Riding is in her blood.
Imogen Lehtonen has been around motorcycles her entire life. As she grew older, riding became more than just a way to get from point A to point B. “Riding has kept me in touch with my dad,” Lehtonen says. “When I was younger, I always knew I was going to ride a motorcycle because I used to sit on the back of his bike with him. He was diagnosed with cancer and given a year and a half to live, but ended up getting seven years. To this day, whenever I’m on my bike he’s right there in my helmet and it makes me feel close to him.”
Lehtonen was born a floor above her family’s London jewelry store, The Great Frog, but spent most of her childhood between New Zealand and the United States. New Zealand gave her an appreciation for the outdoors, but the States taught her how to ride. “Every year, we’d travel to Florida to visit my dad’s family,” Lehtonen says. “We would take the bikes out and there were no other cars on the road, so it would be a free-for-all of figuring it out. I remember following my dad and there was no gradient between where the road ended and the grass began. I got to know the streets around my aunt’s place and I started experimenting with bike yoga—standing on the seat or taking both hands off. Since then, it’s just been a constant learning experience.”
Learning how to ride in Florida made Lehtonen fall in love with bike culture and as a young adult, she packed up her life and moved around the world to California. Initially, her plan was to attend college and pursue teaching; instead, she decided to join the family business. “I grew up with both motorcycles and jewelry being part of my world, but they didn’t really come together until I moved to California,” Lehtonen says. “I pitched the idea to my cousin about opening a Great Frog in America, because at the time it was just the South London store. Since we opened our main flagship store on Melrose, it’s become an amalgamation of both cultures. We always have a motorcycle on display in the window and a lot of the community I know through riding ends up wearing our jewelry.”
Lehtonen has blended in seamlessly with the American bike scene since making the move. At first, her father was one of the only motorcycle enthusiasts she rode with, but she soon grew a love for the bonding experience of a group ride. “Back in 2015, I was invited by Harley-Davidson to ride a cross-country trip with a few other girls,” Lehtonen says. “We flew into Brooklyn and rode all the way to San Francisco over the course of a month. It happened to be on the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing, so it was a really special experience to honor him on this trip. I was on a Harley-Davidson wide glide with big eight hangers and we zig-zagged across the country, taking our time.” Amidst Lehtonen’s trip, which would take her girl gang through the cities and plains of the United States, the group decided to commemorate their journey with a tattoo.
“We were in Nashville and we were looking into finding a local tattoo artist to do our tattoo,” Lehtonen says. “But then we were like, ‘Why don’t we fly out our friend Derrick Snodgrass from California?’ He ended up coming out to our Airbnb and he tattooed all of us there. Our trip was named ‘The Highway Runaways,’ so we all got that with a winged motorcycle and a heart.”
This trip introduced Lehtonen to other women in the bike world, a demographic that’s growing rapidly. While she cherishes all the relationships she’s made through riding, there’s something special about the women who ride. “The community has morphed and changed a lot since I first got into it,” Lehtonen says. “More and more women are getting into riding, which is awesome. I have a lot of respect for women who get into it and it’s changed my life. I think a lot of the women I know have become really passionate about it because it’s a lot of fun.”
As Lehtonen has become more passionate about riding, she’s discovered an interest in bike building. While this is still a new venture for her, she has an inkling she’ll be able to catch on quickly. “When I’m custom sizing a piece of jewelry, I’m using handsaws, files, electric hand tools and buffing/polishing machines,” Lehtonen says. “It’s kind of the same realm as bike building, just on a smaller scale. The skills I’ve learned over the years by working with my hands, intrinsically knowing how to put things together and how things should look, ties in well with motorcycles. Having to run the store and workshop hasn’t given me too much time to tinker with bikes, but I would love to eventually be able to put together a bike from scratch and play around with metal shaping.”
Lehtonen has a lot on her plate when it comes to running her business and making time to get in rides to the mountains. But even in what little spare time she has, she finds a way to keep herself busy. “I definitely want to start working on my own personal line of jewelry,” Lehtonen says. “I have notebooks of designs and little lumps of wax that I play with here and there that I’d like to refine into my own collection. I didn’t have a TV growing up, so after school I would throw knives and axes with my dad in my backyard. I’ve always had an affinity for knives and I’d like to do a little collection of knife and dagger based jewelry.”
While to the outside world motorcycles and jewelry may appear as different as can be, they come together seamlessly for Imogen Lehtonen. She’s made these communities her home and along the way, has become even more connected to her roots. And that’s something she’ll take with her, from one ride to the next.