I’ll admit, I was stoked to be given this interview. I knew Maja Kenney as a lively, fresh personality on her social media feed but had never met the woman face-to-face.
Believe me, then, when I say that I left the chat grinning and with my fingers itching to type up everything we talked about.
Maja is a rider currently hailing from North Wales (I say currently because she’s been more places than you can shake a stick at). She offers exclusive motorcycle tours via her company, Maja’s Motorcycle Adventures – a recently started enterprise due to COVID.
She guides rides of all kinds – on her turf and beyond – and her methods, together with her easy-going schedule, have caused the business books to overflow with ride requests – many of which are from returning members looking to continue the beautiful memories made under her tutelage.
Maja is no stranger to adventure, either. Hearing the history of her love for travel has me firmly rooted in the belief that the only thing she asks herself before committing to a dream is, “why not”?
It’s a fantastic way to live your life, and it makes for a hell of an interview.
Let’s get into it.
Tell us about how you came to the UK from Slovenia.
I came to the UK in ’97 to settle here. A couple of years prior to that, I came to London as an au pair just to learn the language, learn more about the culture. It was the only feasible way for me to come to the UK because it was very expensive and an island (all my travels beforehand were hitchhiking or push-bike, and I couldn’t have gotten to the UK across the water).
So, going as an au pair was sort of a… I didn’t think it’d be hard work. I thought, “Well, I get paid to live there and have fun,”
So, it turned out that way, which is good.
First experience on a bike?
So, I started with bikes at 15. My dad got my mum a 50cc moped, and she hated it because it messed up her hair – so I thought, “I’ll have that.”
I don’t know if it’s the same in Canada, but postmen in Slovenia or Yugoslavia at the time had a big shield, like a big screen in front of their bike to protect them from wind and everything else. My dad thought, “Maybe if we put that on my wife’s 50cc, she’ll be happy using it.”
As a youth, I was devastated. I thought, “Oh my God, that’s just so embarrassing. My street cred, gone completely. I can’t possibly be using that.”
He installed it anyway, and then I took it for a ride. We lived in a bit of a newer area, and I went to go for a ride up the street, turned around, and came back…and the sun was straight down on me, and all I could see in that screen was light. So, it disoriented me a bit, and I got back to our driveway, which was lifted a bit from the road. I thought, “I’ll just give it a bit more power, get on the drive…”
And next thing I know, I was through a hedge and into an apple tree.
Obviously, there wasn’t any speed to it, but the most annoying bit was all the apples that fell off the tree weren’t ripe yet, so then as punishment, I had to spend the afternoon peeling and chopping for compote and strudel and pies, haha!
You say you did a ‘round-the-world trip with your son prior to riding?
I was with my husband at the time, and we moved to North Wales; and as is the case with most places, when you move out of a big city to the countryside, you have some spare cash after buying a much bigger house and everything else.
So we were in that situation where we thought, “we have a bit of spare cash. Why don’t we just do something crazy?”
Six months was the timeline, and the three of us (my son, Sam, was two at the time) just took off.
Our first flight was to LA. Why not? Just something completely random (and not American at all), plus we had to stop in America because of the way the ticket worked for our around-the-world trip.
We went to Fiji after that. I think my favorite experience for that place was hiring a four-by-four and just going off into the mountains. We got stopped by some village people on a road because they were all sort of hanging about, and then they took us into their village for a couple of nights. We stayed in their little huts, and Sam was playing with all the kids on the water, and it was just a proper, authentic experience because it wasn’t a resort, and not many people traveled into the mountains.
After that, we went to New Zealand. We bought a car in Oakland, sold it a month later in Christchurch for $100 more than we paid for it. It was really cool. We were there in June, wintertime. We literally got snowed in, in Queensland. So, we went skiing for a bit.
After that we went to Sydney, spending a couple of months traveling Australia because I had no idea how absolutely enormous it is…you look on a map and think, “we’ll just pop to Townsend”…14 hours on a bus later, and you realize the enormity of the landmass, haha! It looked so tiny on the map.
So, we spent a good couple of months in Australia, and then we were going to go to South Africa, but I chickened out. I just think because of having Sam with me and everything else going on and the reports of kidnappings at the time, I just had a feeling that I probably best not to go there.
So, we ended up going to Hong Kong for a bit and toured areas around that before we returned back home.
When your son was 17, you took on your motorcycle license. Was that just a bit of a ‘hey, ho, might as well, I’ve always wanted to do it?’
It was a set of circumstances, for sure.
Before Sam was born, I always had this desire to have a motorbike, and I said, “Why don’t we both get the bike licenses and get a couple of Ducatis (because that was always my favourite brand), and then we can ride to Slovenia every summer for summer holidays, do a European trip.”
