The Hustler

The Hustler


Words by Kirsten Midura | Photography by John Ryan Hebert

t was late summer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Throughout the country, Robin Thicke’s chart-topper “Blurred Lines” blasted from car radios, Iron Man 3 was sweeping box offices, and a hot new social media platform, Instagram, had begun bringing slick photography to the masses. 

In the northern part of town, inside a dim lecture hall at Capilano University, sophomore Becky Goebel sat slumped in her chair. She listened to her business professor drone on, but her mind wandered to her clapped-out 1984 Suzuki GS 450 parked outside. She had purchased it only to avoid paying campus parking fees, but still she relished her time spent riding with the guys, popping wheelies and standing on seats as she cruised around town. 

Becky’s daydream was brought to a jarring halt by the crude vibration of the cell phone in her pocket. Again and again it buzzed, drawing unwelcome stares from her classmates and professor alike. Scrambling to silence it, Becky caught a glimpse of the screen. A deluge of Instagram notifications flooded her phone for an instant, then her phone went dead.

After class, Becky rode like the wind through the city streets, rushing to charge her device as soon as she threw open her apartment door. “I had a feeling that I got a bunch of followers,” she explains, “or that someone reposted my photo of me.” Indeed, as soon as her phone turned back on, she found that someone had shared photos of her stunt-riding with her friends. As a result, she had thousands more followers than she’d had only an hour before. “Ten thousand followers in a day,” she says. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

At the time, Becky couldn’t fathom what it meant to be an influencer. “I had no idea what Instagram could bring,” she says, “I didn’t even have an iPhone back then. There weren’t even Instagram stories at the time.” It was 2013, after all. But Becky had been an entrepreneurial dynamo from a young age, and a million thoughts raced through her mind. What did this mean for her? How could she use this newfound visibility? How could she monetize it? 

Little did she know at the time, this viral post of her regular rides would change the course of her life.

A country girl from the flatlands of Saskatchewan, Becky had grown up on a small acreage on the prairies, driving anything she could find in her family’s back yard. “We’d always just have lots of things to drive around the farm,” Becky explains, “tractors and golf carts and little crappy dirt bikes.”

“It wasn’t like my family never had any money,” she continues, “it was always just like, the neighbor guy gives my dad a trike, and they trade it for a fucking goat or some shit.”

Both of Becky’s parents had motorcycles, and while she often rode her mother’s bike, it was her father who inspired her love of classic biker culture. “My dad has tattoos, and a lot of his friends always rode,” she says. “Because of him, I’ve always been very drawn towards the badass biker kind of thing.” Although her personal motif of flames and leopard print developed early on, it would be years before she would purchase her own two-wheeled vehicle. “I always wanted to get into motorcycles, but I couldn’t really afford it,” she admits. Instead, she set her sights on an even more ambitious goal: professional snowboarding.

At 16 years old – grade 10 in Canada – Becky dropped out of high school with the goal of living in a mountain town and becoming a pro snowboarder. To her dismay, her parents gave her an ultimatum. “They told me I couldn’t move out of the house until I graduated grade 12, I had at least $5,000, and I had a car,” Becky recalls, “So I got a car, I worked at Starbucks until I had $5,000, and I did homeschooling on my own. I graduated from grade 12 on the same day I graduated from grade 11. I was just that type of kid.”

With her high school diploma in hand, Becky put her nose to the grindstone in pursuit of her dream. She spent winters in Whistler, British Columbia, working in a local ski shop, competing as a sponsored snowboarder, and building relationships with Canadian brands. In the summers, she worked any job she could find to keep herself afloat. “I was a bartender, I was a bottle service girl, I was a server at a burger joint, I worked in a tiki bar,” Becky recounts. “I had every shitty job known to man.” 

For seven months, she even worked at an underground tungsten mining camp in the Northwest Territories. “I was the only woman up there,” she says. “My dad worked up there, and they needed another person to work the bitch jobs. I served cafeteria food at night, and during the day I would clean the men’s room.” She admits it was a “gnarly job,” but she was inching closer to her dream. 

Until she crashed.

