Tuesday, January 18, 2011


In a tradition which predates the internal combustion engine by several hundred years, a 'coachbuilder' was delivered a wheeled chassis without a body, and worked his artistry for the pleasure of a few customers who appreciated, and could afford, a completely bespoke conveyance, or an expression of the particular artistic vision of that builder.  When motorized 'coaches' arrived, some of the same carriage builders worked their magic on the chassis of a Cadillac or Rolls Royce, making an already fine automobile just that bit more special.
In an important sense, the coachbuilt auto was an expression of respect for the original design of the car, a paradoxical situation, but the resultant vehicle was never known simply as a 'Saoutchik' or 'Ghia' or 'Fleetwood', it was always a Delahaye with Saoutchik body, or an Alfa Romeo Ghia, or a Cadillac Fleetwood.  The coachbuilder seemed to find another possibility for a respected design, perhaps one too flambouyant for general consumption, or simply too expensive for all but a very special customer.
That Shinya Kimura prefers to call himself a Coachbuilder rather than a 'customizer' speaks to his profound love of motorcycles and appreciation for production bikes.  The breadth of his interests are evident in the variety of makes which pass through his workshop, Chabott Engineering.  Excelsior, Ducati, Triumph, Indian, Harley Davidson, Honda, MV Agusta, Kawasaki, Suzuki, have all been 'Shinyized' in his inimitable style.

His working process is accretive and completely hands-on; Shinya makes no drawings, preferring to embrace a bike with distinctive lumps of aluminum, steel, brass, iron.  A sculptor of motorcycles.  While he has an 'English wheel', the usual tool for hand-forming smooth metal body panels, it's only used "twice a year, as I prefer to use a mallet to shape metal." As a result the tanks, seats, fairings, and beaten parts are clearly handmade, artisanal, with character on the surface - ripples, dings, asymmetries, tiny voids - exactly the sort of 'mistakes' a journeyman panel expert would avoid, but which on Shinya's machines are evidence of the maker's hand; a signature, a fingerprint.
When he was 15, his first motorcycle was a Honda Cub, but it wasn't until his second motorcycle, a Suzuki OR50 two-stroke, that he began making changes, adding a larger tank from a DT1 and smaller seat, plus low handlebars for a café racer look.  He wasn't able to move the footpegs; an awkward riding position was the result.  He kept making changes over the years to his motorcycles, eventually founding Zero Engineering in Japan, where he customized around 300 Harley Davidsons with a very distinctive look.

Wishing to branch further into his art, and work with other kinds of motorcycles, he moved to Southern California and founded Chabott Engineering, where the shop is minded by his partner, Ayu.  He hoped his move "would make me more accessible to people, as it can be difficult to communicate with Japanese businesses from America and Europe.  Now about 60% of my customers are American, the rest in Europe and Japan.  The client is very important to me, as there would be no bike without them; I don't make bikes for myself."  

Shinya interviews those who commission his machines, finding what music they enjoy, what they wear, what they eat, but takes no input regarding the direction of his labor.  After finding a donor motorcycle and necessary parts, he may ask a client if the particular marque is an acceptable base for their machine, as happened when a friend offered Shinya an MV Agusta 750 to modify.  Would that I could have been on the other end of that phone call - 'I have a four-cylinder MV - can I make you a bike from this?'  Mind boggling.

Of his working process, Shinya says, "I don't always know what the bike will look like; I don't imagine the finished design when I begin.  I would get bored if I knew what I was going to make.  Every time I'm surprised..."
The 1915 Indian twin which Shinya rode on the Cannonball Rally last summer. As he didn't complete every stage, he would like a second attempt at the Cannonball in 2012.  "It is an event for mechanics, and I am a mechanic, so it is a challenge for me to complete the entire ride."
The repair to a broken rocker arm support is distinctively his own; it has lasted over 1000 miles 'so far'.  A beautiful bodge.
An Arturo Magni exhaust for the MV.  The shaft drive is retained, as he loves the radially-finned final drive box.
Cockpit of the dohc Italian exotic; all business, all metal.
The MV gleams like a diamond amidst the oil, rust, and debris natural to an active machine shop.
The modified Honda C90 Super Cub shown at the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours; light enough to easily lift.
Based on a 1957 Triumph T110, the Triumph especially hints at Shinya's university studies in Entomology.
Triumph and Excelsior; the tanks gleaming like a future vision from the past.
The Triumph-based special was built in Japan, the chassis mostly assembled from scrap.
The H-D Knucklehead; a recent build, sits between his 1915 Indian and a '28 H-D JD, originally imported into Japan. "It has come a long way back to America."  Japan was Harley's second-largest export market in the 1920s, after Australia.
'Chabott' means 'fighting rooster' in Japanese.  The painting is by Makoto, a friend and expert pinstriper.
The Excelsior front end; an Indian leaf-spring fork with shortened leaf, plus a damper from a Moto Guzzi!
Triumph, Excelsior, Honda.
The 1974 Ducati 'round case' 750GT.


kawa said...

