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Motorcycling in Japan: Clubs and Culture

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  • Motorcycling in Japan: Clubs and Culture


    I see quite a topics relating to motorcycles and motorcycling in Japan, that this forum has had from time to time motorcycling members and know of but am not a member.


    Although this topic is in "Transportation", within the motorcycling worlds I knew there always used to be a divide between those that used motorcycles as simple transport or as a hobby, e.g. rallyists, and those for whom motorcycling was a lifestyle and their bike an expression of their personality and a symbol of their 'tribal' association.

    We used to divide it approximately between 'motorcycle enthusiasts' and bikers, and over the decades different kind of biker cultures arose primarily split, I would say, between:
    American style outlaw or backpatch clubs - based mainly around Harleys and chops
    European stye street motorcycling, e.g. cafe racers and streetfighters - based mainly around race style bikes and going fast round corners
    Dirt riders
    Sports motorcyclists - who did it 'off road' ... oh, and
    'Goldwing riders' - who kind of existed in a separate stereophonically cocooned dimension from everyone else

    From those categories one has various different 'ranks' and minor-subcultures based very much on the bikes they rode, e.g. choppers, old school greasers/bobbers, English-style rockers, superbikers and in Japan the Bosos, their precusors the kaminarizoku, all of which, in this wonderfully communicative age we live in, have cross borders internationally and cross fertillized.

    Speaking personally, my biking background lies somewhere between the first two categories. Those of you 'in the known' might remember the old 'Iron Horse' magazine. I enjoyed it a lot. In Europe, many of the European stye street bikers "grow old disgracefully" and morph into American style backpatch clubs and most of the big clubs made it over the Atlantic. Whereas I enjoy the scene and lifestyle, I don't find the idea of dying in someone else's drug war (cough, ... allegedly) particularly attractive ... and I still like going round corners fast.

    I grew up, went straight into biking in my teenages and have held an unlimited license for my entire adult life and am not a "weekend warrior" late adopter, remember the moment Harley actually released a motorcycle that ordinary folks could actually buy ride without having filthy fingernails, and CNC machines were invented, and what an effect it had on the scene. I also worked within the industry on two continents and in a speedshop.


    Coming to Japan I am really impressed by the biking scene I have seen here ... and particularly the roads even if the speed limits, or lack thereof, is likely to get me into expensive trouble. I see a very healthy old school chopper/bobber style scene. I see English-style rockers/cafe racers. Retro. I see an impressive amount of young and not so young women riding their own bikes of all sizes. Its own unique speedway racing (Auto Race). A load of hairy bikers doing long roadtrips ... with the advantage of an onsen at the end of it!!!. And we all know Japanese engineers now make and chop some of the coolest and fastest motorcycles in all departments.

    The only thing they cannot do is build a Harley but they sure as hell can chop them. Their metal work is the certainly to my taste.

    Point in question

    I was wondering if anyone had any experience with the Japanese patch club scene?

    It is obvious that there are plenty of factory style (HOG) or 'mom and pop' types clubs, but I also see around quite a few mock outlaw Easyrider style clubs, i.e. the 'Vibes' scene. Last year ... being a White Japanese (!) ... I had hoped to get up to the 'Yamato Spirit Rally' but could not make it. This spring I am expecting a big pay day and am thinking of getting back into it all.

    It strikes me the Japanese scene has all of the fun and advantages of the club scene elsewhere, but very fews of the disadvantages, e.g. the likelihood of being shot.

    See also

    I love the authenticity of old movies and found this ... "Godspeed you, Black Emperor", Mitsuo Yanagimachi. I made me feel young again. A 1976 Japanese B&W 16 mm documentary film about a Japanese biker gang called the Black Emperors. The movie follows a member and his interaction with his parents, after he gets in trouble with the police. (sub-titled)

    Over the years I have seen a few photoshoots/documentaries about the Bosos, and even Boso girl gangs. I wonder how they all grew up too?

    Last edited by beentheredonethat; 2012-02-29, 09:41 AM.

  • #2
    Mental note:

    Do not try and outrun a Japanese traffic cop on a motorcycle. Ever. Not even the chicks.


    • #3
      "It's not a motorcycle baby, it's a Chopper".


      • #4
        And for anyone who knows what I am talking about ... it's strange. I see a whole load of red and white patches over here ... except the Red and White themselves.

        This is just a link, of no particular value, taken at random ... but what strikes me is how well studied these old school bikes are. How did they get to make them like that? It seems authentic and a lot more than just 'cloning'.


        • #5
          Japan has a few distinct styles of its own, this is one ... really low, long and with big fat 16" tires, and with a particular nod of respect going out to Chica of Zero Engineering (I think that is his company).


          • #6
            There is another style of custom bike that is very specific to Japan, and that is those with really long extended rear swing arms and a big fat tire.

            Does anyone know what these are called and what the scene/philosophy/history behind them is?

            They look like they may be 'hillclimber' style. Or perhaps it was inspired by the street drag racing style beloved of Daytona gambling jockeys ... a long arm to stop the bike wheelie-ing under acceleration. Either way, they look like they may be an illegal snook ____ing (and good on the Police for not caring) the owners seem to be a different crowd from the Bosos.

            Or perhaps is it just one of a few permitted modifications that were not covered by type approval?

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            • #7
              yamaha TW200 with a custom extended swing arm, etc.

              since its under 250cc you can mod it and not worry about taking it back to stock for the bianual inspections, since under 250cc are exempt from that.


              • #8
                The SR500 (SR400) is a real Japanese classic ... I kind of think of it as the Japan's native 'Harley-Davidson' in that it has been made in the same format for over 30 years now, still keeps selling and it has leant itself to endless customization; chopper, bobber, cafe racer, flat tracker, ratted and all of Japan's own custom styles, e.g. Brat style (really tall'n'narrow apes). There is an industry selling aftermarket kit parts to make it looks like a classic AJS 7R, BSA Gold Star, Manx Norton, Triton, Ducati 750SS, Rickman etc. Good riders scene. You even get to do that cool looking, big ritual kickstart thing every time you go for a ride.

                First designed in the 1970s, it was already a re-working of the classic British 50s and 60s 'big single' and so it fits naturally into that heritage. When the engineers at Yamaha first built it, the marketing guys never believed it would sell more than a few units. Never trust a marketing guy ...

                I ran one of these for a while and reckon they are fine for Japan if you are not too big and do not have a gut. Cheap enough. Plenty around. Full of character and relaxed. Big enough for fun 'one up' annd slow enough to keep you out of those tank trap concrete ditches. However, I recommend sacrificing 60s style for 21st C functionality and sticking a front disk brake on it.

                Last edited by beentheredonethat; 2012-03-01, 11:37 PM.


                • #9
                  And lastly there is this 'super scooter' scene which seems to often attract "bad girls" riding their own from what I can seen. Space aged, double sized versions of what your mother might ride down to the shops ... but then extreme-customized to hell.

                  To be honest, where traffic is so gentle and speeds limited so much, I can easily see the attraction to these kind of rides.


                  • #10
                    Not saying this one is but looks comfortable as an armchair and stress-free.