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The Man Behind Ichiban

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We all had some fun with Ichiban Moto, didn’t we? You know, the straight-faced custom-bike builder who has been posting build videos on You Tube that just can’t be for real. In the videos, a disembodied voice and pair of busy hands breaks every rule of motorcycle maintenance and customizing as he turns a knackered old Yamaha into a crazed, unrideable disaster of a cafe racer, making fun of the thousands of amateur mechanics actually producing unrideable disasters of cafe racers and other projects.

You may recall I made a pilgrimage to the Midwest to interview Ichiban moto. I wrote that interview as a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary, but I was sufficiently impressed by the man that I wanted to write a follow-up story to let MD readers know his real-life persona is closer to the gag than you’d think.

Let’s call him Dean—he asked to keep his identity secret as he occasionally gets threatening hate e-mail. He’s a freshly retired marketing executive with a serious passion for vintage motorcycles. Specifically, he’s interested in the huddled masses of dirty, rusty, non-running lesser-known Japanese-built models of the ’60s and ’70s like the Yamaha TX500. Motorcycles that racked up a few thousand miles, were put away wet and broken and then were untouched for decades.

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These bikes tend to wind up in the hands of shade-tree mechanics and often suffer horrific “improvements” by folks with the mechanical aptitude and sense of taste of a brain-damaged Kardashian. “Some guys actually build good racers,” Dean told me, “but other guys immediately tear them up, ruin them, then dump them on Craigslist as a ‘project’.” For these builders, “step one is cut the frame in half—before you even know it runs.” Evidence of these tragedies are all over Craigslist. Hint: Clubman bars and a crappy humped solo seat do not make a cafe racer, especially if you’re still using the stock footpegs.

Dean takes pity on some of these bikes and buys them up cheap, takes them home and makes them into something truly nice—and like his alter ego, he doesn’t spend a lot of money on it. Behold the beautiful TX500 Dean found for $200 on Craigslist. It didn’t start out that way, but Dean used his skills to disassemble, clean and refurbish it, fabricating  most of the bodywork himself and making the tasteful Benelli tank work with the Yamaha frame. Che Bella!

“I’ve been riding 50 years,” Dean tells us. “And I always had a project. I do all my own plating, I strip everything, I do everything right. I have more time than money—my labor is free, it’s my hobby.” Moving to retirement income meant things changed: “I ran into a wall, I needed money for paint supplies, so I had nothing to do.”

That’s when he started making his subversive and hilarious Ichiban build videos, mocking not only ham-handed home mechanics, but also the Hipster/Cafe Racer/avant-garde photography website culture that has appeared in the last few years. Is he trying to cash in on the trend?

No, Dean says he does the videos “just to have fun. I don’t make any money from them, and there are less than 100,000 views [of my videos in] total, but I would like to get people to view the videos. Sometimes I do them because it’s 30 degrees outside and three feet of snow.”

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Does he worry about somebody trying to do the stuff he does in his video and getting hurt? Dean does express serious concern for safety, as there is a lot of unsafe activity in plain view on YouTube. “For every Ichiban video there are 50 more documenting something even more unsafe, products they’re actually selling. Ichiban does wear goggles and gloves and tries to do things safely. But a lot of people are alarmed and think it’s real. I tell them, hey, I’m wearing goggles and I follow instructions to a T.”

Is he being cruel to the hapless masses posting their follies on Craigslist, eBay and YouTube? “I think if somebody’s chopping up a decent motorcycle, yes, I’m mocking him. But a future archeologist will find a layer of really nice motorcycles and then badly chopped-up motorcycles…I’d like to see someone save the motorcycles. That’s my hobby—saving motorcycles that would just rot away. Some are worth saving, some not, some are worth making something else out of them. But I hope people appreciate me trying to save them. I’d like to see the day when people don’t try to put cheap Emgo filters on their bikes and expect them to work.”

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40 Comments

  1. Ichiban Moto says:

    Thanks for the kind words :)

    Since Jeremy nailed Curly’s trivia question about the tach logo- He wins some bad ass Ichiban Moto stickers ;)

    btw guys… The front tire is indeed mounted correctly. They are Avon AM26 Roadriders.

  2. joe b says:

    I’m one of those that never did think the Café bike went out of ‘style. so many of the ones I see today, bobbed, or hacked, or steam punk’ed need a class in feng shui, or design style, as they look terrible.
    Not that some crazy intent is missing (whoah, this bike has CHAMBERS, omg) some just don’t “look right”.

    This one does, I like it. ’97 GSXR streetfighter project waiting for me, as I type this.

  3. Curly says:

    Beautiful bike and it has a real front fender, rear mudguard and what looks like a rideable seat!

    Here’s a non-tire trivia question for everybody. What’s wrong with the Yamaha Tuning fork on the speedo? (nice job on that face by the way)

    • dino says:

      Good link… It actually made me think about flipping my front tire to match the arrow (that I assumed was wrong since the grooves were backwards)… I still may have to flip it.