And then, a couple of weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. So, okay, not the best time to be doing this, so I thought, “we’ll leave it.”
And then life happened; his dad and I split up when Sam was about five, and living the life of a single mom, my son was my priority. He had lots of surgeries – that kind of stuff happens in life – and I didn’t think about motorbikes apart from when you’d see a film or pictures and be like, “Oh, yeah, that was a dream, wasn’t it”?
And back then, I didn’t do anything about it.
Then when Sam was 17, I was working for a client who was setting up a motorcycle workshop locally, helping him with all the admin and doing bits and bobs around the shop. And he said to me, “Why don’t you go get your test, and I’ll build you your first bike?
And I went home and said to Sam, “Yeah, I always wanted a motorbike. So this has just happened.”
I did the test in real quick time, and the guy built me my first motorbike – a Suzuki SV650 but customized. It was really cool because nobody knew what on earth it was, and everywhere I stopped, they were like, “Oh, what’s this cool bike?”
I loved it. I went everywhere on it, but I hadn’t realized just how hard it was to ride because I’d not really ridden many other bikes. So when I eventually got the funds and the opportunity to test ride the Ducati Supersport S, it was like… Well, things just fell into place, and it’s just the right bike. Everything about it was love at first sight, and as soon as I could, I traded the SV650 in, and that’s going to be three years in January…and in three years, she’s got 40,000 miles on the clock.
When was your first solo motorcycle trip?
It was 2019.
I just packed my bag, sat on a motorbike, and went to Slovenia with no real plan. I had roughly three weeks that I could take out of work, so I caught a train over to the mainland, getting off in Calais, France. I remember I started riding up the motorway towards Belgium, and then all of a sudden, this rush came over me, and I just shrieked. In my head, I go, “Oh, my God, oh my God.”
I just realized I was actually doing this.
When you ride locally, you’re still in the UK, so you still feel at home. This felt totally different.
And the next thing I know, I’m in another country on my bike.
Then I went to Belgium. The only accommodation I had booked was further north in the Eiffel National Park (Germany), and I did two nights because I thought the first night I’d get there, and it would be my first overnight stay, and then I’d have a day around those roads, spend another night, and by then I’d be in the travel mode, and be okay to carry on from there.
It worked out perfectly. Every day I just rode till about lunchtime, then I stopped and assessed where I was, how I felt, where I wanted to go. And I would book accommodation from the night on that date since it was only me and Booking.com was really useful for that.
I just carried on until I got to Slovenia, which was my second shrieky moment when I crossed the border, and it said ‘Slovenia.’
I patted the bike, then I went, “I’m here. I actually did it. Wow.”
Total, the trip took three weeks, stopping at my mom’s for three or four nights, and then back through Italy and Switzerland and France in a circular route – because you don’t want to go there and back the same route.
It was a good trip to do on my own because there was a lot happening at the time and I think if I had somebody with me, I probably wouldn’t have been very good company.
When you ride, you clear your head, and you process so many things. Looking back, it was the perfect way to do that trip.
How did Maja’s Motorcycle Adventures Begin?
Back in 2014, I set up the Admin Office – originally an outsourced office with a business partner, but she and I didn’t quite have the same methods of working. And so the admin office was dwindling, and then in February, the office lease was up for renewal, and I said, “You know what? No, I’ll just work from home.” And then, a few weeks later, the whole lockdown happened.
The timing was perfect – I could have been in a very different position with people that needed salaries paid and a rented office that I wouldn’t have been able to use.
We had a three-week hard lockdown where nobody went anywhere, and I was sitting at home, and I was doing lots of gardening, and we had the best weather ever in March. I was out sunbathing, thinking, “Oh, I’ll be very, really good at being retired and tending to a nice garden.”
But by the weekend, I was bored, haha! All of a sudden, you just go, “Right, come on. Something needs to happen.”
So, by that time, I had a reasonable following on Twitter, and people would constantly tweet, “Oh, we’re coming to North Wales. Where should we go?”
And I’d go, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll meet with you, and I’ll ride with you and see how it plays out.”
There was no alternative motive – just making new friends, meeting other bikers, and having a great day out. I’m not from Wales, but I’m really quite patriotic about it because I’ve been here for such a long time, and I love it. I think the countryside is fantastic, the people are lovely, just everything about it. So, I feel quite proud to show it to people. This is where I live, and it’s beautiful.
And then, during the lockdown, I thought, “What can I do for a living now?” – I didn’t want to do the admin anymore.
I went, “Well, people keep asking me to come ride with them in Wales. So, why don’t I just start charging for that?”
