Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. It’s not always the most productive or positive aspect of contemporary culture, but there are plenty of examples of people connecting from around the world for the better. This is particularly true for motorcyclists. You can find the solution to just about any bike’s ailment in model-specific forums or learn more about a stretch of highway halfway across the world from a local. In the case of Anna Rigby, social media provided a way to share her experiences while becoming a motorcyclist. Those humble beginnings have subsequently led to a brand ambassador deal with Dainese and the creation of RedSpade Racing, in addition to hundreds of thousands of individuals connected to her story that she’d have never affected otherwise.
If you’ve been on Instagram and have any predilection toward motorcycles, you’ve likely seen RedSpade. Rigby, currently based in north Georgia, is a graphic designer by day with a skill for photography and her images on IG are striking. Fantastic action shots along with lots of quieter, more personal images complete with captions that let fans into her life. Whether it’s simple as a comment about making it back to a favorite lunch spot or sharing a more intimate story about a hardship, Rigby lets it all hang out on the RedSpade page. That candor has paid off with nearly 200,000 followers as of this article.
“I share a lot of good stuff but I share a lot of bad stuff too,” she explained during a recent conversation. “Sometimes it’s embarrassing for me but I’ll share it because I know I’m not the only one. And when people reach back out and say ‘thanks for sharing that, I’ve been struggling with the exact same thing and that helped me get through it’ that kind of stuff just makes me cry. It makes you realize just how many people you can reach with your story. In the end, we’re all the same, going through the same things, the same struggles so it’s all just about finding that common language and reaching out to people.”
That type of connection has been essential for Rigby, because even though she’s been around motorcycles and cars her entire life, she didn’t start riding until later in life.
“My dad had two motorcycles when I grew up to which I showed absolutely zero interest. I was a complete girly girl and he was big into mechanics, he was a fix-it man and spent most of his time in the garage. He’d always try to get me in there to help; I remember bleeding brakes on cars and things like that that I had zero interest in. So it’s kind of weird I was surrounded by all these mechanics and showed no hope in that direction at all.”
Rigby met her future husband, Steve, when she was 16 and he was a rider too but even that wasn’t enough to get her on a bike. As responsibilities grew in college and afterward, riding fell by the wayside for Steve until after he and Anna were married, then bikes crept back into their lives thanks to a few guys on his side of the family.
“All of a sudden after we got married they started putting on these road trips,” said Rigby. “To Deals Gap and fun places like that. They’re all from the Baltimore area so they’d come down and oddly enough his dad ended up getting a motorcycle. I can’t even remember what it was, it was some upright naked bike and Steve just started getting interested in it. His brother got a Gixxer 750 and he was like ‘man I really want a sportbike’ but it’s funny that every year that went on we had responsibilities, always being responsible.
“He just kept putting it aside and investing in the house. So finally I was just like ‘dude, let’s just do it’ at this point I think we were 27 and I was like ‘we’re not getting any younger just get a damn sportbike.’”
Rather than a full-on sportbike though he got hold of a Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, which made two-up sport-touring possible. This proved to be foundational to Rigby becoming a rider herself.
“For about two years I rode two-up on it with him and I still remember my very first time. He took me over triple digits and I nearly peed myself on the back. When he stopped my left leg was shaking and he was like ‘are you ok?’ and I was like ‘I’m fine.’ It took me a little bit to gain trust and everything. I’m one of those people, I don’t trust anybody, so riding a motorcycle and leaning…I still remember the first time we were leaning and it felt like we were so close to the grass. It was just such a different sensation. After two years, I really started falling in love with it.”
Additionally, Rigby had been frequenting local WERA races to support Steve’s cousin and shoot photographs of the racers. This experience codified the love of motorcycles for Rigby – the aggressive riding, dragging knees across the pavement through a corner, all enchanted her. Even then, she wasn’t confident enough to take the reins herself. It wasn’t until a chance encounter during a road trip to Deals Gap that she made the decision to give piloting a motorcycle a real shot.
