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Marc and Christine shoot Japanese custom motorcycles

Photographers Marc Holstein and Christine Gabler shoot Japanese custom motorcycles and bobbers
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.

So we’re always grateful for insights into the custom culture in the East. Frankfurt-based photographers Marc Holstein and Christine Gabler sent in these images from a recent trip to the East.

Harley knucklehead by CW Zon Japanese motorcycle workshop
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.”

Yuichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda of the Japanese custom motorcycle workshop CW Zon
“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!”

Japanese custom motorcycles and bobbers
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 custom Japanese motorcycle workshop
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.

Cheetah custom Japanese motorcycle workshop
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.

Custom Harley WL motorcycle by Cheetah
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.

Custom Harley WL motorcycle by Cheetah
“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 Japanese custom motorcycle workshop
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 Japanese custom motorcycle workshop
“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.

Harley knucklehead by CW Zon Japanese motorcycle workshop
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.

Harley knucklehead by CW Zon Japanese motorcycle workshop
‘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 Japanese custom motorcycle workshop
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.

Cherry's Company Japanese custom motorcycle workshop
‘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.”

Cherry's Company custom Harley shovel
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.

Cherry's Company custom Harley shovel
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!

Images by, and with thanks to, Marc Holstein and Christine Gabler

Shrine at lake Biwa, near Kyoto

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