And that’s how it happened.
So, I started charging, and people still turned up and paid me money. And then, when the whole restrictions eased off and hotels started opening, I thought, “Oh, I could do a weekend trip.”
I put it out there, and people booked it and turned up, and we had a great time. It was a successful weekend, and I did another one and carried on to the point where this past September, a group of people asked me to take them to Slovenia.
This was a group that had been to Wales on a tour of four days the land with me already. So they knew me, how I operated, and everything else they’d need to know beforehand. I was happy , too, because I’d met them before. So, it wasn’t five randoms I was taking to another country, you know?
So I said, “Yeah, yeah, I can do this.”
I put the phone down, and I’m going, “Shit.”
But it worked out really well. I organized the flights and the bike hire, and then because we were short on time, we flew in, rented the bikes for five days, did a five-day tour of Slovenia, and then they flew back, and I stayed there for a few more days with my mom.
I think it was also to just go, “Oh my God, I’ve just done it.”
It can be huge in my mind, but i’s like anything – I just go for it, I just do it.
Now, I’ve got three dates for Slovenia next year, with people that have been emailing and inquiring about it. Obviously, everybody’s a bit cautious to see what happens with travel next year, but even in spite of that, I’m anticipating that by March everything will be confirmed, which dates are going ahead. And we have options too because if they want to ride there, I can ride with them. If they want to fly there, I can help them get the bikes.
What’s your style when it comes to guiding the tours?
I don’t mind if people overtake me or they do their own thing as long as they obviously tell me that – I will share the routes in advance, and you can put it on your set, and come with a group, and then you can go, “Do you know what? I’m not feeling it. I’m not going to follow you this afternoon. I’m going to do my own thing,” or, “You’re too slow for me. I’ll shoot ahead. I’ll see you at the cafe we’re stopping at on the route.”
I feel that flexibility is needed because you’re paying good money to be on this tour, and it can be spoiled quite quickly if the group doesn’t gel or the pace is too slow, or you want to do stuff like have a look at a castle we’re passing since you’d miss it if you just followed the group.
So, as long as you tell me, “I’m peeling off here,” so I don’t go, “Oh my God, where did you go,” and then stop the whole group and spend two hours looking for somebody, you know?
Most of the time, people stick together. There was only a couple of groups where there were a handful of fast boys that wanted to go ahead, and I was like, “Yeah, go for it. No problem.”
But mostly they just want to follow somebody because it’s a kind of holiday – you don’t need to do any thinking, and you’re just enjoying the ride and the scenery.
So, yeah. That’s my method, and I guess as I get closer to each date, I’ll then decide, is it going ahead? Is it not? Or do we need to change it?
There’s also plenty of space for more laid-back day trips. I have had quite a few inquiries that ask to come up with family to Wales, and they say, “Well, can we just spend a day with you?”
Requests like asking if the one spouse can go do their own thing with the children while the other brings their bike and gets a tour, stuff like that.
Last year, a guy brought his bike on the back of a trailer, and I met him and a couple of his friends, and we spent the day out while the wives did their own thing, and that was it. So these are fun day trips, which I’m very happy doing, and they’re quite profitable for me as well. So, there’s always room for them.
How has COVID impacted Maja’s Motorcycle Tours?
Well, COVID actually launched my motorcycle touring business, so I guess that’s one good thing that came out of it. Because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be doing that. I’d still be running a business that I wasn’t really keen on.
I think COVID helped me because I put the dates out to everyone, and it sold out quite quickly; people couldn’t travel abroad, and Wales is quite popular for bikers.
I think it was also an opportunity where they just went, “you know what? I’m going for it,” and they just booked it.
So, the reality of it is I was probably very lucky that it grew as quickly and as well as it did. Any other year I probably would’ve had to spend more money on advertising, and I would’ve maybe struggled to fill some other dates. It was quite scary, and it still is now looking at my wishlist really and thinking, “How am I going to find all these people to book it?”
But I’ve learned to not overthink and just go with it, and it’ll happen.
I had four people booked on one tour, and then one came and said, “I want to go on this date,” and I’m thinking, “Oh God, how can I make this so that he’ll be the fifth bike?”
And so I replied, “Yeah, that’s fantastic – Just in case you are free this weekend as well….” He goes, “Oh yeah, I can do that.”
Boom. I’ve got five on that weekend now.
Lots of my bookings come from people who follow me on Twitter. So, social media and also because of my work with the Motorcycle Sports and Leisure Magazine – people are emailing saying, “I read your articles, and I’ve looked at your website, and I’m really keen to come on and tour.”
