Discover The BMW R nineT Racer

50 Not Out: Sato Marine Cycle’s 1968 Harley Shovelhead

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
We have an ongoing fascination with the Japanese custom scene. But it’s not only the skills and design chops that keep us captivated: It’s the perpetual air of mystery. We still know so little about our friends in the East.

Today’s new discovery is a long, low Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle. The shop is based in Onomichi in the Hiroshima Prefecture, a city best known for featuring in the classic Japanese movie Tokyo Story.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
SMC has been operating for 30 years—originally as a Yamaha dealer—but since 2007, the main business has been customising bikes. The shop is run by Yusaku Sato and his wife, with two crew members assisting.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
When we asked Sato-san what style he wanted to achieve with the project, he simply replied: “winding and dirt. I wanted to enjoy the bike in every ‘scene’.”

The 1968-model Shovelhead was in original condition when Team Sato got their hands on it, and despite being half a century old, was running just fine. Still, that didn’t deter them from tearing into every inch of the bike.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
Gone is the Harley’s original twin shock setup, replaced by a completely custom Softail-style single shock arrangement. Both the swing arm and subframe are custom, and Sato have wedged in a shock borrowed from an MX bike.

They kept and refurbished the front forks and triple trees, but the wheels are new. Well, new to the bike at least; Sato adapted a 19” front and solid 16” rear from two different bikes. The tires are ‘Dirtman‘ items from Allstate—a Japanese manufacturer specializing in vintage repro treads.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
There’s no front brake, which is apparently no big deal in Japan. Strange, but the rules governing older bikes are lenient. Braking at the rear is handled by a Grimeca master cylinder and caliper, hooked up via a custom-made mount. The perfectly drilled brake disc is an especially neat touch.

The heavy-set look of the factory FL is gone, thanks to a full complement of hand-made body parts. There’s a sleek new fuel tank up top, and a custom-built oil tank lurking under the seat; both are steel. The tailpiece was shaped from aluminum, with mesh panels added to the sides and an LED tail light embedded in the rear. It’s topped off with black upholstery in a classic vertical roll pattern.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
The cockpit itself is ridiculously sano. With no speedo, switches or front brake lever, there’s very little going on. All that remains are a set of narrow, custom-made handlebars, a new throttle and grips, and a modified clutch lever. The foot controls are also custom, with knurled pegs machined from aluminum.

The headlight arrangement hints at dirt track style, with an LED poking through a one-off faceplate. The detailing is off the charts—check out the dimpled effect on the faceplate’s lower mount, for example.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
TK Paint shot the cool dark blue paint, with Jetwrench laying down additional graphics. Since this bike was on display at Mooneyes, the Sato crew couldn’t do things by half-measures—so every last part was cleaned up, polished or refinished.

That gorgeous Shovelhead motor looks clean enough to eat off—even on the drive side, where Sato installed an upgraded 1.5” exposed primary. The Harley’s also sporting a stronger clutch, though it still shifts through a four-speed transmission.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
But the big highlight around the engine is that perfectly snaking two-into-one exhaust system. It’s also a one-off part, designed to wrap around the cam cover before terminating in a single muffler up high.

The tidy little air cleaner is also hand made, and if you look really closely you’ll see brass fittings sprinkled around the motor.

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle
Dubbed ‘Dirt Killer,’ Sato Marine Cycle’s Shovelhead has a terrific stance and top-shelf craftsmanship. We’ve flicked through every photo Sato sent us, and it looks good from literally all angles.

We’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on the shop from now on. And keep digging for more hidden gems from the Japanese scene.

Sato Marine Cycle Instagram

1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead by Sato Marine Cycle

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
READ NEXT