Photos by Ryan Armbrust, David Shelleny and Savannah Rose
Announcer. Spokesperson. Commentator. Event host. Those are just a few of the hats Jacqui Van Ham has worn within the motorcycle industry with companies like Indian Motorcycle, BMW Motorrad, American Flat Track, Progressive Motorcycle Insurance and the UBM/Advanstar International Motorcycle Shows (IMS).
But her story begins in rural Illinois where she was the youngest of all boys. “My dad had a barn full of rad four wheelers, go-karts, six wheelers and all kinds of powersports stuff he worked on,” she said. “I grew up loving being in the garage. And riding fast and getting into trouble were encouraged.
Her first experience on a bike happened at the age of 11. “My dad picked me up a little dirt bike,” she laughs, “and the only thing he told my brothers was you have to teach her to ride this and she has to wear a helmet. Neither of those things happened. They taught me loosely how to shift, but not how to brake, and I didn’t have a helmet on. It lasted about 27 minutes and I smashed into a fence post, smashed my face, banged up the bike and my brothers scattered. But that 27 minutes was enough for me to get the bug.”
It wasn’t until adulthood that she bought her first bike, though. She had all the gear – but no bike. “I wanted a 1964 Honda Dream 305, and I found one in white in the suburbs of Chicago. It was my little ‘cream puff.’ It was a great beginner bike.”
“But then I went to Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio,” Jacqui continued, “which features the largest swap meet in the country, with parties at night. It’s a hoot. BMW was the featured marque that year, and I saw a bunch of older Beemers with hundreds of thousands of miles. So I realized I could have a vintage bike and still ride it everywhere.”
And ride it everywhere she did. “I quit my job and toured the middle part of the U.S. in the first couple of months,” she told us. “I did an entire lap of America, toured Europe solo on it twice, been to multiple Moto GP races overseas, the Ducati factory, ridden through the Alps, and rode it to the Mediterranean, too. It’s an awesome machine I know I can count on.”
After doing a highly read blog during one of those trips to Europe, IMS hired her to tour with its motorcycle shows. “After a full season of doing that motorcycle show, enough companies saw me out there – since few women worked trade shows at the time – that I became a frontrunner for women in this space.”
Then, in 2012, Victory Motorcycles hired her as a brand rep. Once Victory shut down, she went on to represent Indian Motorcycle. “That led to an interest in racing,” Jacqui noted. “At one of the first Super Hooligans races they asked me to jump in and do commentary, and that led to me doing racing commentary for Super Hooligans, and eventually American Flat Track, Sons of Speed, Flat Out Friday and more.”
Since event life has changed, pro talkers aren’t as in demand like they used to be, so Jacqui’s found other ways to use her skills. “For the past three years,” she said, “I’ve being doing a twice a week live on Choppertown on Facebook – one of the largest moto themed pages out there.”
Down the road, she’s planning to start producing her own podcast (All Things Motorcycle) and filming a DIY show called The Jacqui of All Trades that highlights a specific skill in each episode. “It won’t just highlight motorcycles,” Jacqui mentioned, “but it will feature a little more automotive and even home improvement skills.”
When it comes to women diving into the motorcycle industry, she believes the industry needs more women. “I wish more women were in the industry,” she said. “Until we’re taking up seats on the Board of Directors and doing research on designing and building and constructing motorcycles, we won’t see bikes that appeal to women in the way that they could.”