September 20, 2006

Japan, Hammer-Sycle, Part 5

I spent a bit of time at my friend's shop, Hammer Sycle , and it was great. Not only do they specialize in vintage Harley-Davidson's, they seem to work on anything on two wheels - my own motto! Not to say that your bike needs to be old to be here, but there's a definite difference between the mechanics of today, and the mechanics of old. Everything is so precise these days, whereas the older machinery takes a different touch, a different feel, in order to run at it's best. Know how to shim a four speed Ironhead Sportster's tranny? What's the best way to get a Knuckle to run, and last? Personally, these are skills I wish I had more of, because it's a dying art. Seems like these days it's all replace, replace - "When in doubt, throw it out!". Personally, I prefer to set the gears up tight (because you just know you're going to have to get back in there eventually) and the accompanying gear whine, like a small turbo, is music to m ears. But that's me. Koji "Hammer" Hamada, and his right hand man, Katsu, are absolute magicians when it comes to keeping all these old girls up and running. In itself, just hanging around the shop was like a little history lesson for me, and bits and pieces of things I'd long forgotten came rushing back. How ironic to find such a haven for American Motorcycling history in a small town outside of Tokyo! I am so happy for my friend, that after years of learning his trade in Los Angeles, he was able to go back home to Japan and open such a beautiful and amazing shop. He is actively spreading the knowledge and keeping the wheels turning. If you're ever in the area, in Tsuichura, drop by. He'll welcome you like you wouldn't believe and you just might learn something in the process.

Hammer - Thank you for the most incredible time. It was great to hang out with you again and just talk. If you ever need anything, just ask, it's yours.

There's a wide variety of styles at the shop, from tall and skinny, to long and low.

This is one of Hammer's personal bikes, a 1956 Panhead. He's owned it for more than 12 years, and they have both been through their ups and downs. Note the unique wheels, and high strength stainless bars.

Anyone recognize this vintage racing carburetor?

Here's a little something built on a budget. Love the snaking exhaust routing under the seat. Hammer calls it his Mad-Max bike, and that's about as dead-on a description as any.

Can you name which Japanese bike this bike has parts from? There's a whole bunch of them in Mad-Max. . . .

Here's a customer bike, getting a full rebuild.

Not super rideable, but man, I love goosenecks. Actually, you can ride the heck out of anything, just about, and maybe this guy really hangs it out. Who knows?

An example of what you can do with a little creativity and some skill. I think etching is highly under-rated and I hope people start doing this more. Again.

Ahhh, sometimes you just need to re-wire the whole bike, haha. I remember this well. Actually, this is great because so many of the colors are spot on for what's used by the factory, so just about anyone could work on and diagnose this custom system. Remember, K.I.S.S.

Expensive old Rowe trueing stand? Check. Valve grinder? Check. Panhead fly-wheels? Check. Complete with a mill and lathe, and all the welding equipment you could want, this is a full service shop. There's a frame jig in the back that's been used quite a bit to make some very interesting motorcycles. Hammer is always ready to push the boundaries of what's an "acceptable" Harley-Davidson.

Did I mention there's two stories of goodness? There's a cool little lounge filled with memorabilia from days gone by, and a fully stocked parts department with all kinds of neat things.

Found this neat soda in the vending machine. You can't buy this in Spain, so I was stoked to get ahold of some in Japan.

While I was hanging around the shop, I busied byself by playing with a Buell, reading various catalogues and magazines, and came across this. I first started reading (and subscribing to) Vibes Magazine in 1999, after being introduced to it by a fellow MMI student who was from Japan, Shinichi Sakaguchi. I have to be honest, here, and I think some of the customs I've found in these pages really are head and shoulders above what's being made in the US. The creativity and metal working are top notch, and the styles are refreshing and unique in a world of cookie-cutter customs and replicas of the current "hot-style". Not only are there tons of photos of the local Japanese biker scene, there's also a beautiful painting in the back of each issue. I used to cut them out, frame them, and hang them on my garage or shop walls. You can find an index of the paintings, by Yoshihito Tomobe, by clicking here. I highly suggest checking out the artwork, and the magazine. For Bay Area people, you can order it from Kinokuniya bookstore, and there's one in San Jose, and one in Japantown, San Francisco.

This is a neat little "scrambler chopper" that Hammer put together for someone.

Very tight and rugged.

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