CHOPPER BUILDER & SAND FLAT RACER
‘Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death,’
Hunter. S. Thompson
In Japan the scene for women riders is blowing up. Chop riding women are burning around the streets of Tokyo on their custom built wheels & doing it with some serious style & individualism unlike anywhere else in the world. Famed for being one of the main countries at the forefront of custom motorcycle culture Japan has always been paving the way for some of the most incredible parts of custom culture but until recently it seems the new wave of women riding hasnt hit as much as it has in the US & Europe.... Well not any more.
In the midst of planning a trip out to Japan this year we were sat in our studio with a a friend of ours who had just returned from a long trip out there. "I met the most incredible girl out there that you should hook up with when you go... I think you're really gonna dig each other". And shit he was right!
Ayano Hirosaka is not only into riding choppers, having learned how to wrench & build over the last few years but she's found that where she loves to ride them isn't exactly where you'd think a hardtail chopper would be most at home. After beginning to compete at the world famous Chirihama beach race in Japan a couple of years back she's now a regular face on the vintage racing scene in japan riding her Triumph chopper on beach, dirt & tracks. Oh, and she's fast... really fast.
So lets start from the beginning. Whats your name & where are you originally from?
Ayano but my friends call me Roc. I was born in Hiroshima in west Japan & grew up in Chime. I live in Tokyo now.
We met through a shared interest in motorcycles but what do you do as your day job?
Product & packaging designer, buyer of a house-ware, hardware & kitchen-ware company
So where did your interest in motorcycles first start what made you eventually start to begin building your own chopper?
Back when I was a university student in Ehime prefecture, one night I bumped into some crazy guys in a bar. They happened to be from a custom motorcycle shop named “DoLuck Motorcycles”. We just clicked & soon I became interested in choppers and then drag racing them. First I started chopping my HONDA NC26 which I was riding at the time & went from there. I still really love those guys & and their style of builds. Actually, customising motorcycles is pretty essential for me to ride as my height is only 4ft 8". (And to make matters worse, I’m short-legged) . I am always feeling jealous people who ride their motorcycle with factory-made style.
I actually hear that quite alot from women who ride choppers or bobbers. As the seating position is so low it makes them much easier to manoeuvre & handle the weight for someone who is smaller for sure. I ride a 1966 unit Triumph 5ta bobber which is a similar deal to your chopper - with super low down riding position. It always feels so weird getting back on a higher bike as I feel alot less in control with a higher centre of gravity. What year /model did your Triumph originally start off as stock?
My Triumph is a 1961 unit TR-6. When I first got the bike it had a metallic-blue body & looked pretty neat and clean but not for long. ha ha
I fell in love with your Triumph when I first saw it. What was the inspiration behind building it?
My inspiration came from alot of motorcycle riders in World War II and my favorite movie “The Wild Angels".
What made you choose a Triumph to start with?
I chose a Triumph because for me they are easy to handle, lightweight, smashing acceleration feeling & also the beauty of old engineering & the engine shape & style.
Did you know alot about mechanics before you started to build your Triumph?
None at all. I didn’t know even the difference between Unit and Pre-Unit* engine!
We all start somewhere! I was the same when I started messing around with my first motorcycle. Thank god for patient friends! So after you built your Triumph you pretty much straight away started racing it & you've been racing at the Chirihama Sand track races for a couple of years now right? What is it like to race there?
Its basically tons of old motorcycles at the beautiful summer beach in rural area. If you love old motorcycles, I’m sure that you can easily imagine that its is heaven! It was my second time to race at Chirihama this year. To be honest it’s hard for me to describe the feeling when I'm racing. Its alot of extreme tension, nervousness & fear ha ha. But when I stand in front of the start-line and the flag is waved, I sense nothing. I can just feel only his heart is beating and his incredible speed. That feeling is worth every thing.
Sure! We spoke to flat track racer LEAH TOKELOVE recently here in the UK & she started off by beach racing too & she said pretty much the same thing about racing, that you forget about everything going on around you & think about nothing else. Seems like great thing to have in your life. Maybe more people should start racing! Leah races on a KTM 450 set up which is a little different to yours! A hard tail chopper isn't exactly the most practical bike to race on a beach set up! ha ha. Is it pretty difficult to keep it rubber side down??
Exactly yes! But I have no choice as I am so short-legged ha ha. To be honest I think a hard tail chopper is the best way to enjoy sand racing for me. Slippin’ and sliding & feeling the sand underneath me is amazing. If you dont like that then beach racing on a chop isn't for you. ha ha
So were there a lot of other women racing at Chirihama last year?
I think 5 women came from all over Japan to race. Most of them rode Harley-Davidsons but we soon became friends. We had a shared interest & we all didnt want to loose as we didn't want anyone to think “She is a woman so she's slower!”. Women at motorcycle races are still extremely rare in Japan, so guys watch us with a lot of curiosity. Its pretty funny to beat the boys.
You also just raced in the Dusters Cup in Aomori & won! This time it was in the dirt but still on your chopper right? How was that?
Yeah, It was my first time to race my Triumph on a dirt track. It wasn't easy as the track was hard to ride due to hard rain from previous day. It made it pretty dangerous as it was a muddy and slippy course to ride on my bike. I thought as some point that I was gonna die. ha ha
Do you ride with other women in Japan a lot?
Not much, I’m quite shy and introverted so I mostly ride alone.
