When J. Shia’s family moved to America from Lebanon, the family tools were one of the only things of value they were able to bring with them. Growing up, their yard was cluttered with “anything that had an engine” because her father had a bit of pack rat in him. As the adage goes, “Why throw it away when you can fix it.”  Because of the menagerie, the Shia home was nicknamed the “Madhouse” by neighbors. But growing up in a “Madhouse” had its advantages. Young J. would sneak out and tear apart small engines and tinker with things laying around the yard. This curiosity laid a foundation of mechanical knowledge that evolved into the vintage motorcycle shop she founded in Boston, Massachusetts, appropriately called Madhouse Motors, and these days Shia’s work is highly touted in the custom bike building realm.

This statement is supported by the fact that her work has been getting plenty of national exposure lately, from Michael Lichter’s Motorcycles as Art exhibit in Sturgis to The ONE Moto and Handbuilt Motorcycle shows. Handbuilt is apropos for the bike she displayed at both shows, a 1957 Royal Enfield Indian that oozes with originality and one-off parts, most notably a foot throttle and an internal tank shift.

“This project was mainly just for fun,” Shia said. “It was something to keep me excited about going to work. Having the freedom to create a machine where noone’s saying hey, you can’t do that or I don’t like that, and having just myself and my team be the critics has been really fun.”

“The foot throttle concept kind of came out of nowhere, but I wanted to see if it was possible because I hadn’t seen it before,” she said, adding “A little dangerous,” with a sly grin. “It’s very dangerous actually. It’s super sketchy.”

Shift linkage runs up through the tank and riding it goes against the brain’s wiring.

“You basically have to aggressively shift it into gear and as you’re letting out the clutch you give it gas with your foot. So not like a jockey shifter. A lot of people see it and think it’s a jockey shift.”

The uniqueness of J Shia's work has been capturing plenty of attention lately in the motorcycle community. 

The engine is a 700cc Royal Enfield Twin that was in pretty rough shape so she rebuilt the top end and the four-speed gearbox. She made a custom manifold so the classic Amal carb could kick out the side of the engine. The carb has a “weird velocity stack” she found and meshed to add congruity to the mesh theme throughout the bike. The dual exhausts were also made in-house, and cut-outs in the pipes reveal fork springs inside, another deliberate design choice that matches up to the coils on the handlebar.

“There’s springs over all the cables that are routed just for no reason,” she said laughing, reiterating that “The bike was really made for fun.”

For the hand shifter Madhouse channeled through the tank, inserted a big piece of quarter-inch and re-welded a couple of plates on top. The linkage that’s routed down to the shifter is adjustable, while the actual shift handle itself is from an old lathe that she heated up until she could bend it into shape.

The build features a dual monoshock that’s adjustable so the bike can be lifted up or lowered by about four inches. She stretched the swingarm by six inches and made a loop to mount the rear of the monoshock on. The fender was off a “real” 1946 Indian but it didn’t quite fit over the rear wheel so they cut it in half and water-jetted a spine to it, then rolled a strip over it. On top of the fender is an oil bag for a weed whacker she converted into a tool box, while the taillight is an egg slicer with an LED inside.

“There’s a thread in here and this whole cap comes off and there’s a whole tool box in here,” Shia pointed out.

That’s not the only curios she re-purposed. The footboards are made from brannock devices which are usually found in shoe stores to measure your feet and the gas pedal is an old hay hook. She used the other half of the brannock device to build a little coffin that serves as a battery box. The seat meanwhile is a steering yoke from a little red wagon. The motorcycle’s headlight is actually an old police floodlight she cut down so it can still rotate and be shined in different directions. The gas cap is off an old gas can with reworked threads so it’d screw into the tank.

The list of custom touches on the 1957 Royal Enfield Indian doesn’t stop there. Shia rebuilt the clutch, then cut open the clutch over and covered it in mesh. The transmission cover has been milled out. The stock top clamp, a big casting that housed the Enfield’s speedo, has been cut down, too. With so many personal touches, it’s easy to understand why Madhouse Motors has been earning invites to some of the most prominent custom motorcycle showcases like The ONE and Handbuilt.

“It’s an absolute honor to be at the Handbuilt Show,” Shia said when we caught up with her in Austin. “I’m around bikes and machines that are created by people I look up to and admire more than I can even express. People who are not only phenomenal builders, but like alchemists, and designers, metal workers who really know and love the construction of a machine that happens to be a motorcycle.”

Talented and unpretentious, Shia would most likely downplay the fact that her work is inspirational as well. She’s been an ambassador for women riders at events like Babes Ride and the Dream Roll. Her easy-going demeanor makes her very approachable. At the Handbuilt, unlike other builders who hung “Do Not Touch” signs on their motorcycles, Shia let kids climb all over her bike and gave them Madhouse Motors stickers to boot. She shares her knowledge of motorcycles openly and people gravitate to that openness. She built the first motorcycle with a foot throttle I’ve ever encountered and her skills are undeniable. If only her “Madhouse” neighbors could see her now.

Madhouse Motors making fans, young and old alike.