Total Motorcycle Rider Inspiration Friday brings you across the world today to get you inspired on what is going on with Harley-Davidson’s custom scene in Japan! Plus special bonus of other custom guests bikes that were there too at the end of the article. The event is The Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show – also known as the Mooneyes show – which is now in its 28th year and universally acknowledged as the greatest custom show in the universe. We follow the creation of The Great Frog custom bike, and its journey from London to Japan to take center stage at the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show.
IN YOKOHAMA, JAPAN. ONCE A YEAR, FOR JUST NINE HOURS ON A SUNDAY, THE DOORS TO ‘AREA ONE CENTRE’ OPEN AND THE WORLD FEASTS ITS EYES ON SOME OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE CUSTOM VEHICLES IN EXISTENCE.
For most, the road to Mooneyes is a half-day flight, with the resulting jetlag offset by vast amounts of noodles and a boogie at a karaoke bar. For Reino Lehtonen-Riley, owner of London’s The Great Frog jewellers, it was a little more intense.
A dream come true
A couple of months before the event, life-long Harley-Davidson® fanatic Reino had been presented with an opportunity granted to very few – the chance to build a custom Harley® to be launched at the show. Of course, he couldn’t say no. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve been in love with bikes, and it has always been a dream to work with Harley-Davidson,” he explains.
But there was a problem. Reino’s schedule for the week before Yokohama already included the launch of a collaboration with street wear brand ‘Neighborhood’ on the Wednesday, opening a new store in Tokyo on the Friday, and hosting the pre-party the Saturday night before the show. With all that to work on, how could he possibly build a custom bike as well?
Nevertheless, there was no doubt in Reino’s mind – it had to be done. But what design direction to opt for?
Despite owning an enviable Harley-Davidson collection spanning the entire history of the brand, it was proving hard to pin down the direction to take. “I boggled my brain for days and worked through millions of ideas,” says Reino. Then inspiration struck. During the groovy 1970s custom chopper scene, Harley-Davidson had released its own custom bike as a nod to the psychedelia of the times – the 1976 FXE 1200 Bicentennial Shovelhead. It quickly became the inspiration behind the Mooneyes build.
The most striking feature of the motorcycle was the brightly painted fuel tank with a huge eagle motif, something Reino had had mounted up on his wall for many years. The vision for the new model was starting to come together.
The perfect team
Although Reino now had a clear picture in his mind of the final result, he knew that time was of the essence, and so at this point some help would be required. He therefore reached out to Charlie Stockwell of Warr’s Harley-Davidson. Charlie sums up their initial conversation thus: “Within minutes on the phone our bromance was born, and we were finishing each other’s sentences.”
The game was now on – but time was running short. During the process of the build, Reino and Charlie barely spoke; they had their heads down, entirely focused on completing the many tasks at hand. While Charlie got stuck into stripping the donor Sportster® Forty-Eight® and acquiring all the parts needed, Reino started the hand engraving. From the headlight cowl to the engine casing and rocker covers, hundreds of hours were spent hunched over his desk working away at the steel. Sterling silver skulls added attitude and flair to the grips and headlight.
Race against time
At 2am in the morning, the day before the bike was due to be collected for shipping to Japan, with Reino’s nerves pushed to the limit, the job was finally completed. Or so he thought. In classic custom build fashion, a new problem reared its head at the last minute – an issue with the design on the fuel tank. Off came the tank to be repainted – so the bike was sent to Japan without it, and an emergency paint job in Wales was set in motion.
Fast forward to the Friday before the show and the newly painted tank had arrived, but the bike was still stuck in Japanese customs. At this point it was too late to worry, and so all that could be done was to press on with set-up.
The masterpiece unveiled
At the 11th hour, by the grace of the Chopper Gods, the completed bike rolled into Yokohama – much to the delight and relief of Reino. This was the first time the bike had been seen in its complete state, and the intricate engraved and polished parts shone brightly – but the real jewel in the crown was the freshly painted tank, with its mighty eagle paintwork and The Great Frog decal.
With the show doors now thrown open and the event in full swing, the bike sat proudly centre stage in The Great Frog booth, more than holding its own among the best custom bikes in the world.
A job well done
“The Sportster Forty-Eight was the perfect base for this build, and I hope it inspires others to customise their bikes,” says Reino. “The majority of the parts are easily available from Harley-Davidson dealerships, and this bike shows that with just a little creativity you can put together an amazing looking custom bike by using off-the-shelf parts – without having to get out the angle grinder or the TIG welder.”
Proof, once more, that a little inspiration and imagination – and, of course, a great deal of hard work and effort – are all that’s needed to pull off a great custom build.
Feeling inspired to take on a custom Sportster build of your own? Check out the 2020 model line-up at https://www.totalmotorcycle.com/motorcycles/2020/Harley-Davidson-models
Born Free 11 Invited Builder 1st Place
Vintage Technologies / Hawke Lawshe’ – 1981 H-D Exposed Shovelhead Longbike “AZUREUS “
Born Free 11 Best in Show
THE Cut-Rate / Oliver Jones / 1937 H-D UL / Knucklehead “Sweet Berry Wine”
Total Motorcycle would like to thank Harley-Davidson, Reino Lehtonen-Riley and The Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show for inspiring us to bring week’s Rider Inspiration Friday to you and our motorcycling community. Hopefully this inspires you to get out there and ride, explore and create!