Meteor: A 1946 Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker from Japan

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Toshiyuki ‘Cheetah’ Osawa has had a busy year. Hot on the heels of a collaboration with Indian Motorcycle and Sideburn Magazine that debuted at the Bike Shed Show, he already had another deadline looming; Born Free 14. Osawa-san was on the prestigious invited builders list for the fourth time, and wanted to bring a bike worthy of the accolade.

Even though he’s a regular on the show circuit, Cheetah’s bikes aren’t trailer queens. With a background in flat track racing, he builds custom motorcycles that are fun to ride and look good beaten up. For Born Free 14, he delivered a vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker with a handmade chassis and a plethora of tasty details, dubbed ‘Meteor.’

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Cheetah started with a 1946 Harley-Davidson WL engine, then went to town modifying it. The stock 740 cc displacement hasn’t changed, but the rear cylinder’s been flipped around as a nod to the iconic Harley XR750 flat tracker. There’s a H-D KR750 cam inside too, with a pair of Lectron carbs sucking air through K&N filters.

Other additions include a Norton Commando transmission and a delightfully dangerous-looking open primary. Needless to say, none of these mods were straightforward.

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
The chromoly frame is entirely Cheetah’s handiwork—right down to the jaw-dropping bronze-brazed joints. “This traditional British technique is not widely known in Japan,” he tells us, “so I researched, learned, and gathered all the materials and equipment I needed from England. It took me almost five years to become proficient at it.”

Cheetah built the custom girder front end using the same techniques. And since he wasn’t about to hide all that skill away under powder-coating, the frame and forks simply wear a clear coat to protect them.

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Since Cheetah legitimately plans to race the vintage Harley WL, he baked some adjustability into the bike’s architecture. The bottom of the girder fork sports an eccentric wheel axle mount, offering a range of quick height and trail adjustments. Out back, a set of custom mounting plates offers six different height adjustments for the rear wheel.

As per flat track norms, the WL rolls on 19” laced wheels wrapped in Hoosier dirt track rubber. There’s just one brake; a vintage Gerling unit at the back.

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Perched on top of this magnificent machine is a monocoque body, hand-shaped out of aluminum. Cheetah tasked S-Paint Works and Tomomi Shimizu at Shake Signs with the paint and pin-striping work, respectively. But the geometric patterns that have been turned into the metal are all Cheetah’s work.

The bodywork hides separate custom-made fuel and oil tanks. A pair of struts at the back serves to support the oil tank and seat arrangement, and the fuel filler cap is tucked away just behind the frame’s steering neck. A generous leather seat runs along the top of everything, designed to offer the rider oodles of maneuverability.

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Cheetah’s Meteor is stacked with radical details. The sculpted handlebar risers and headlight ‘hood,’ and the engraved rear wheel mounting plates, are pure mechanical art. A dash of white on the handlebars offers some contrast, while classic Bates foot peg rubbers recall the past.

Granted, some of those details are hard to spot when the bike’s covered in dust—but Cheetah prefers it that way. “The concept of Meteor is that it’s a custom bike, but it’s also a real racing machine with a vintage motor that’s ready to race,” he says.

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
Rushing towards the Born Free deadline at breakneck speed, Cheetah buttoned the bike up just in time to ship it from Tokyo to California. But one thing he didn’t get around to, was a proper shakedown. “I flew over to California just three days before the show, picked up the bike, sneaked into Shinya Kimura’s workshop, and somehow was able to start the engine,” he says.

“I genuinely appreciate Shinya for letting me use his shop on such short notice, as usual. The day after the Born Free show, I took the bike to El Mirage and rode it for the first time. The tuning wasn’t perfect yet—but riding the bike that I built from scratch was very special, and nothing could replace that happiness.”

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah
“This bike is coming back to Japan soon, so I will tune it by riding it on my local oval track to make it go faster. When it gets many scratches and chips on the bodywork from my knees and flying pebbles, and worn-out tires (but only on the left side), my Meteor will finally be complete!”

Toshiyuki ‘Cheetah’ Osawa Instagram | Images by, and with sincere thanks to, Kazuo Matsumoto

Vintage Harley-Davidson WL flat tracker by Cheetah

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
28 Shares
READ NEXT