Japanese custom motorcycle culture can seem like a closed shop to Westerners. Granted, there’s the annual Mooneyes show, and a few builders have cast their nets outside their home country.
But the language barrier is formidable: less than 10% of the Japanese population can speak English, and less than 1 in 500 Americans can speak Japanese.
They’re working on a book about Japanese custom motorcycles and culture, and explored hotspots including Tokyo, Amakusa, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.
“These builders are very, very dedicated to their craft,” say Marc and Christine. “They’re living their dreams, and are often located in very small spaces—since space is something of a luxury in the big cities.”
“We were treated with kindness and respect, which is something we’ve grown to love about Japan. We also noticed that everybody seems to really specialize in their own single niche, and concentrate on that.”
“The country amazed us daily,” Marc adds. “Train stations are huge, serving a million people a day. We fell in love with it: Japanese people are so polite and helpful, and the ramen and yakitori in Tokyo is like nowhere else in the world!”
The bikes are like nowhere else in the world too. Here are Marc’s highlights, featuring three workshops: Cheetah, CW Zon and Cherry’s Company.
Cheetah and ‘Comet’ “Toshiyuki Osawa’s workshop is at a secret location in Tokyo,” Marc reveals. “He does not usually like having visitors, so we were lucky to be invited.” The workshop is like the proverbial Aladdin’s Cave—compact, but packed to the rafters with moto parts and tools. There’s barely room to swing a feline, let alone build a motorcycles.
While visiting, Marc and Christine took shots of ‘Comet,’ a custom-framed beauty with a Harley WL engine, which Cheetah built for the 2017 Born Free show and still owns.
The springer front fork is Cheetah’s own design and manufacture, and he made both wheel hubs too. He’s also mounted the engine and transmission higher than in the standard WL, for steeper cornering angles and clearance—this bike is no show pony.
“I made it using all the knowledge and technique I have, but aimed for a natural appearance,” Cheetah explains. “Like a production model from Harley-Davidson that might have existed in the past.” [Cheetah Custom Cycles]
CW Zon and ‘Zonnegodin’ CW Zon exists at the extreme end of the Japanese custom spectrum. The shop is run by Yuichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda, and the phrase “low key” is obviously not in their vocabulary.
“CW Zon’s workshop is close to beautiful lake Biwa, near Kyoto in the Shiga Prefecture,” says Marc. BMW have visited in the past, when they commissioned the R18 ‘Departed’ show bike.
But it’s this extreme machine with S&S Knucklehead power that caught Marc and Christine’s eyes this time. The 93 ci motor is hooked up to a Garrett turbo, and there’s a giant Hoosier tire out back to get that power onto the road—with the help of a Rekluse clutch.
‘Zonnegodin’ is obviously inspired by drag racers, with its small front wheel, and we’ve never seen anything else quite like it. Aside from the engine and transmission, virtually everything is custom. The frame is a one-off, and so is the front suspension—which resembles a single-sided swingarm with hub center steering.
This bike was shot at a local temple—with permission—and the photo of the shrine in the water at the end of this article is a few miles down the road at Lake Biwa. [Custom Works Zon]
Cherry’s Company and ‘Lefty Bond’ Cherry’s is also based in Tokyo. For nearly two decades now, founder Kaichiro Kurosu has been specializing in old school Harley customs, and he’s one of the best known Japanese builders in the west.
‘Lefty Bond’ was a customer commission. The idea behind this shovelhead was to create a “road racer that might have been made by a rural garage builder, for grass track races at the weekend.”
Kurosu-san started with a 1967 (generator-style) shovel engine, and fitted an stroker kit, carb and 514-spec cam from S&S. The ‘box is a close-ratio version of the stock Harley transmission, hooked up to a Barnett Scorpion clutch.
The bodywork is entirely custom, and at the front, Wide Glide forks are bolted into custom-made triples. The solid 16” back wheel is from Custom Chrome, and the 21” front is slowed by a modified Triumph TR6 Trophy brake. [Cherry’s Company]
Marc and Christine describe Japan as “a fascinating culture—the old traditions blend perfectly with the crazy side.”
It is indeed an intoxicating mix—and long may that continue. Sayōnara!
Published at Sat, 20 Jul 2019 17:01:28 +0000