At 18, a snowboarding accident thwarted any hopes of Becky’s turning pro. “I broke my arm in half twice. I broke my ankle. I crushed my spleen. All this shit,” she says. “I was just a little kid sending it, trying my best to be good at this thing. So, after I was, you know, broken, I ended up going to university because I didn’t really have anything else to do.”

At university, Becky studied business while working as a Red Bull girl. “It was the first job that I liked,” she recalls. This opportunity segued into an internship at Red Bull as an athlete marketing manager, and a subsequent gig in visual merchandising for Vans. 

Both jobs gave her a taste for the business side of athletics, so when her Instagram post went viral, she knew precisely what to do. “I realized that posting what I love to do was going to be the best thing for my Instagram page,” Becky says. “So I started just posting more about what I was doing in real life: riding motorcycles, going on trips, buying a new bike and selling the old one. And people just kept following me.”

In these early days of Instagram, accounts of women riding motorcycles were still relatively novel. “There were only maybe eight of us back then,” Becky says. So, her first order of business was to seek out and acquaint herself with her newfound circle of peers. Among her early connections was a fellow Pacific Northwesterner, Lanakila MacNaughton, from Portland, Oregon. Lana was a photographer who had started the Women’s Moto Exhibit, a photo series that showcased the revolutionary concept of actual women riders, rather than the glorified pin-up models that had saturated the internet up to that point. 

Lana was about to embark on a trip to the Alps sponsored by Husqvarna, Levi’s, Converse, and Sena, and she invited Becky to join her. “That trip to this day was probably the coolest trip I’ve ever gone on,” Becky says. “Four of us girls who never really even knew each other rode 5,000 kilometers across the European Alps within the course of a month. I remember just being like, if this is something I could do as a career, I’m going to try and do that.”

Inspired by her adventure and prepared by her life experiences, Becky formulated a plan for turning her Instagram fame into a working business model. While her counterparts had found their niche in photography or modeling, Becky sought to create her own value proposition on these motorcycle trips. “I figured out that I always really liked writing articles, even since I was a kid,” Becky explains. “So I started reaching out to magazines – literally just going to a shop, opening up the first page of a magazine, and emailing the editor saying, ‘Hey, I’m a girl writer, I’m going on all these trips with all these cool girls all over the world, and the girls are already taking photos. Can I write articles about it?’”

Piece by piece, Becky began writing her way into a full-time gig as a motorcycle journalist and influencer. She leveraged the Canadian connections she had forged through snowboarding, Red Bull, and Vans, and worked her way through their distribution companies to U.S. brands within the moto space. “From snowboarding, I really loved the idea of being sponsored and traveling to do what I loved,” Becky explains. “After I lost that snowboarding thing I thought my life was over, but motorcycling really took over that feeling for me. With Instagram, it just felt like it was possible to do pretty much the exact same thing. Instagram kind of started writing a new script of my life.”

Via journalism and riding for shoots, Becky’s work began to take her around the world to Europe, Latin America, and Asia, writing for magazines such as Marie Claire, VICE, and EasyRiders, and appearing in shows such as CW’s “Riverdale” and dozens of movies. “I did that full-time for probably four years, just pitching to magazines, going on trips, and writing articles,” she says.

Her Instagram persona made this work look seamless, yet Becky worked herself to the bone to engineer these opportunities. Behind the scenes, she persisted through both anxiety and a sense of impostor syndrome, even as she graced the covers of numerous magazines. “My anxiety is something I’ve always kind of had,” Becky shares, “and I think I make it work for me. I was hustling to just get trips paid for and make a little money, but only in the last two years has it actually been a real thing that’s not just kind of a joke.”

As Becky’s motorcycle career blossomed, so too did the segment as a whole. Female ridership grew to account for a fifth of the market, and women-focused brands, groups, and events sprang into life. Seeing these events pop up in California and on the East Coast, Becky noted the glaring lack of attention to her own corner of the continent. “Babes Ride Out was already around,” she says, “but there wasn’t really anything like it in the Northwest. So Lana and I decided to do something like it, but do it our own way.”

Becky and Lana wanted to take advantage of the region’s stunning riding and cater to the salt-of-the-earth community that the PNW fostered. “We wanted the event to be something you had to ride really far to get to,” Becky explains. “It wasn’t an event that was all about Instagram; it was really for those who wanted to ride and sleep in the cold.” 