His bikes are works of Art, made by hands and not machines, a rare thing these days


Murfs Spot said...

Great article Paul.
Always wondered what his studio looked like,now I know.
The MV looks wicked,i`m sure in person it`s even better.


brian b said...

Thanks for physically visiting a place that I check on every day from a distance and giving a visitors perspective.

Rhynchocephalian said...

Absolute- wonderful! Thanks Paul for another perspective on Shinya and his work!

toyduc said...

I love his work.Very inspiring stuff. No sketches just straight from the heart to the metal. I would love to see him work. Great story Paul.

matt machine said...

fantastic article paul...every photo i see of shinyas work i study and there are plenty of hours in your photos for me...i am in awe of his work...and always have been.

thanks mate

Keverne Eason Mapp said...

Sometimes in my wildest dreams I have visions of organic metal brooding in a dark corner,only to boom into life as soon as I approach,then suddenly I'm roaring throught the back lanes on a hot summer's day with the wind in my teeth - I thought it was just a crazy dream until I saw these living metal sculptures......I am at peace when my eyes wonder over every nut and bolt of these beauties,silenced in awe!

hedrives said...

Paul, nice article on Shinya. I was lucky enough to meet him while we waited in line to run at Bonneville Speed Weeks a couple of years ago. He was eyeballing our BMW 2002 and I was eyeballing his Harley. I KNEW who he was and loved seeing his work in person... it really is organic.

Bozi said...

The high res pictures are wonderful. To be able to see the details so well is great, Thank you thank you..
Very well done piece.

Sakai said...

Shinya has a big fan here in Brazil. I know his work since 1997 on Zero Eng., when I was living in Japan and working on a factory near Okazaki. I saw a few bikes there, and I went crazy when I saw their version of a Virago 250 at Easyriders Japan mag. - I had one at that time (a stock one, of course).

Shinya can see through the bike, he sees the bike's soul. That's the difference.

Keep on rockin', man.

Milo said...

Absolutely GREAT article - PLEASE make it into a 'series' of masters!!

godot said...

Great article Paul
and now I can see Ayu :)

cro said...

Very nice piece on Shinya. I have great respect for him. He exemplifies the pure nature of creativity and understands the concept of "annihilating the ego".

Great artist, genuine person.

mostros said...

Brilliant piece! Keep up the great work... I've linked this article on my little blog, if you don't mind.
Color Operation

Thank you.

Don O'Reilly said...

amazing work this Kimura cat does. I wish that was my life! simply beautiful. thanks again for another compelling post Mr. d'O. cheers, Don

Kip said...

Shinya has a pure soul with the talent above and beyond his own imagination. Quirky sense of humor with fun loving attitude. We all love "Big Forhead" Shinya!

Anonymous said...

With no attention given to past or current industry trends, Shinya is a true artist and follows his own unique path. He's also a gentleman to boot. -JZ

Her Majesty's Thunder said...

Thanks Paul for this wonderful piece on Shinya. It's fascinating to hear his process: from interviewing the client about everything except the motorcycle and starting without a finished design in mind. As a designer, this is really a fascinating perspective.

occhiolungo said...

By approaching things in his own way, Shinya's work is not bound by the conventions that plague restorers or the builders of 'typical' customized bikes. His love of forms as well as mechanicals brings him, and therefore us, creations that are truly on the artistic vanguard. Viva Shinya! (and Ayu too!)

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,

I so much enjoy your blog,
thank you so much for the time & effort you put into it.
we know it is not easy..

any chance you have a spot to list upcoming events?
or if you'd be inclined to help spread the word of Vintage M/C events?

just so happens we have one coming up next weekend.
as of this morning we had 94 pre-registered M/C 35 yrs and older signed up
with three being century old bikes..

thank you for your consideration and for your great reports!
best regards! Chris

* * * * * * * * * *

Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show - Jan 29th


ElSolitarioMC said...

Metal Magic!
Wonderful Paul!

Anonymous said...

G'day Paul,
Been an admirer of your blog for a while, and just wanted to finally say thanks for all your good work, esp. after reading the best article I've seen on Guru Shinya. You really did justice to the art of this humble genius.
I have a couple of small blogs, more a way of me cataloging my obsessions really, so I know what a shitload off work you must put in.
I'm finally throwing a leg over my first Brit. vintage bike soon, after having many Japanese bikes over the years. My new obsession awakes !

My thanks again for your amazing blogmag - keep up the fine work, and don't ever let the pricks at HFL bug you !

Michael Scandrett
(i'm not after a plug here - just sharing my interests)

Buz Kanter said...

I was amazed watching him pilot and wrench on his old Indian motorcycle on the Motorcycle Cannonball this past summer. I did not realize he is the man behind Zero Engineering and fabricator of such amazing coadchbuilt motorcycles. Simply staggering skill and vision.

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isambard said...

Excellent article, beautiful images. Big congrats to you, i enjoyed reading this!

Jason said...

Great article. Shinya is amazing. I fonally got to see one of his bikes at the brooklyn invitational and it did not disapoint. Truly one of the masters of his craft.

Great article, thanks for writing it.

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