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.
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.”
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.”