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A day with Shinya Kimura


Posted on August 15, 2014 by Scott in Other. 13 comments

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We recently travelled 7,530 miles from Sydney to California to race in the Hell on Wheels MC Rally. It’s a long way to go for a day of dirt bike racing, so we arranged to meet a few of our favourite bike builders along the way. Number one on our list was Mr Shinya Kimura. For motorcycle aficionados, he probably doesn’t need an introduction but for those who haven’t heard of him, he started Zero Engineering back in Tokyo in the early 90’s. He then left Zero and moved out to California and started Chabott Engineering. Shinya has a truly unique style, building stripped back, bare metal, works of rolling art. Each bike he builds takes around 6 months, so usually only builds 2 bikes a year.

When we arrived at Chabott Engineering in the foothills of Azusa, it was like walking into a motorcycle museum. Everywhere you looked, there were jaw dropping machines and motorcycle artifacts. Everything felt like it just belonged, as though some thought had gone into its placement. Like pages torn out of a 1975 Cycle World magazine, sitting next to a vintage trophy and a well used set of old school wrenches.

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We were greeted by Ayu – Shinya’s smiling wife – who walked us through to meet the man himself. She explained he was working on his Knucklehead, getting it ready to race for a land speed record at El Mirage on the weekend. We nodded and kept on drooling as we continued to look around in awe at all the amazing bikes and collectables.

The next hour flew by as we just walked around his shop taking photos – like big kids in a candy store. If this wasn’t motorcycle heaven, it was at least God’s garage.

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It’s probably no surprise to tell you that Shinya is a really humble guy. You won’t hear him talking about himself, or the bikes he has built for guys like Brad Pitt. Actually, you won’t hear him talk much at all. So we sat back and just watched him in his element as he worked away. He had blown the casing on his 1946 Knucklehead he calls ‘Spike’, and was welding the broken pieces together for his big race.

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We mentioned to Shinya that we were on our way to Hell on Wheels MC but the bikes we had been promised were still in a container coming back from Hell on Wheels Japan. It was a major set back to travel all this way and now faced the likelihood of not being able to ride in the rally. Looking around his garage I joked that “maybe we should borrow one of his bikes…” I thought he would laugh at the absurd remark. But after thinking about it for a bit, he turned to me and said: “I have a bike you could borrow.”

My eyes lit up, before I did another quick scan around his workshop. All I could see were hand built machines that he spends months building and probably sells for $100,000 upwards.

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“Not in here” he says. Almost reading my mind, like the zen master he is. “In another garage”. So we walked a few garages down. He lifts the large doors to reveal a sea of bikes, in all different conditions, shapes and sizes. My eyes were now darting around at all these amazing bikes wondering which one he was going to lend us. Having just been offered a bike by Shinya to race, we would have been stoked with a Honda Monkey. Then Shinya points to a pretty little red Honda SL100 at the back. “This one” he says. “It goes well”. We had a bike and she was a beauty. So we went to work prepping it in Shinya’s workshop of all places. We pulled off the stock pipe and Shinya found a straight through pipe that looked and sounded more our style. We then removed the lights and everything else that might be broken on an mx track.

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The day had gone fast and it was time to hit the road. So we loaded our new prized possession in our $19.95 a day U-Haul van and headed out to Milestone MX Park. Promising Shinya we would return his much loved SL in a few days – and hopefully in one piece!

We did return a few days later with a Hell on Wheels trophy in hand. Andy Baker received a 2nd place in the 100cc and under class, channeling the spirit of Shinya in the final and pushing the SL to new limits.

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Shinya didn’t do as well as he had hoped at El Mirage. He blew a gasket in his first race attempting a land speed record, and that ended his day. Luckily we caught up with him just before he left and got a couple of photographs of him and his El Camino with his Knucklehead in the back. Unfortunately, his van had broken down that morning, so it wasn’t the best day for him. But that didn’t stop him smiling.

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It was an amazing experience meeting Shinya. To watch this master at work. And then to actually be able to work along side him on a bike – albeit it a Honda SL100. It was one of those days that even now seems like a dream. A day that years from now will still leave us grinning like fools when ever we think about it. This day alone was worth travelling 7000 miles for.

[Photography by Andy Baker]

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Shinya test riding the SL100 he lent us.

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  • Crow

    The Ultimate Man Cave!
    Does his wife have a sister?

    • Davidabl2

      His work transcends the custom motorcycle genre. Sometimes it seems to me that it’s art that happens to be a machine, rather than a machine that has some art to it.

  • Maddog88

    What a Legend! I love Shinya’s style and every bike he builds. To hear he is as humble as he is talented makes him even cooler. So jealous you got to meet him and work in his garage! Sounds like an epic trip!!

  • Junior Burrell

    That’s awesome you lucky sob 😉

  • Bultaco Metralla

    Great story

  • TJ Martin

    In my never so humble opinion Shinya IS the man when it comes to custom motorcycles . His influence can be seen from Choppers to Cafe Racers and right on down to the Japanese ‘ Brat ‘ style as well as everything in between . Add to that the man that he is [ calling Shinya a Zen master is an understatement ] … as well as the people he surrounds himself with [ thinking of Ayu in particular ] and the man rapidly goes beyond Legend almost drifting into the Mythological .

    PS; In case anyone might still be curious … a couple of Shinya’s videos have featured my original music … which is to say the respect I just shared is mutual 😉

  • revdub

    What an amazing opportunity. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marcus Quinn

    Shinya is the real deal, one of the very few people to make the transition between mechanic to artist. It’s a difficult transition to make and live with. Hats off the guy is a genius.

  • We rock.

  • the master,…..

  • Ravi Popat

    Great pictures! But I (all of us I’m sure) would have absolutely LOVED to read an interview or watch a video of him talking. This is just pretty (read as ‘stunning’) pictures of the legend’s garage that don’t really say anything about his ideologies and what he connects his love of building bikes with.

  • Caleb

    Ayu sounds like Indonesian girl, well kudos to Sinya. Love his work and man I envy you guys.

  • JamesM

    Thanks. Those are great atmospheric photographs. To me the capstone of the workspace shots is the one with the tool box in the foreground… it almost compels you to try to help hold the case so he can focus his torque. Good job too saving the best for last; that shot both captures the disappointment of a gasket failure and uses the blurring horizon of the lake bed to define the stage just enough before it bounces the eye right back at Shinya Kimura.