Obviously, it’s a very seasonal business. So, the fact that I’ve only just started up means that there wasn’t enough revenue to see me through winter.
So, part of the journey was that last winter, I was delivering Amazon parcels.
I was very fit last winter.
Any plans for Maja’s Motorcycle Adventures as it currently stands?
My big plan is to find a property in Wales – a little cottage in the countryside with a bit of land and I’ll put in little pods, like log cabins or camping pods where the people will stay – and rather than an actual BnB, it would be more of a place you can just hang out. There’d be a communal area garage and maybe a few tools where riders can tinker with their bikes, but they’d all have their own pod or a lodge or whatever, and we would just get them in the morning, go for a ride for the day, come back, and then do two, three, four days, whatever they want to do.
And then, in the winter, you got mountain bike riders and walkers that go into the mountains. So, they could stay there without me having to even talk to them.
Right now, I’m actively looking for something like that. How I’ll get there financially, I don’t know yet, but usually, things just fall into place when I need them to. I’ll figure it out when the time is right.
‘Bella,’ your Ducati SuperSport S, is gorgeous – but she’s got a lot of miles on the odometer, and you do a lot of long-range riding. What will your next bike be?
The Ducati SuperSport S is not as bad for ergonomics as a proper sports bike. If you had an R1 or a Panigale, or your BMW S 1000 RR, they’re really low down, so you are on your wrists – that would be really uncomfortable. Because it’s a sports tour, the Ducati’s handlebars are quite a bit higher up.
So yes, the seat is comfortable. But again, after four, five days, it starts to get a little bit harsh. So, it’s suffering for the looks, really?
However, it’s a great all-rounder, which is why I would struggle to know what to replace it with. I’ve been on a track with it (admittedly, I’m quite slow, but I did it, and it worked really well). I can have fun, rounded, tight bends anywhere in the world. When I went to the Swiss Alps passes, they had switchbacks. It was fine. It’ll sit on a motorway if you lift the screen a bit. I can put panniers on if I want to, but I travel light, so I only use a tail bag to put it on a seat. So, it’s a great all-rounder for everything. It just works.
In general, 90% of the roads I run are fantastic. And then you have some that are in need of maintenance or are not tarmacked and a little bit of gravel – and those need something like the higher bike, for winter riding as well because Ducati is quite low and I get all sorts of rubbish and dirt and mud into the radiator cover.
I did a review of the Streetfighter V4 in March, and it was fantastic, but not different enough to warrant the purchase…but when I toured Tasmania, I had a Triumph Tiger. Very stylish. The 900 one is better (I had it for a week on a test ride), and oh, yes, I would have it in a garage.
I also rode a BMW R 1250 GS; the center of gravity was very low, so I actually got on with it quite well, but it’s not really my style. The Tiger is more…ladylike, would I say? Maybe I felt it was more appropriate for the look I’m after, I suppose, when out on adventures (plus the mirrors are bigger, and they don’t shake as much as they do on a Ducati).
So if I had to, I would pay my own money for a Tiger. Yeah, absolutely, I would – because on blood bikes, carrying blood bags across the country, I ride the Honda Crossrunner, and its really clunky and uncomfortable.
Also, I heard Triumph is going to launch a 1200 next year. That could be just a perfect bike because 900 was great, but a couple of times, I felt we could do with just a little bit more power. And so, maybe a Triumph Tiger 1200 would be ideal.
Yeah, there you go. Let’s have that.
Eventually she got to the point.
As a woman, what advice would you give a female rider just starting out?
A lot of women that are my age or older than me are starting to ride because the kids have gone. They’ve left the house, and they find themselves like, “Hmm. Now what do I do?”
So they go and start riding motorbikes. I think, on a whole, their experience depends on the area. I’m noticing, where I am, the nearby town is quite sexist in a way. They’ll say things like, “Oh, it’s a girl’s meeting. Do you want us to come and help you park your bikes?”
Still, you must learn not to take it too much to heart because, on the other hand, while they’re making sexist remarks, they’re also probably the first ones to help you if you were to drop your bike or if you’re stuck. So, it’s a lot of ego from males mostly, like peacocks with their feathers out and trying to be all cocky.
Having a bit of thick skin and maybe riding with like-minded people, with other women, or with men that are more supportive helps. But comments shouldn’t stop you from riding – because it’s just so lovely to see all the women coming out and starting to ride.
Just hang out with those that make you feel comfortable and help you out until you can eventually give back and help others out. When you become an experienced motorcyclist, and you see newbies, you will pass on what you were given and help them, especially if people helped you.
It’s like life, isn’t it? It’s finding the right people around you to support you and reaching out where you can – whether that’s on social media or in your local bike meet-up place.