Jill Parham is the proud matriarch of J&P Cycles, our diligent co-founder who is set to be recognized for her contributions to the success of the company by being inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame this year. Though hesitant to call herself a pioneer, Jill is indeed just that. When she and husband John founded the company in 1979, there weren’t many women helping lead companies in the motorcycle industry. It was still very much a male-dominated arena. But over the years, Jill became recognized as much more than just a “sidekick,” and through her hard work and dedication earned the respect she rightfully deserved as an equal and partner. Now when people talk about J&P Cycles, the conversation always includes “John and Jill.”

On Wednesday, August 7, Jill will join her husband in the Sturgis Hall of Fame at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum’s annual induction ceremony and breakfast. As J&P Cycles celebrates its 40th anniversary this year as well, we couldn’t be prouder of Jill’s accomplishments and are excited her contributions to the motorcycle industry will be recognized and honored.

Story goes Jill met John at a high school “Teen Hop” dance in her hometown in Monticello, Iowa. She was a junior and John was a sophomore from nearby Anamosa. The schools were huge rivals.

“Nobody dated from each of the towns hardly, so that was a big thing,” she said.

Within a year of meeting, John wanted to buy his first motorcycle but his parents had a fit. Jill said he actually ran away from home at a young age just to prove that “I want a motorcycle and if you’re going to forbid me to have one, I’ll do anything I can to get one.”

Jill’s mom was almost as strongly opposed to motorcycles as John’s parents.

“My mom was always telling me “you’re not having a boyfriend with a motorcycle because that’s dangerous and you’re not going to be riding on the back of a motorcycle.” It’s funny because a guy that I kind of dated before John had a motorcycle and we’d sneak rides on it.”

It’s also a bit ironic because her dad was into motorcycles in his early 20’s, but sold them by the time she was born. Her brother was also into bikes.

“So John got a motorcycle, and yeah, it was good. He was a safe rider. His first bike was a 250 Kawasaki. He only kept that for a while and he went to a 650 BSA and then started adding all kinds of accessories and stuff to it.” And thus was sparked a life-long love of motorcycles. It also ignited the idea that opportunities lie in the motorcycle parts and accessories aftermarket.

Now that we've got a little backstory on Jill and John, we fired a few more questions her way in a recent conversation.

Countersteer: The landscape of motorcycling was drastically different for women when J&P Cycles started, probably even more so on the industry side. Did people downplay your role in the beginning?

Jill: Yeah, they downplayed my role probably a lot and I was OK with that because I was just happy being onboard helping John. On day one when we first started it, I wasn’t on-board on a daily basis. I was probably a sidekick if you want to call it that, but I helped in the background tremendously. He always gave me a lot of credit but it was probably hard to get people to understand what my role was. As time passed, it’s been good. There weren’t a lot of women in the motorcycle industry then and so it was kind of hard, but everybody was very respectful to me and I just kind of earned my way, I guess.

That respect came in part by helping the company transition from an event-based business into a mail order enterprise. Jill said the change didn’t come without its conflicts.

“He wanted to do a mail order side, but he wanted to do both. He was trying to do the event side and the mail order side at the same time and it was becoming just a cluster, if you will. So I was like, we have to pick something, this is crazy here, beating our heads against the wall trying to do both. He wanted the event side so bad, it was hard for him to let go of some of that,” Jill said.

“So we just started writing orders at the events, taking the catalog. We wrote orders and did free freight for them and that’s how we gained a lot of customers, setting up at those events. And the events were ones we were promoting and it’s hard enough to do the work to promote the event, yet alone to try and take any product or anything. We were just killing ourselves. And so he finally gave into the mail order idea and it worked out really well. There was one point J&P Cycles was growing so fast we had to give up the promotion side of the business. We had to decide what’s going to be more important for us, the cycles or the promotion because we were beating ourselves with the amount of time it was taking to do those steps.”

Countersteer: It’s not always easy for a husband and wife to work together. How’d you and John pull it off?

Jill: We worked on separate ends of the buildings. We each had our own strengths and just had to take a deep breath sometimes and pick our battles between the strengths I had against the strengths he had. We kind of came to terms that he was going to stay out of the area that I was involved in, human resources and that stuff, and I was going to stay out of the marketing side of it. We just complemented each other in so many different ways with the strengths that we had. He was such an entrepreneur and I was not, so it took some real deep breaths for me letting go of the direction he wanted to go sometime, but he could always see the future much more than I could. It always came out good.

Countersteer: How’d you come up with the name?

Jill: It really was the first names. After he registered it, he’s like, you know, maybe I ought to change it and I said we’re not changing it, just leave it. In the very beginning, way, way back, we were in a business for just like a year with his biology teacher, and they called that D & J Cycles, which was Don and John. The initials worked good so he thought I’ll just go with the first initials of our first names and not the initials of our last names so that’s really what it was and it worked out well.

Countersteer: When you started the company, did you ever think you’d be inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame?

Jill: No, no I never. He got inducted in 2006 and I was so proud of him and it was a great honor. I never, ever thought about it again after that. He was kind of the brains behind J&P to start it out and I was kind of the sidekick, I always thought. So I’m truly honored and proud and humbled to be inducted into it. It’s such an honor, especially with it being the 40th year.

In our early years, it wasn’t cool to be in the motorcycle business. Most people in this small little town were like, gosh, you bring all these bikers to town. Bikers weren’t known back in the day as the most respectable, so it was sad because we had great customers. People in town were just scared of it, I think, because it was just so new and had a bad image from way back. We changed that image here in Anamosa (laughs).

Countersteer: What are you proudest about J&P Cycles?

Jill: I’d say I’m proudest about our customer service level that we have. We always put that first and were always 100% on with that all the time and our customers just loved us. In fact, one of our favorite days of the year was when we had our open house rally here in Anamosa and we could just walk around and talk to them. Looking back, it was just great meeting them all. Another great time for us was going to Sturgis because John and I worked the floor. Most of the time I worked the cash register with the girls and he worked the floor. That’s how we knew what our customers wanted. They loved to meet us and talk with us. It was great.

In the early days we would go do rides with different people we met and do rides on weekends. A lot of them became friends. And the friendships we built with the companies that we did business with, those are long-lasting relationships, they’re like family to us. When John passed I really thought that maybe I’d get out of this industry and try something else, I didn’t know what for sure, but I thought how can I do this without him, but it just kind of pulled me back in. It’s where my friends and my relationships are at.

Countersteer: What you’re up to these days?

Jill: Most days I come to the museum (the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa). I actually serve as Chairman of the Board here. And John’s collection is here in this museum, so it’s in my best interest that the museum makes it. Non-profits are not easy to operate so I try to help the staff down here with different ideas. I actually go to events with them. And sometimes I take, John had a lot of memorabilia, I’m not taking anything out of the museum, but the stuff that he collected and collected and collected, and I’ll take some of that stuff and sell it at swap meets. People are kind of laughing at me because I’m setting up at a swap meet, kind of history repeating itself because that’s where we started. I really like doing that and the money I make from that I take my grandkids on vacation.