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  • Photography and video by Peden+Munk
  • Words by Ms Jodie Harrison, Editor, MR PORTER

With independent custom shops popping up all over the world's hippest, design-conscious communities, motorcycles are taking the place of the now ubiquitous track bike in the hearts of hungry hipsters looking for a cooler fix. Unlike the majority of pretenders to the scene of customised motorcycle design however, 51-year-old Mr Shinya Kimura is humble and focused, continuing his nearly 30 years of dedicated work beyond both the limelight and flux of trends and impulses - and all despite the fact his bikes are owned by the likes of Mr Brad Pitt.

The founder of Zero Engineering, the Japanese bike studio that jump-started the craze for custom motorcycles back in 1992 with its stripped-back, bare metal and zero styling, Mr Kimura began his current practice, Chabott Engineering, in 2006. "For me a motorcycle is more than art," explains Mr Kimura as he tinkers with his latest project, "it is something that brings out my instincts, the wildness and vulnerability in me." With around a two-year waiting list and a price-on-application format for one of his minimalist, hand-crafted works, his creations certainly have an elitist appeal that make them dream toys for cash-rich, time-rich types.

Here, Mr Kimura talks us through his methods and design-cues while giving us a tour of his unique workspace.

chabottengineering.com

How long have you had your LA workshop?
I've been here seven years. Before that we lived in Tokyo, Japan.
Why California?
There was no particular reason for the move. We just came. The weather is good and I can ride my motorcycle every day. There's also a wonderful canyon road near here - Azusa Canyon - I like to ride it as often as I can. It looks like the Isle of Man - I must go to the TT one day.
How do you spend your time in the area?
I go to Utah - to Salt Lake from time to time to race. We race on the Bonneville Salt Flats - where many land speed records were recorded. I have a special bike for this. My top speed is 200kph. I raced this bike about two weeks ago so it's a little dirty.
Your motorcycles are celebrated in the motoring press for their unique styling - how long does it take you to complete each bike?
Each takes about six months. I only make two to three bikes a year. I'm currently building one for a customer in Holland and one for a customer in Michigan. I usually just keep the motor and the twin from the original bike and make or source everything else.
If you could only own one motorcycle - any era or engine - what would it be?
Me? Only one?! This is a tough question. If you insist - a 1970s Ducati 750SS or 450 Desmo, something like that.
How many motorcycles do you currently own?
I have four right now but over the years have owned around 30 or 40.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I don't like to be categorised. I like to be flexible. I like to keep moving and changing. I guess I like things stripped back - removing anything unnecessary. Truthfully, I cannot really describe it - I just don't know how to.
How does the design and build process work?
I start by talking for a long time with the clients. I get images from them - of anything from music to plants to fashion. I don't draw anything - but I begin to draw the bike in my mind. I then start tinkling with metals, playing with ideas. I don't know what I'm going to build until I finish it.
Do customers get to see the design in progress or collaborate at all?
Not really. This is obviously quite difficult for some clients to understand as it feels like a gamble. But they have a great trust in me so it seems to work. It's a rare way of working - especially in custom motorcycle building. Usually people draw something out and make a computer rendition. For me - if I see it before I build it I get bored of it.
Why do you think there is this new interest in old motorcycles?
Motorcycles these days are almost perfect. They keep getting better and better with very sophisticated technologies within them. But human beings have stayed the same. Getting onto an old motorcycle feels like getting back to basics. I think that's the appeal. It's good to feel metals rather than plastics. You can fall in love with metals as they feel more like a part of nature.
Does your fascination with mechanical parts extend beyond motorcycles?
Yes. Anything with tyres.
Could you ever envisage doing anything else?
No. I can't. I have no choice.

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