OLD SCHOOL COOL: Custom Works ZON Knucklehead Chopper
Written by Martin Hodgson
The last time we visited the rural village of Hino in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan we brought to you Custom Works ZON’s incredible American V-Twin mud muncher that’s been ripping it up in the Suzuka Mountain Range. At the time we teased that while Yuichi San had recently done some work for BMW his bread and butter was cool as can be old school choppers. Returning to his shop, that is a step back in time to custom Harley craftsmen of old, we find his latest creation. A stunning 1947 Knucklehead Chopper with all the fruit for both King and Queen.
There are a thousand ways to customise a Harley and for a while the world went theme bike crazy and to be fair, OCC was not the only offender. But the GFC meant that big dollar choppers that were essentially unrideable pieces of PR for large companies went by the wayside and thank heavens for that. But over in Japan, they never stopped building clean custom choppers just the way they were done in California more than half a century ago.
And that is where Yuichi San and his offsider, Yoshikazu Ueda, draw their inspiration! And it’s often been outsiders who have built the best American iron, Ben Hardy and Clifford “Soney” Vaughs built and designed the most famous choppers ever, the bikes from Easy Rider. But as African Americans were not credited until just ten years ago when apprentice to the masters, Sugar Bear, shared the true story. So it’s all part of the rich tradition that a chopper as American as apple pie comes from rural Japan.
Just like Sugar Bear, Yuichi San makes his own front ends, sure they’re both springers in design but each man has a unique touch that lets you know it’s theirs! Our Japanese master favours the ultra narrow look, with the legs made from high grade steel, all chromed out to perfection for a serious visual statement. But it is the little touches that add premium quality, like the cable clamps that run down to the Kustom Tech mini drum, that gives big brake performance in a little package and looks a million dollars doing it.
Out back the rigid rear axle also sports a Kustom Tech hub and brake package, with stainless spokes used to lace each end. The exaggerated look of the front end is highlighted with a 21in rim wrapped in a Michelin Trial tyre, with the rear given the same treatment, down on diameter to 18in and pumped out in width to 4in. All of which sets the stage perfectly for the beautiful bodywork that is of course hand built at the C.W. ZON headquarters. The Frisco style tank stands tall with just the right amount of metal above the backbone.
But where most stop, Yuichi San continues his rearward, flowing past the hand built oil tank and serving as frame covers before the uninterrupted lines head skywards. Here where a Sissy Bar might normally sit you have fully enclosed metal work serving the same purpose. With the integrated taillight and fender all part of the single piece of steel that covers the bike front to back. To make it all work painter KAMIKAZE ties everything in together with his mix of satin black and muted gold pinstriped flame job.
Having shaped the glorious King and Queen seat it was sent out to Skunk upholstery to be covered while back at the shop it was time to screw the power unit together. The ’47 style Knuckle is in fact a modern engineered version of the old design by US powerhouse S&S. Now 93ci, the engine uses a later model flywheel assembly, coil style ignition and Super E carb to make a significant power improvement over the post war version, while still retaining the brilliant look. With the raucous sound emanating from a custom exhaust and muffler made in house at C.W. ZON.
But perhaps the most badass part of the beast is the gearbox and clutch assembly, you’ll notice only a single lever up on the custom bars. The kickstart box mates to the engine with a Primo clutch and open primary with mid-controls from Biltwell. But to shift gears you’ll have to reach down towards the teeth with a small jockey shift mounted down near your left knee, tempting fate anytime you want to punch another gear! It’s a throwback build to a time when safety was an afterthought, bikes were brutish but beautiful and only the baddest of men rode customs; Yuichi san is keeping that tradition alive in the best possible way.