There seems to be a growing amount of women riding & building choppers out in Japan at the moment! How quickly has the scene grown there? Are there alot of women riding? Its sometimes hard to see whats really happening with things like Instagram as you only get a very small view of things but overall it seems to be growing.
With things like Instagram its easier to find other woman who ride & builds choppers now for sure. If you find someone else who has a similar interest in things its great to use that to get inspired & have more courage to start out. In the old times Japanese woman should be humble and modest. If you would have ever said “I want to ride a motorcycle, Dad!” you would get slapped! This actually happened to two of my aunts! I like to think that compared to old times women becoming stronger and free in Japan.
Something I've always wanted to ask you about is that up until the new wave of women riding motorcycles in Japan my only real knowledge of women riders there are the famous images & videos of Bosuzoku** women from the 70s & 80s onwards. Does the new wave of women riders take any inspiration or have any links back to the bousouzoku history of female riders & gangs?
Hmm. I think there isn't so much of a relationship as such. Bousouzoku had a real golden age in 1970 to 1980 in Japan. Most of them were teenagers without driver's licenses & riding motorcycle was a massive part of how they expressed their rebellious spirit to society. Its just my opinion & I dont mean to be critical but I think sometimes we Japanese can be poor at expressing ourselves so being inspired by American motorcycle culture was a way for the Bousouzoku to channel their rebellious identity. You may be surprised but the roots of Bousouzoku motorcycle culture actually come mostly from American motorcycle & motorcycle gang culture like in the movie “The Wild One”. Of course it was alot harder to get a foreign motorcycle at that time like a Harley or a triumph so they customised their own Hondas & Kawasaki domestic motorcycles. They wanted to be “free” or “being bad boys/girls" like in the movie. Also riding motorcycle gave them the feelings of “freedom” and show them big and strong. With this in mind I think there is a small relationship with how they were & with the new wave of women riders here. Also as a working woman in society today, I can imagine how the Bousouzoku girls had to be tough and like that they had guts cause most of them lived in a massively male dominated society. thats the same today as I think that I think women who ride motorcycle in Japan today still have to be tough & have pretty strong guts than other ordinary woman. ha ha.
I suppose its the same here in the UK as we have such a strong cultural history with motorcycles. I think you always have a respect for what came before you & a responsibility to learn about that is important but when it comes to women riding its still a relatively non mainstream thing here so in terms of having link back to motorcycle culture of the past I suppose thats part of the link that we have to what came before - The fact that we're still looked at as "different" for riding so yeah in some respects you do have to have balls to do that sometimes when its classed as not so normal. Women riding definitely isn't as huge here in the UK as it is in the states still - I think there are alot of factors in that like pretty harsh testing & also the high price of buying a motorcycle (oh yeah and our shit whether compared with So-Cal) but its definitely on the rise here like in Japan.
One of the things I love most about looking at the new wave of womens riding culture in different parts of the world are the different styes you see from place to place of the women that ride. What do you think defines the way women dress when they ride in Japan?
Me too! I love looking at what people who ride wear. I think it helps you to understand or expect what they're like or who they are. Here in Japan some girls dress in pretty boyish clothes to ride & others dress like Marianne Faithfull in ”Girl on a Motorcycle”. Everyone dresses quite individually really but also their motorcycle style & riding styles can be pretty different here too making it really interesting & varied here. My favourite thing to wear when I ride are my Doc Martins. I’ve literally worn then for over 15 years! They look dirty and worn-out but they're irreplaceable to me as they're given to me by my dad when I first started riding & I love that they are made in England. I've got a few different boots that I ride in now -some original Malcolm Smith Racing, Red Wings, and so on but my Doc Martins are still the best for riding in. Viva la steel toe!
Finally, have you got any advice to other women wanting to build their own choppers & race?
Just to do exactly what you really want to do & express what you want with you're motorcycle no matter what you ride & if anyone else interferes just tell them to butt out!
To see more of Ayano racing at Chirihama sand flats check out the new movie by Speed Tractor releasing later this year- THE ROOST - As the first feature length movie to document Japan’s Alt-Moto Custom Scene the roost travels the length and breadth of Japan capturing the spirit of the motorcycle builders, the machines, their riders and the events and characters leading this movement, with a first hand taste of their life and the endless pursuit gasoline soaked creative glory.
* "Unit" and "pre-unit" refer to the engine/transmission configuration on a Triumph engine.
Triumph units starts to be made as 350/500cc 1958 & as 650s in 1963. Prior to '63, a unit construction Triumph engine has the engine case & transmission case attached to the motor as single cast, but on a pre unit the transmission the engine case and transmission case are separate pieces, connected by a also-separate casing enclosing the primary drive.
** Bōsōzoku girl gangs emerged in the 70s / 80s when the girlfriends of male biker gang members became fed up of being stuck on the back of the bike. As the expectations for young women to marry and settle continue to be a fact of life in Japan, so too has this all-girl outlaw subculture prevailed as an alternative narrative for young women. Today, you can spot them by their embellished and embroidered jumpsuits, floral tattoos, long manicured nails and bright pink, heavily stickered bikes. Usually considered a separate subculture of delinquent, the female bōsōzoku are nonetheless related to sukeban culture in their creation of girl gangs that refuse to bow down to the boys – and their emphasis on customisation as a tool with which to rage against the norm. - http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/28261/1/remembering-japans-badass-70s-schoolgirl-gangs
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