Mills and her Kawasaki KLX140 dirt bike
When she’s not doing communications work for one of Vancouver’s most successful breweries, Marissa Mills hits the road
Before she could legally drive, Marissa Mills had already bought a motorcycle and was teaching herself via YouTube to fix it up.
It might be hard for most people to jump from not operating a vehicle of any kind to steering a motorcycle through the streets of Vancouver, but Mills, marketing director of Parallel 49 Brewing Co., seems like someone you wouldn’t want to bet against. When we meet her at the brewery’s East Vancouver headquarters, she’s got tattoos running down her right arm and the general vibe of someone who gives very few you-know-whats.
“I bought a bike before I knew how to ride one, because I knew I wanted to do that, and if it was sitting and taunting me in my yard, I’d have the opportunity to wrench on it and be capable when the time came,” she says.
That was four years ago, and since then Mills has made something of a hobby out of swapping bikes through Craigslist.
First there was the 1984 Honda CM250. She calls it a “classic dad bike,” but it worked well as an introduction to the world of motorcycling. “Everything’s visible and it’s right there, and you can grab it and fix it if you need to,” Mills says, noting that bikes are different from cars in that respect. “Half the battle of fixing it or improving it in any way is moving stuff out and then having to put it back together.”
Then there was the 1976 Yamaha DT175: “Pretty rare bike. Some guy didn’t think it started. I saw it and thought, I feel like I can make that run. It was a pretty low price, and I turned the gas on—you don’t have to know anything about bikes to know that the gas has to be turned on to flow—and it ran. The guy was shocked. Said he’d been trying two years to make it work. So I got a really good deal on it.”
But she recently sold that one, too, in favour of a 1994 Yamaha SR400. (Shocker: she’s since put it up for sale.) “It was imported from Japan by the first owner, a model that’s only made in Japan,” Mills says with a sly grin. “It’s really loud and really fun, but it’s kick-start only, so if I stall it in traffic I have to pull over and restart it. It’s really embarrassing.”
Part of the reason she swaps motorcycles so often is that each one is adept at doing different things, and Mills takes full advantage of her surroundings. “It’s mostly dirt biking in the winter and street biking in the summer,” she says, pointing to the Fraser Valley and Squamish as the best spots to do the former and Vancouver as an ideal setting for the latter because of its mild climate.
She’s also a card-carrying member of the Vancouver Flat Track Club (which holds races, mainly at the Pemberton Speedway’s oval track) and has taken part in competitions, as both a racer and pit crew member. She’s quickly been embraced by what she says is a welcoming community.
“It reminds me a bit of the beer industry—some people will excel and move at a faster pace, and Parallel 49’s been really fortunate, as have I,” Mills acknowledges. “But it’s almost like a brotherhood or a sisterhood. If someone needs something, or they go down, you always help out. So it’s been really special making these new friends, and then you have things to do on weekends. People who flat track together on Saturday, they go dirt biking together on Sunday.”
The youngest senior manager in Parallel 49 Brewing Co.’s eight-year history, Marissa Mills has helped expand the operation from 30 employees and a mostly regional focus to more than 100 staff nationwide and an international presence. She’s also developed philanthropic partnerships with organizations like Cystic Fibrosis Canada, KidSafe and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I’ve made concerted efforts to bring equity and diversity to a space where men have predominantly been the decision makers,” Mills says. Parallel 49 has seen sales growth of about 25 percent each year since she was hired in 2016.