Dude, 2005 ended in, um, 2005." That was my first response to this chopper from Ken's Factory in Nagoya City, Japan. It was a stupid knee-jerk reaction on my part, but hey, all the earmarks were there-a big ass rear tire with minimal rear fender, no struts, and high displacement motor. I felt like I was a staffer at Street Chopper in 2003 again, writing up any one of a gazillion similar choppers built by some guy looking to be the next Jesse James or Orange County Choppers.
Eric Ellis wouldn't have put it in HOT BIKE unless there was more to it than that and a second, deeper perusal revealed that "something." Unlike the catalog chop clones that flooded the industry five to 10 years ago, there was something alive in this bike. Not just the wild beast motif Kenji "Ken" Nagai brought to it. I'm talking about the presence of handmade parts. That's what separates a bike assembler from a bike builder. That's why you're looking at this chopper now.
Given who Ken is, it's not really shocking to find that touch in his work. Twenty years ago, he started his Nagoya City operation. He does it all, creating three to four custom cycles a year, deals parts, and makes a lot of his own pieces in-house. Throw in Ken's numerous show wins at events like HRCS (Moon Eyes) and the Cool Breaker show, and you can see how a guy like him might be great at turning a frame and motor into more than the sum of their parts.
Velvet Fang was born when a long-time customer (who wished to remain nameless) came in wanting something different, but not some monster of a bike. He already had big-inch iron, a racing Ferrari, and a ton of other toys. Ken thought, "This one should have high performance, ridability, and functional beauty."
He got plenty of grunt by tagging a 125-inch V-twin from Patrick Racing. Since the motor was already plenty big, there wasn't much need to really optimize it. Still, Ken mandated optimal get up and go. Air cleaners alone weren't enough. However, turbochargers aren't Ken's bag. Instead, he upgraded the motor with a Magna Charger blower. The mystery customer's reaction to the engine setup was a custom creator's dream.
"Perfect," he remarked. "I'm leaving it all in your hands. Even the color." Maybe "dream" is the wrong word. "Drightmare" might be more accurate-on the one hand, any artist loves carte blanche when creating. On the other, making a commissioned work for a client means discerning what they like and making that happen if you want to get paid.
Ken is an experienced veteran when it comes to iron, so the nightmare aspect wasn't an issue. With the engine portion resolved, he tackled the skeleton. His client wasn't a big man and wanted a comfortable chopper with a hardtail look; hence Ken tapped a Softail frame for Velvet Fang. Normally, he'd use an Xtreme Chassis unit as-is, but this go around he ordered a drop-seat version with a wide seat to better suit his client's frame. Mid-mount foot control positioning let the diminutive pilot relax his legs instead of straining to reach a set of forward foot controls. In fact, Ken made those controls himself on a milling machine and placed them through the Evil Engineering beltdrive backing plate. While he was at it, Ken also hid the shift linkage to clean up the motor on the primary side.
Ken's handiwork announced its presence with authority when he dove into the suspension equation. Not every motorcycle maker fabs his fork sets. Ken does, though. The 49mm frontend connecting the Xtreme frame to the PM Contour front wheel is all him. He says he usually makes the forks from one piece of aluminum but this time he used a stainless steel center section with billet upper and lower sections and a radial brake mount for increased stopping power to rein in the big ass mill. Look under the seat you'll also find a rear link suspension that subtly sets this bike apart and is one of Ken's favorite components.