      That kind of info would be good to get out there and start the discussion / information of having the grooves backwards since (according to the tire experts at several companies now) the reverse grooves do not affect straight line wet handling, and can enhance handling a water dispersion when leaned over (when you need it most anyway).

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        It is important to flip it the right way. The tread starts as a long strip that is wrapped around the tire during manufacturing. Where they bind the ends of the tread together to complete the circle is called the tread splice, and the ends are cut at an angle to increase the bonding surface area. The direction of the tire is oriented so that the greatest forces applied (acceleration for the back wheel, braking for the front wheel) are pushing the splice together rather than apart.

  4. azi says:

    Don’t forget that the classic Metzeler ME55/Lasertec front tyre also has a ‘backwards’ directional pattern.

    I prefer to install tyres in the orientation that the manufacturer recommends.

  5. Mars says:

    a side note: why don’t manuyfacturers know we hate to see wires?

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      It’s like tank seams I suppose: they know we don’t want to see them, but they also know most of their customers aren’t willing to pay up to conceal them.

  6. Mars says:

    well….since this has devolved into a tire trivia thread – anyone know what tire it is? We could easily check the proper mounting and then, if it seems reversed, we could ask the manufacturer.

    It might be cheaper to build them that way and the manufacturer doesnt care if we crash.

    corporations, you know.

  7. Craig says:

    Yes, front tires, even my BS 003′s seem to be backwards of what you think at first…

    Love the product… forget the tire. :)

  8. Blackcayman says:

    Someone wake up Norm to sort out this front tire tread dilemma

    • Hot Dog says:

      I’ve told you guys before, no nuts or bananas in his cage, he’ll start humping the moment and we’ll all be stuck in “Awaiting Moderation”.

    • Norm G. says:

      lol, no I was about to chime in, but got hit with a storm/power outage. I was only going to mention, I recently had the exact same experience having a set of the new Michelin PR4′s fitted at the dealer. i thought they screwed up…? i must’ve checked and rechecked that damn arrow orientation a dozen times on in the past 3 weeks.

      yes, the front DOES look weird. even went to the Michelin site several times. i even considered the possibility the arrows were simply mis-manufactured…? (ie. once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be the answer)

      I’m a staunch Pirelli/Metzler guy so honestly it’s very rare i ever buy French rubber. sure enough, the bike in Michelin’s test video shows the tyre mounted like it’s backwards. okay, if you say so “Frengineer”. Germany only called THEM to put shoes on the Veyron, so what do i know…?

  9. stinkywheels says:

    That bike is the cleanest café bike I’ve seen. He hid the wiring better than the chopper guys and their bikes aren’t made to be ridden. I hope this one is for as long as the motor lasts. Yamaha seemed to whiff on a few of the twins, this and the 750 come to mind.

  10. Chet says:

    That bike is kick-A$$. Mounting the gauge on a plate to the handlebar clamp is genious. Ichiban rules.

  11. Hair says:

    I see that the bike is mostly red. I like red.

  12. Denny says:

    To actually built a custom motorcycle with significant degree of overhaul, does it not require an engineering degree with proper certification? How is the legal liability applied? I would definitely stay away from anything of this sort.

  13. Don Fraser says:

    nice build of a crap bike, those have enough chains inside for 2 engines, nice to see that he didn’t outsmart the tire engineers and mounted the tires properly

  14. dino says:

    beautiful bike, glad to hear those you-tube videos really WERE a joke ( you just never know these days)!

    the front tire direction is interesting. i just mounted a new set of tires, and couldn’t believe that the arrow indicating direction of the tire would have done just as his photo showed (grooves channeling water to the center of the tire). there must be some insane reason for that?? i mounted it backwards as my common sense would not let me follow that arrow!

  15. Bob L. says:

    That’s the best-looking TX500, I’ve ever seen. I wonder whose advise he followed?

    • Johnny ro says:

      I agree. This is no hatchet job.

      Other than the front tire appears to be on backward based on the grooves channeling water to the center while moving forward. Back is on correctly.

      • Don Fraser says:

        you haven’t been looking at many front tires lately, have you

        • Johnny ro says:

          I always notice the tire direction in the pictures, along with other details. On this I noticed how clean the bike is.

          I could easily be wrong about the tire being mounted backwards.

          On a car, hydroplaning is probably more of an issue than on a bike with its smaller contact patch.

      • todd says:

        you know, I swear I have seen other front tires like that, with the grooves seeming to run backward while mounted correctly.

        • TimC says:

          No way. Think/visualize how the water will run. Mounted this way it has to pile up in the center (outside of groove hits ground/water first instead of last).

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Todd is correct. The tire is mounted correctly. There are plenty others that have similar sipe patterns, too.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Oh, and since this tire was designed to be used in both front and rear mounting applications, the sipes are no doubt engineered to move water in either direction.

            The reason the front is reversed is because the tire is designed to handle the force (of braking or acceleration) in only one direction. Since the front handles most of the braking and the rear does all of the acceleration, you need to reverse the direction of the tire when mounting it to the front in this case.

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