me find a bike and meet the local builders. His friend Andy organizes a kind of flat track race in the middle of nowhere, and hundreds motorcycles are meeting in Taichung for this every year. At first it was just for fun with friends, now it’s growing every year.

[Nine David]
Then I met Allen at Notorious Custom, who makes some really beautiful Choppers, far from the city and far from the media and the Internet. All the people who know him is because ‘a friend of a friend is a friend of his.’ He works mostly on Harley-Davidsons. He builds his own frames, his gas tanks, his ‘fonderie’, and machines his own parts. Another real guy and absolutely kind. He took us to temples and to visit the city, we spent the whole day together and met again the next day because my clutch was dead and I had to leave my bike there. I had to come back the day after, and he invited us (Simon, my sister, and me – the crew) to come with his biker friends to the barbershop to drink beers. It was an incredible day and I got tattooed there haha, they called their tattoo artist and he came for me. These people are the kindest people I’ve ever met, always helpful.

[Nine David]
In Taiwan I met 6 biker girls as well, because I wanted to know their feeling about the custom culture there. To modify a motorcycle in Taiwan is absolutely illegal, even the shape of the seat is regulated.  Motorcycle culture isn’t really popular and I didn’t really understand why.  That’s why I needed to know more, and why the girls are more exposed to social problems. We spent a crazy day together and had a wonderful ride; it seems that everything is fine for them, even if they’re always fighting more than the boys to prove themselves.

[Nine David]
After that I met ‘One Hand Made,’ he’s one of the best builders in Taiwan, a specialist in metalworks. He had a big crash when he was a road racer, and he has a badly injured arm, which is why he called his workshop ‘One hand made’. He used to work for ‘Rough Crafts Motorcycles’, but decided to work for himself after getting fed up with no recognition for his work.

[Nine David]
Let’s talk about the last builder I met in Taiwan: Rough Craft.  I can’t tell you how much I was disappointed in meeting him. He is all I hate…I assumed he had a workshop (of course), but we met me in an office with 4 computers. In speaking with him I understood that in fact Rough Crafts was just about story telling and communication, he does nothing on the bikes, not even mounting a rear light. He hires other builders to do the work for him. I mean why not, but the real problem is that he couldn’t remember the name of the guys who made the tank or the pipes of the bike he was talking about. He complained that they take too much time to do their job, saying that they are ‘lazy people.’ He doesn’t understand the motorcycle passion, he doesn’t have any motorcycles because he ‘doesn’t need one’. So my sister and I were really surprised to meeting this most famous builder in Taiwan … but it highlighted something about the other builders, and now I know there are two kinds of people in motorcycles.

[Nine David]
Are there many women riders in Asia ?

There are not a lot.

The first thing is that women are raised to be reasonable and girly. In Vietnam and in Taiwan (maybe less so) the troubles girls have when they ride motorcycles usually involve their mothers worrying about them finding a husband or to have a bike crash.
So there aren’t a lot of women riders, but the ones that do are really tough-minded and strong women. I was really happy to meet them and to share. It was a great moment – it’s not really my cup of tea doing ‘girls’ things, but (I don’t know why) I had the instinct that this time it would be important to find women riders.

[Nine David]
What’s the custom/racing scene like where you visited?

I think they’re not really involved yet in the motorcycle culture [as we know it] to really describe what they like or don’t. I think they’re influenced by what we like in Europe and US, and they try to follow the flow with different government rules and different budgets. They don’t have a lot of motorcycles there, but there are more and more new bikes arriving from brands like BMW, Ducati, Yamaha, and Honda, but no real vintage bikes (only ex-military bikes in Vietnam) because it was forbidden in their country to have big bikes; they’ve only recently been made legal.

There are racing federations in both Vietnam and Taiwan.

[Nine David]
What did you see as a tourist that you loved – would you recommend a motorcycle holiday there ?

I can talk more about Vietnam than Taiwan, because I used to travel all around Vietnam by motorcycle. I think the most beautiful part of Vietnam is the extreme north of the country, near the Chinese border. What you need to know before you visit is that you won’t go fast, you can’t ride as you’d ride in your country, because if you do that you will die; the traffic is completely crazy. Frank met me there, and before he arrived I told him to keep one thing in mind: “ride as if all the other people on the road want to kill you, and you’ll be safe”.

[Nine David]
Even he was  scared in the mountains, with the buses. You have to adapt your riding to the circumstances; for example a bus passing another bus, which is passing yet another bus, and you’re approaching them all! Sometimes during the night people drive on the wrong side of the road without any lights. You just have to think seriously about that beforehand.  But then you’ll see absolutely fabulous, crazy landscapes in the mountains…even more than the seaside, which has been too transformed by humans to my mind.  But people are so generous and kind there. You won’t be alone, ever.

[Nine David]
I think the most beautiful thing I’ve done in my life was to ride from the extreme north of Vietnam to the extreme south, passing by the Mekong Delta, and finishing at Phu Quoc Island. I would recommend it to anybody who loves riding motorcycles, and can handle the rain, mud, and danger.  The only problem is to find a good, a safe motorcycle; most of the time I’d recommend a 250cc bike, as you won’t need more power, but most of the time they’re in really bad condition.

[Nine David]
Your public profile is growing since you started racing. Are you still an architect, or did you give up you career to become racer/mechanic ?

I think I have a problem; I just need to do what I want. It’s quite impossible to make me do something I don’t like, which is a real problem in our business world. I found my architecture projects quite boring, and I had the opportunity to join an amazing project building a BSA Trackmaster flat-track racer with Atelier Chatokhine, so I didn’t even think about it, and started working with them. I’ve never been more happy in my life than when I started working there; I work with my soulmate and my best friend and in my passion. Motorcycles – I think it’s a chance that everybody would like to get.

Zoe David racing a Rickman-Triumph Tiger 100 at Punk’s Peak during Wheels&Waves 2017

I’m still an architect, but I accept only projects that make me happy, and I work full time at the Atelier Chatokhine as a mechanic and on their PR. I’ve also done designs for women’s clothing for Gentlemen’s Factory, and many other things.

I love racing but I can’t tell if I’m a ‘real racer’, I really love flat track racing and sprint races, and I think that 2019 is going to be the year I try road racing! I’m actually building a Triumph for that. I think that I just live fully …

Working with Frank Chatokine [Laurent Nivalle]
Are there other women who inspired you, or is this totally you own journey?

Every true person I meet is an inspiration, the people I work with, my family, my boyfriend … I think it’s my own journey because I just follow my dreams and that’s it … I don’t try to be like someone else.

What’s next for Zoé ?

We invited David Aldana to try the Trackmaster BSA we built; he’s coming with us next week to the MCN festival, and we’ll spend 5 days together  – it’s going to be so cool! Then I think we’d better get back to machining parts at the workshop.

We’ll fly to L.A this summer to return the Velocette racers we revived for Richard Vincent [after they were displayed at Wheel&Waves in 2017].  I want to try the DTRA championship maybe in 2019…and I have another bike in preparation, a road-racing Triumph T110.

I would like to design more clothes for girls for other brands, because there isnt’ a lot of choice for us for riding gear. I think I can’t see further into my future haha!