In 2015, the two women launched the Dream Roll: a weekend-long, 300-person party at the base of Mount Adams in Washington. The first year’s campout was filled with choppers, cafe racers, sport bikes, and enduros, with riders hailing from as far as Australia. Despite the weekend’s rain, the women partied hard at night and spent the days exploring nearby volcanoes, waterfalls, and ice caves. “It’s gotten a lot more cush since then,” Becky admits, “but it was gnarly at the start.”

The Dream Roll would continue for years to come, with attendance reaching 1,000 in 2022. “It took up such a big chunk of my life,” Becky says, “but I loved putting on that event.” In 2015 and 2017, Becky also branched out into running her own event in Vancouver: Loserpalooza. “I wanted to do something in Vancouver because there was nothing there,” she says. “No motorcycle shows, no get-togethers. So that was my version of putting on real events for the community in Vancouver.” 

Admission sales never filled Becky’s pockets, but the Dream Roll has since become an annual staple on the women’s moto event calendar, and Loserpalooza became what Becky describes as “pretty much the biggest chopper show that’s ever happened in Canada.” 

With each new feather in Becky’s cap, she quickly became a bigger fish in an ever-shrinking pond. Soon enough, Becky had outgrown the Canadian market, and it was time to look to broader horizons. “I just change things when I start feeling like I don’t really want to do them anymore,” Becky explains. “In Canada, I was really maxed out, and I wanted to see how far I could take things. So, I got an immigration lawyer.”

In 2018, with the nominal cash that she had earned from her most recent event, Becky embarked on her most arduous adventure to date: moving to Los Angeles. “When I moved to another country,” she says, “I basically restarted my entire life. I didn’t have a social security number, I didn’t have credit, I had to sell all of my bikes and all my cars, and I had to live in a van for an undetermined amount of time because I didn’t have any of the things you need in order to rent an apartment.” 

It took nearly half a year for Becky to receive her visa and open a bank account. Until then, she was virtually homeless, doing her laundry at a friend’s house and storing things at her new boyfriend’s place. She also had recently lost her brother, something that she did not speak publicly about for years afterward. “You know, it’s weird when you’re doing all this social media stuff,” Becky says. “I make it look like my life is this happy-go-lucky jumping around, doing whatever I want kind of thing. But there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes. I’m not a citizen of America, I have to pay a lot more taxes, and setting up a business is super scary for me. I came here, and I didn’t have anything.”

Yet again, Becky’s relentlessness won out over the precariousness of her situation. As soon as she touched down on U.S. soil, she began doing what she had always done: hustle. “I did some jobs on music videos, I wrote a couple articles, did a couple jobs for brands where I rode their bikes,” Becky says. “So I was doing stuff, it’s just that no one really knew I lived in a van.” 

Over those first five months, she reached out to companies about articles, shoots, and other gigs. Only now she wasn’t just talking to the Canadian version of those companies, she was talking to the heads of the brands. Incidentally, one of her most high-profile gigs came at a time when she was most vulnerable.“Well, I was homeless living in my van, and I got a DM on Instagram from the producer of Ride with Norman Reedus. She just said, ‘Hey, Norman wants you for an episode on his show, can I call you?’” Becky says. “And within five minutes, she called me and said, ‘Would you be down to go to Uruguay in the next couple of days?’ I was like, ‘Where’s Uruguay? Is that in Africa? What the fuck?’”

Becky recounts that a few days later, a limousine picked her up from her van and brought her to the airport. The following week was a whirlwind of opulence: first-class flights, personal bodyguards, bulletproof cars, luxury hotels, gourmet meals and, of course, long conversations with Norman Reedus while riding side by side through the South American countryside, on the way to play with baby seals and the like. Memories were already swimming through Becky’s head as the limo dropped her back off at her van, which she immediately drove to Subway to eat in her vehicle.

Soon enough Becky’s hard work once again began to pay off. She finally received her visa to work as a writer; she moved into an apartment, and her work began to pick up. She had re-stocked her garage with motorcycles and was renting them out to shoots for side cash. “I started working for bigger movies, bigger companies, bigger magazines,” she explains, “and it all kind of just turned into something bigger.” 

