IMAGE BY BRANDON LAJOIE.
Most of you probably know or have heard of Sofi Tsingos, owner of GT-Moto, so you’ll know that I mean it when I say she is one of the most incredible people I have met.
Not only does she rock the moto world with her inspired builds, she’s extraordinarily dedicated, humble, and selfless — did you know she donates part of her company’s profits to support cancer research, and she’s done charity builds to raise money to help cancer patients with their medical bills? Seriously, she is a terrific human being.
The thing that impresses me most about Sofi, though, is that she doesn’t half-ass anything. In her dad’s words, “Other people… they get lazy.” Looking over my bike, I can’t find a shred of laziness. Every part has been carefully cleaned and flawlessly painted, every valve with even the slightest leak has been replaced. The workmanship put into my bike — ALL of her bikes — gives me chills.
I could go on about Sofi for days — but instead, I sat her down at a coffee shop last week so she could do that for me! And I know everyone wants more details about the Little Rat, so I got her to talk about that, too
Real quick before we get started, though: If you agree with me and think Sofi Tsingos is an amazing human being who deserves our utmost commendation, show her some support! She’s got some awesome apparel and GT-Moto-approved parts for sale on her site (I recommend the ultra-soft hoodie and the uber-cool laser running light), and I know she would be thrilled to have your orders in her inbox.
L: What did you think when you first saw my bike?
S: I thought it was terrifying. There was no way I was going to do a before test; it was very dangerous-looking. I felt really bad about how much you had put into it already, and where it had ended up. All I wanted to do was help you, because I felt like you had been taken advantage of.
So, I definitely knew that it needed a lot of work. Not just the way it looked, but mechanically, from a safety perspective. There were a lot of things that were wrong… the throttle cable was hanging on by a thread, the battery was leaking, the battery box was just barely attached… it was scary.
L: What was the scariest part?
S: The fact that it barely ran on one cylinder, and it kept stopping, and you were actually still riding it. I was impressed. [laughter]
L: I didn’t know!
S: That’s what made me feel bad [laughter].
L: So, how did you take that piece of garbage and come out with such a beautiful design? What inspired you?
S: All I really need is a color palette — as long as I have a color direction, I can figure out the rest of the flow of the bike, because color is really important.
And I knew you wanted a cafe, and I’m familiar with the lines of those bikes. I was also inspired by the shape of the tank, which flowed through the tail section really nicely. I’ve also had ideas in the past for things i’ve wanted to try, just from doing previous builds. And the bike itself already sat really well, so it was easy to emphasize that.
L: Lots of people have commented on the curved part of the frame — and I agree, it’s my favorite part, too. What inspired that?
S: The curved part… At first, the bike was so boxy. I mean, even the tank is pretty boxy, but there are some really beautiful curves in it. And there were certain design aspects that I learned just from growing as a builder that I wanted to put on this bike. So it was kind of already brewing — in the thickness, in the way that the bike was originally built… It was already nice, we just had to fix the back end because it was so chopped up from the previous owner.
L: What part of the build was the most difficult?
S: The most difficult part was… right before I handed it over to you, because I was really hoping you were going to like it. [Laughter]
L: Really? That was the hardest part?
S: Yes! Knowing you had no idea what it was going to look like until we were actually finished, that was the hardest part.
L: Was this the first surprise build you’ve done?
S: Uhhmm, yes. I’ve done other surprise builds, but [the customer] already had an idea, they’re the ones who gave me the design — it was just detail work. This was a full-blown, from-the-ground-up surprise build. Like, you didn’t even know exactly what color it was going to be.
L: Yep, I had no clue. [Laughs] What was the most fun part of the build?
S: Handing over the keys. [Laughs] It was such an emotional roller coaster!
I don’t know, I enjoyed piecing it together, I’ve always loved the body work, the designing. That’s a really hard question, because it all ties together… It’s that very proud moment you get at the end of the build… And through the build it can get pretty tough, but it’s also great to just turn yourself off to the world, put your head down, and work.
L: What part of building bikes do you most enjoy, in general?
S: I would have to say the body work and painting, because that’s what people see first.
L: A lot of the bike is still original, or stock. Why did you make that decision?
S: Well, when I was researching the bike, I found out that this bike is very rare, because 5 years after Kawasaki stopped producing the bike, they stopped producing parts. So sourcing all the parts was very difficult, and the last thing I wanted to do was chop it up from what it was originally.
The only reason I didn’t keep the back end original is because somebody already butchered it, so building that back end, it kind of helped it stand out, but at the same time it’s not original. But the motor’s restored, the front end’s restored, the wheels and breaks — they’re all restored.