“I was the only girl, maybe there was another two-up female passenger, and I actually met a female WERA racer up on the Gap. She went up there on her Gixxer, and I was so impressed because until then I hadn’t met a female that rode. Much less aggressively, with the full leathers and everything. That was amazing to me. I actually got to chatting and she was the one to say ‘look, just go take an MSF course, they give you the bikes, you can drop ‘em, just see if it’s for you. If it’s something you can handle.’ And I thought ‘you know that’s a good idea’ so in July of 2012 I finally got enough courage to go and do the class. The next weekend I bought my very first motorcycle and took the baby steps. It was definitely the most life changing experience that ever happened in my life. I mean at age 30, that was a big one.”
That first bike was a CBR250R, something approachable and maneuverable that she felt confident handling.
At the same time, Rigby had been dealing with a debilitating condition in her legs that made it difficult to ride two-up, much less on her own. Doctors settled on neuropathy as a diagnosis, but according to Rigby no one has been able to really pin down what’s wrong. What she does know is that when a bout hits, there’s tremendous pain and cramping in her legs.
“I was still riding two-up with Steve that a lot of the time I was bed ridden. I could barely get to work. My mom moved in to help me, she would drive me to work, and that went on for a few months where it was really bad until I got some medication to help manage it.”
Riding a motorcycle gave Rigby a sense of freedom again, a degree of mobility that she feared she’d lose forever due to the neuropathy.
“I used to be a pretty active person and all of a sudden I was stuck on the couch. For me it was huge. It gave me a reason to live again. I can’t tell you how much it really was life changing to me. Both attitude wise. I was a shy quiet person, scared, wouldn’t really interact with a lot of people and the motorcycle just brought everything out. So that was really cool. I feel like I’ve benefited a lot from it as a person.”
Motorcycles quickly became a deep-seated passion for Rigby, but the neuropathy didn’t make it easy to learn. Her instructor taught her to shift with her heel because she struggled to move her toes and foot in the direction to shift.
“I think that’s why it changed me so much mentally,” she explains. “I had to go in 110%. There was no going back. I do recall thinking at one point that if I don’t do this now I may never do it again because the condition was so bad at the time. I was actually worried I wouldn’t be able to walk normally again. The doctors were concerned, doing test after test, MRIs and CT scans so it was just something I had to do. Actually, I’d say it was a form of therapy. A lot of issues, especially nerve issues, are mentally debilitating and are controlled by the brain and this really helped me I think to kind of set myself free and really find out who I am.”
A combination of medication and experience have helped Rigby manage the neuropathy, knowing which trigger points to avoid and which gear to wear. For example, regardless of whether on track or taking a climb up into the hills she wears full race boots for the additional support. The pain continues to plague her though from time to time and has prevented her from reaching some milestones she’d like to achieve.
“Last season I desperately wanted to race. I’m not really any good as a rider or anything like that, it was just something I wanted to try and do. Even if I was dead last I didn’t care I just wanted to go out and do it. The more I got into riding track and really pushing into that intermediate level, I found out that my body would not allow me to hold race pace for like more than two laps. I seized up and I had to lift. I couldn’t keep going like that at that pace which is really dangerous when you’re racing. You can’t do that. I took that very hard very privately. I don’t really talk about that a lot but it pissed me off. The mind is there willing but when the body isn’t, it’s frustrating.”
Regardless of the pain, Rigby rides as much as possible. She developed this habit from the start, when she’d commute rain or shine everyday on the CBR250R. After spending the first eight months in this way, she was ready to make the jump up to a CBR600R, an orange number that had been her dream bike. The move up helped make her more comfortable on the road too. At 5’8”, Rigby is fairly tall and always felt cramped on the 250. Plus, the shifting demanded by the quarter-liter bike stressed her neuropathy in a way that the 600 didn’t. She kept the 250, but turned it into a full-time track bike.
This came in handy as she spent much of her second year as a rider learning on track, getting the experience and skill that she had yearned after since her first days photographing WERA competition.
