Adjectives and metaphors; more than any other bike builder today, people struggle with words to describe Shiny Kimura’s handiwork. Is this retro future? Sci-fi film props? Blade runner Manga? Ultimately, our need to explain means we’re looking hard at his bikes, which speaks volumes; a motorcycle emerging from Chabott Engineering in LA is an object of universal curiosity.
Shinya is a hand-work man, mostly avoiding his English Wheel when forming sheet aluminum and steel; like Vulcan, he prefers a hammer, and like Rodin, his process is discovery. I don’t 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.” His hammer-marks, along with wrinkles, pores, and wavy folds, are Shinya’s poetry, a song in metal, the visible memory of a man bent in labor, caressing an unfriendly material into organic and insect-like shapes; imperfect, but glowing.
A motorcycle customizer from his first days on wheels (starting with a humble Suzuki OR50), Shinya’s reputation in his native Japan drew attention from investors, and he founded Zero Engineering, modifying around 300 Harleys in what is now a trademark ‘Japanese Custom’ style. Growing uncomfortable with business demands of production and expansion, he left Zero and moved to a remote spot in Orange County, where he and partner Ayu can work in peace, creating machines one at a time for lucky customers (Brad Pitt has been spotted riding a Shinyized ‘round case’ Ducati).
Kimura considers himself less a customizer than a “coachbuilder”, respecting the motorcycles on which he applies his art, in the tradition of the finest automotive body houses like Pininfarina or Fleetwood. The grand tradition of personalized bodywork appeals to Shinya; “The client is very important to me. I can’t make bikes without them.” He interviews customers about their taste in music, art, clothing – but takes no input on design, preferring his metal shapes to grow organically for each machine. “Every time I’m surprised.” And so are we!
This article originally appeared in MCN's 'Retro' supplement in the Sept. 2011 issue.
copyright 2011 Paul d'Orléans/The Vintagent