L: So when you say butchered…
S: Chopped up. The frame had grind marks in it, I had to do a lot of welding, there’s a lot of pitting in it… Years of sitting around and then being covered up with rattle can does not help at all.
L: When you say this is a rare bike… I mean, it’s rare now, but wasn’t it pretty common when it was first made?
S: Yeah, it was more of a beginner bike when it first came out, in that 450-400 range. But it’s actually a very strong bike. I was very proud of how peppy it was, and how well it pulls. There’s some torque there for sure.
L: Were there any major glitches with the build that you had to work around?
S: The biggest problem that I had, like I mentioned, was sourcing the parts. I couldn’t order them from the Kawasaki dealer or the manufacturer, so I had to go on eBay and different places. And the parts that you could find were selling for quadruple their original price.
L: This was the first Kawasaki you guys have built, right?
S: Yes, and I probably won’t do it again — not because I don’t like Kawasaki — I just don’t like the fact that I can’t get parts. If someone were to ask me to do this kind of build again, I would ask for probably three times as much, knowing what the parts bill’s gonna be.
L: As you should! [Laughter]
This was the first bike you’ve built for another female rider — what was that like for you?
S: It was really exciting! Growing up in the industry, I could count on one hand how many females I came across that actually rode — and that’s throughout the nation, not just locally. But now, last year, women made up 25% of the industry, which is massive! It’s really nice to know that there are women out there who are inspired to have me build their bikes, who want to continue to learn, who want to be passionate.
And women generally want to be different and have their own style, so it’s really exciting that they’re bringing that to the custom side of the industry, because it allows me to expand on my ideas as well.
L: Could you tell me more about your training and background building bikes?
S: When I was living on the west coast, people kept doing poor jobs working on my Ducati, and one day I was in the garage rebuilding my clutch because the dealer had messed it up, and I was like, you know what, I’m tired of this, I’m just going to go to school and learn to do it myself.
So I went to school, became a certified Ducati, BMW, and Triumph technician, and from there I’ve worked in the service department of the industry since 2009. I really enjoy that part — Before, I always worked in the parts and the apparel side, but honestly, it’s not fun for me, it’s just not that challenging. I mean, I enjoy the people, but I feel like it’s more of a challenge to sell people on how important it is to service and maintain your bike than just to sell a pair of gloves or a helmet.
And, while working on the service side, I got into the fabricating, the designing, and the body work itself, and that’s been even more of a challenge, and it’s a lot of fun. Customizing a bike — that never gets old, that’s timeless. And it’ll keep me busy for a long time.
L: Now that you’re becoming pretty well-known, I know you have a lot of people who look up to you and your builds. Is there any advice you’d give to people who want to start building or working on their own bikes?
S: That’s a good question — I guess I’ve never really thought about it.
There are so many different aspects to building… I’d say if you’re getting into it, the biggest thing you have to keep in mind is that they’re not cars — if you mess up, you can’t just roll onto the side of the road on four wheels. You’re working on something with two wheels, so if you get something wrong, you can literally kill somebody.
So, it is a hobby, but it’s a very strict hobby. It’s very detailed, and you have to be committed. If you’re going to do something, take the time and do it right, no matter how long it takes. You have to try to not get distracted when you’re in the middle of something important — turn off your cell phone, don’t be taking selfies next to all the parts. I mean, do a before and after picture, but during the build time you have to stay focused. That’s kind of serious advice, but I think it’s really what’s important.
Last question. What do you have in store for GT-Moto?
S: My goal is to have a shop where the moto community can come together and hang out, while we continue to build bikes for charities I want GT-Moto to become one of those brands where people see a shirt, or they ride our bike… I mean, it already feels good to ride a motorcycle, I want people to feel even better about supporting our brand because they know it’s going toward a good cause.
Sure, it’d be great to build an empire in my lifetime, but I would rather build something that goes on beyond myself, and beyond my lifetime, that helps others, especially when it comes to cancer and other diseases. I want people to understand that we’re not this old-timey, bar-hopping motorcyclist crowd. We work our asses off, and we genuinely care about the community and each other.
You know, I’m not in this to say I’m the best. I’m in this to grow everybody’s awareness about things that are more important than themselves.
Damn. What a gem, right?
As always, thanks for reading! Don’t forget to support Sofi by picking up a t-shirt, sticker, beanie or rad steampunk jewelry, and stay tuned because we’re going to be releasing video, photos and a review of the Little Rat soon
And remember to —