How a Father and His Teenage Daughter Bonded Over a Motorcycle Retrofit

Over the course of a month, Gwen and John Jessup completely revamped a 1982 Harley-Davidson together — and received a coveted award in recognition of their efforts.
Jun 22, 2020 3:10 PM ET
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Forget malls and movie theaters; sixteen-year-old Gwen Jessup prefers to spend time in her father’s motorcycle shop. So when her dad, John Jessup, suggested completely remaking a classic Harley-Davidson bike last summer with Gwen to exactly fit her tastes and style, she jumped at the chance. The only hitch was that they had a month deadline to finish their project before showing their bike at the renown Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — and eBay was the perfect place to source their specialized products.

Team Dream Rides isn’t the typical hangout for a teenage girl. It’s a massive warehouse, bounded by a chain-link fence, set in an industrial neighborhood in Stockton, California. But it’s where Gwen spent much of her childhood, tinkering with a hammer and nails or sweeping the floors. “I’ve been in the shop since I was two years old, spending time with my dad,” she said. “So I think my love of motorcycles was because that’s what I know.” Though she had her own dirt bike as a kid, which she serviced herself, she wasn’t allowed to work on the Harleys. “We didn’t want her to get burned or hurt,” John said.

Finally, last summer when she was 15, her dad asked if she wanted to help him redo a 1982 Harley-Davidson FXR model for her own. Gwen jumped at the chance. “I’ve wanted a bike since forever,” she said. “I never thought it would be a possibility, but then also having the chance to customize it and get a say in what it looks like? Yes, absolutely!” 

John had bought the bike a few years back, and he’d been collecting parts for it on eBay. 1982 was the first year of the FXR model, and he and Gwen wanted to take the motorcycle back to its classic beauty while also updating it for today. “It’s called a resto-mod process. It’s really about maintaining the essence of the bike while incorporating modern technology so it’s usable on today’s highways. It’s what we’re known for as a company,” John said.

The pair only had a month last year to transform the bike, since John was invited in July by a show organizer to bring a bike to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. Though his work has won numerous awards at other shows, he’d never been to Sturgis because it was too hard to take time away from his business to drive to South Dakota. But the official invitation was too much of an honor to pass up, and John realized that redoing the 1982 FXR with Gwen would be an ideal project to do together. 

Every morning for a month, Gwen and her dad got up at 4:30 a.m. and worked on the bike tirelessly, pausing only to help customers when the shop was open before continuing work after hours and heading home at 11 p.m. “I was worried that I’d have to drag Gwen out of bed, but she was up and ready, eager to get the project done. It was awesome to see,” John said. 

Long days were paired with meticulous work. “We wanted to build a top-level, show-quality motorcycle, so the attention to detail was pretty intense. We had to have some of the original parts, and good luck finding them if you only have a 60-100 mile search radius,” he said. “Thank god we had eBay.” The bike was stripped down to the frame, then Gwen thought everything through with her dad, from the handlebars to the rims. Many of the model-specific parts, such as the front end and the swing arm, were found on eBay. As was the prize jewel, a badge with an eagle on the front fender made especially for the 1982 models that he found brand-new, also through eBay. 

The perfect cherry on top of the project? The pair won a 2019 “Best of Show” award at Sturgis, an incredible honor. “I got up to accept the award, and I teared up as I told the crowd how Gwen and I built the bike, and that it was for her,” John said. “Then I looked out at those hundreds of bikers, and they were all tearing up too. We all love our daughters, we have that in common.”

John is already starting to save parts for an FXR chopper that he and Gwen will work on next year together, and he’s been looking at eBay to help prep for that project, too. “The resto-mod process is all about paying homage to the original vehicle, and in order to do that, you need some of the original parts,” he said. “eBay’s a great resource when it comes to stuff that’s otherwise incredibly hard to find.” They also sell surplus new parts on eBay; Gwen handles their eBay storefront, Team Dream Rides.

As for the overall experience, Gwen is thrilled. “Honestly, I learned that this bike is so amazing,” she said. “But really the memories of building the bike are so much more important to me. You’d have to give me a billion dollars to buy this bike from me!”