We’re sitting in the shade just beyond the shack and the canvas building that make up the garage part of Santa Cruz’s Re-Cycle Garage, talking about choppers.
“I built a custom chopper,” says Liza, with emphasis. “It was a Rev-Tech Panhead replica with a Paughco springer front end, six over. Wide fat tire, you know… all the chrome, custom paint with sparkles. It was the real deal.”
I’m surprised. “I wouldn’t have thought that was something you’d be into.”
“You can either take money and invest into motorcycle school, or you can take money and buy a bunch of parts. And for me, on most of the builds I do, it’s more about the journey than the end product.”
This hands-on mentality is the foundation of the Re-Cycle Garage, which Liza started about nine years ago. She was working on bikes, building bikes—by herself—and people would ask, “Hey, I’ve got $500 bucks for a bike—can you help me buy a bike?”
She’d always say no. “I can’t help you, and here’s why. Every person I’ve ever helped who had a $500 budget, then did not have the $3-400 needed to get the tires and battery and carb cleaned for that $500 bike that’s been sitting.”
“So if you don’t have the money for that, and you don’t know how to do it, you’re gonna buy that bike and its gonna sit in your yard and rust… the cycle repeats. Either you need to come up with more money, and pay a mechanic to maintain it…”
She pauses. “Or, I can just teach them.”
“So that’s why I started doing the garage. I had this concept: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to take donated bikes—free bikes—which we can find, and take somebody who wants to learn and help them fix that bike up?’ Now they have—at the end—about $500 invested in a bike they know how to maintain.”
It grew from there, quickly spreading to people she didn’t know, both students and “teachers,” helping new riders become real riders more quickly, riders with purpose, that are “all in.”
Liza Miller and the Re-Cycle Garage. Photos: Angelica Rubalcaba.
One of these riders is Naked Jim, who came to the garage because his 15-year old daughter Jake was hanging at Re-Cycle, learning to ride and wrench. He didn’t ride, but started coming to the garage and eventually took the MSF class with his daughter—solidarity, right?
Jim says, still clothed at this point, “Motorcycling has always been like… that would be really cool to do. It just wasn’t part of my upbringing. Once I met Liza, I could tell the vibe was cool… and there were women here, which is important. I’m like, ‘She’s gonna ride anyway, and I can’t teach her.’ This is probably the best thing I could do, to give her freedom in this part of her life from an emotional standpoint, but then empowerment, being part of a garage and a community that’ll teach her to ride safely. Which was really the ultimate goal.”
That was two winters ago. Jim now has five motorcycles himself, “And they all run!”
Liza explains, “I created a place where I don’t have too much control and I let it be what it’s gonna be. Everyone helps each other.”
“We’ve got this amazing community, and I was saying, ‘How do we bottle that and share it?’ Sometimes I just sit back and watch, and it’s fascinating to see the interactions and conversations and sharing of resources here.”
Motorcycles and Misfits is always a good listen: raucous and loosely structured, conversational and fun, and often hilarious. It’s attracted enthusiastic fans all over the US and beyond, and was recently featured on the first episode of the new moto-lifestyle TV show, Ride, With Norman Reedus.
Check out the podcast at MotorcyclesAndMisfits.com, or better yet cruise down to Santa Cruz on any Sunday to check out the Re-Cycle Garage and hang with the crew.
Liza with one of her bikes at the Re-Cycle Garage in Santa Cruz. Photo: Angelica Rubalcaba.