But the momentum only lasted so long, as 2020 brought with it the hammer that was COVID-19. “March 2020, I didn’t have any writing work,” Becky says. “My whole job had been traveling and trying to work on shoots, trying to hustle jobs, but you couldn’t do any of that during COVID. For all those brands, I was the last person they cared about during that time.”

Becky had some money saved from her various gigs, and she took this opportunity to print a T-shirt that she had always wanted to make. The shirt read: IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THE DUDE FELL OFF. “I always kind of wanted to make that shirt,” Becky explains. “I had seen the version that says, ‘If you can read this, the bitch fell off,’ and I’ve always wanted to throw it back in their faces.” 

To Becky’s surprise, the message resonated with many of her Instagram followers. Printing only small batches due to financial constraints, Becky watched as her inventory flew off the shelves time and time again. “I’d be sold out for a month or two at a time,” she says, “but it didn’t really matter because it wasn’t a brand. I was just selling them on my personal Instagram for fun.” However, when her sales hit 500 shirts in one day, Becky knew she was on to something. “I was just like, oh my god, I have so many other things I could make into merchandise,” she says. “So through all of COVID, I just kept coming out with another new saying that twisted around the other sex’s sayings, and everybody was loving it. I was just having fun with it.”

In 2022, Becky finally took the leap and formalized her own merchandise brand, Axel Co. The name Axel – Becky’s moniker and Instagram handle – originated on a trip to Mexico that she took 12 years ago with a couple of friends. “We all made up a fake name to tell dudes at the bar when we met them,” Becky reveals, “and then when Instagram came around, we all made our Instagram names @actuallyitsaxel, @actuallyitscoco, and @actuallyitstikka. Fucking fakest names ever, but all of us got pineapples tattooed on our arms on that trip, and we all still have those same Instagram names.”

Naturally, Becky’s brand is replete with tongue-in-cheek homages to classic biker culture, brimming with flames, leopard print, and dick references. The latter, of course, is in overt defiance of the chauvinism that historically accompanies chopper culture. “If you ever meet me, you’ll know I’m not a sexual person,” she says. “The dick references have nothing to do with anything other than a ‘fuck you’ to the men that have been shitty over the years.”

Today, Becky’s apparel line has expanded beyond T-shirts to include hoodies, socks, stickers, and most recently, fingerless gloves. “Nobody buys fingerless motorcycle gloves anymore,” she says, “but I like that cheesiness of old school motorcycle stuff, and I’m not doing this just because it’s a trend.”

Becky also channeled her classic biker vibes into two custom builds that she completed in the last few years. The first was a flame-clad Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 that she built for the Build Train Race (BTR) program and raced at MotoAmerica. This bike was recently hung from the rafters as a centerpiece in her new Axel Co. brick-and-mortar within the Roland Sands building in Long Beach, California. 

The second build was a 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead clad in flames and leopard print that landed her the title of first woman to ever have a bike in the Born Free show. This chopper was a dream build for Becky, who designed it in the style of “those biker mamas that rode motorcycles long before me. Those are the women that I really respect in the culture: They couldn’t give two fucks, and they probably actually think I’m a dork. But that’s the shit I love.”

From the day her original post had gone viral, Becky’s high-profile experiences have often been met with envy from onlookers who do not realize the effort that Becky has put into curating her career. “It’s difficult when people are like, damn, you’re so lucky that you got that opportunity,” she says. “Luck is not a thing. I work really fucking hard for every single thing I’ve ever had. So, I think the best thing to answer that remark with is that when you work really hard, you get a lot luckier.”

For those who do see through the veneer, Becky hopes that they find inspiration in the path she has laid, particularly for the women following in her footsteps. “I want there to be this thing where girls come up to me and are like, ‘Yo, I’m riding because of you.’ When that happens I can just die happy,” Becky explains. “It doesn’t have to be riding motorcycles; I just want them to have that power and confidence and independence to do something that they thought they couldn’t do.”

And Becky has learned that the best way to encourage this is simply by being herself, pushing forward, and doing what she loves. “I know my life is very motorcycles, and it’s crazy to say, but I really love everything that I do and I want to keep working on it,” she says. “Everything, every year, it just gets better and better. And I feel like the best is yet to come.”

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