“I started riding with Sportbike Track Time and I fell in love with them. Its a really fantastic company and they have a fantastic novice group training course. That’s pretty much how I learned on track. I did novice with them for the entire year and their coaches are excellent. I would pretty much torture a coach every track day. I’d be like ‘I’m your problem child, we’re going to work on stuff.’ It’s really cool because if you show initiative and you tell them you really want to learn, they’re there to support you and I really love that about them.”
All the while Rigby had charted her experiences on her Instagram page. From the early two-up rides to her first steps on track, and her audience was expanding. Her honesty, vivid photography and the ubiquity of the learning to ride narrative among motorcyclists helped her gain the attention of those inside the industry. At one point, when Rigby expressed some frustration at having plateaued in her development, racer Shelina Moreda reached out and invited Rigby to come and take part in the She’z MotoCamp, an all-female dirtbike camp led by Moreda in Petaluma, California. She later developed a relationship with Jason Pridmore and the Star Motorcycle School in a similar way.
Rigby also focuses a lot on safety. Seeing her husband crash, and knowing that she was accident-prone herself, made ATGATT a code of life. It was difficult sourcing a set of leather gear that actually fit her body type, though. That struggle resulted in another connection. She had written letters to various manufacturers inquiring why more female-appropriate gear wasn’t being produced. Dainese responded and started to follow her movements on social media. It wasn’t long after that the company approached Rigby with an offer to become a brand ambassador, which also meant a custom fit suit built to her specifications.
“Ever since the beginning watching my husband crash and seeing how Dainese protected him, I was just like ‘I love this gear and everything about it.’ It was a huge honor for me to become part of their company and advertise their product.”
As for the name RedSpade, it started before Rigby got into motorcycles but it took on a life of it’s own as she cultivated her passion.
“I was literally looking for a catchy name, something that would be memorable but it really didn’t’ start taking on meaning until I started riding or shooting. It’s funny, I call it my midlife crisis when I turned 30 because I really changed my life around. I lost a lot of friends because I couldn’t do much anymore due to the neuropathy, my parents divorced around that time, I ended up just reinventing myself with the whole motorcycle thing. I went and dyed my hair pink and bought a motorcycle and got all new friends, changed my lifestyle, everything. And that’s kind of when the name RedSpade really took shape.”
Later, when a racer support venture started to take shape, Rigby and her husband reexamined the name and found it more apt than ever.
“It really became iconic and once my husband and I decided to start our own company, RedSpade Racing. We did a lot of research asking ‘does this apply, do we want to keep it, what does it mean to us?’ We did a lot of looking into it. Of course, the spade logo is iconic with lots of positive connotations of strength. There’s just so much history there and we loved that. That’s kind of how it started, the name’s awesome and it would look great with racing tagged on to it.”
In addition to media and photography services, RedSpade Racing provides branded apparel and an opportunity to receive LS2 helmet co-sponsorship.
Rigby continues to expand her social media presence though, particularly on Instagram. As a female rider her story has inspired numerous other females to pursue their two-wheeled passions. But it’s also resonated with men too because for Rigby, it’s less about being an advocate for a gender, and more about being an advocate for riding responsibly.
“I’ve always taken it seriously, my safety and my health within the sport seriously, and I think when you do that other companies and people see you differently. More than just another girl that’s hopped on the bike. Whether I see myself representing something I don’t know but if I can help anyone out or inspire even one person or guide them in the right direction to safely get on a motorcycle and do the right stuff to keep them riding long and happy then it’s all been worth it.”
Because riding has been a hugely formative part of Rigby’s life, it’s opened up an entire world that she never would have thought possible before.
“I’ve met some of my best friends on the street. I’ve literally met people at red lights, at the top of a mountain, at the local bike breakfast place and we ride together now. Its so weird. I’m friends with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise befriended if it wasn’t for the bike community. Its crazy.”
But that’s also what makes her story, what’s told and yet to be told, so resonant with riders. We all have friends that we wouldn’t have otherwise made if it weren’t for bikes. Communities that couldn’t exist without a love of two-wheels.