This article was originally published in the February/March 2000 issue of Cycle World's Big Twin magazine.
We’ve heard all the names before: Ness, Perewitz, Hotop, Smith, Doss, Yaffe, Kennedy. Well, we’ve got one more name for you—literally, just one: Chica. The man who goes by this solo moniker is the creator of the two machines seen here. And he possesses a love for and dedication to things H-D that should go a long way toward helping him reach his ultimate goal: someday to be mentioned in the same breath as the illustrious men listed above.
That would be quite an accomplishment on a couple of levels. First, there are very few Japanese making a living in the U.S. solely in the business of customizing Harley-Davidsons. Of those, even fewer yet are former employees of the Honda factory; matter of fact, Chica may be the only one. And the diverse machines that roll out of his Huntington Beach, California, shop all bear the mark of a similar mantra: clean and simple.
Chica, 34, got into the whole custom fab thing back in his native Japan (he was born Yasuyoshi Chikazawa; the tag is a shortening of his surname), and his building philosophy arose from real necessity. His first ride on a Harley was at a dealership in Japan, and he immediately felt the passion in the machine. That was the beginning of his love affair with Harley-Davidsons.
He bought an ’86 Evo, a steep investment at the time. “I wasn’t making a whole lot of money then, and all the parts were very expensive in Japan,” Chica explains. “With the exchange rate so high, a primary-gasket set could cost $200, making it too expensive to do a complete and proper oil change.” So, he got rid of his Harley’s primary cover, and with it the mega-yen oil change. He also managed to lose the battery (fashioning his own magneto), the oil tank (integrating it into the gas tank), and anything else he could eliminate to simplify the bike.
When Chica was done, his machine was a lot cheaper to maintain, and it looked much cleaner. Others noticed the sanitary lines of his Harley, as well. Before very long, he had stopped working in Honda’s automotive division and opened his own shop. Eventually, he migrated to the U.S. to work in a shop in El Monte, California, but that job didn’t pan out; so, in 1995, he opened his own business in Huntington Beach, called Chica Custom Cycles (CCC).
Seen here are two of his latest creations. The pounded-aluminum “rat bike” (as Chica likes to call it), best described as a Springer-Knucklehead-flattracker, was his most recent pet project. “He likes to build stuff that’s fun and different, as opposed to slapping somebody else’s tank on a machine and getting an expensive paint job,” explains Don Millhouse. On paper, Millhouse is a CCC vice president, but he’s really been Chica’s buddy and translator from day one. “We’re not doing bolt-on customs and saying it’s a show bike,” continues Millhouse. “What we do is to put a lot of heart and soul into each bike, fabricate all the parts we can ourselves, and make something that requires time, thought and creativity.”
Obviously, the rat bike is not your typical show-polished custom, and it even has an unusual origin. While practicing pounding-out aluminum tanks, Chica noticed that the shape in his hands reminded him of a bike he had once seen. Going through a Harley history book, he spotted the bike he had envisioned, a post-WWII flat-tracker. From that vision grew the unpainted machine seen here.
Centerpiece of the rat bike is its 74-inch S&S ’40s-style Knucklehead motor. The powdercoated mill is hung in a blacked-out, hardtail frame that Chica pieced together from steel tubing on his shop’s jig. The primary case, Springer front end and handlebar are powdercoated, too, but it’s not the eclipsed parts you notice. The tank (which is actually two: one each for gas and oil), fender and fender struts are all hand-pounded and hand-welded aluminum to give the bike its unfinished appearance. The taillight is a modified CCI unit, and the pipes are hand-bent with SuperTrapp cans and a matte-black finish to match the front springs. Real asbestos tape on the exhaust, and the Coker dirt-track tires on blood-red rims, add to the racebike look. “Grunge is in, right?” asks Millhouse.
“Another good thing about this bike is that it’s comfortable and easy to ride ... well, easier to ride than our other bikes,” continues Millhouse. “We do a lot of long front-end choppers.” Which means it’s only easier if you can master the art of coordinating the foot-clutch and four-speed jockey shifter. This bike, incidentally, sold to a buyer in Japan for $20,000, a bargain for the hours that went into its creation.
The other custom pictured here, the sleek black one, is the end result of a very simple request from yet another customer in Japan: “long, low, black.” It’s powered by an original ’76 Shovelhead top-end mated to an S&S crankcase. Aside from those and a few other major items, just about all the pieces were made in the CCC shop. The frame and wheels are originals, as is the unique split in the Shovelhead’s top end, Chica’s favorite engine. “It’s not too old, and not too new,” he says of the Shovel, “and if the customer wants it to be a high-performance engine, they’re easy to modify.”
Like the rat bike, the Shovelhead is a four-speeder with the foot-clutch/jockey-shift arrangement. “I like simple designs,” says Chica. “This Shovel looks like an old bike—no battery, no wiring, no oil tank, no primary cover, only a magneto for lighting.” It’s a hardtail, again for the same reasons: “It is simple. Back in the ’20s and ’30s, everyone rode around on these hardtail bikes. Now the roads are great, yet we have all these exotic suspensions. Why do you need them? I like to ride, and I ride these everywhere ... except the 710 freeway” (notorious in Southern California for its choppy pavement and assortment of tire-puncturing debris on the road).
Though all his bikes so far have sold in Japan, Chica’s creations are just beginning to make noise on the U.S. show circuit. “People look at the rat bike and ask, ‘Is this bike finished? Where’s the oil tank?’” Chica says, describing the reaction his bikes have received at several shows.
“He wants to be noticed and earn the respect of his peers,” adds Millhouse. “His dream is to be at the level of other ground-up builders, and so far, they’ve really liked our bikes. The market we deal with in Japan is totally different. They like the older, chopper style. They’re about where we were in the ’70s; they haven’t evolved yet.”
Chica claims that he likes more “summer” style than “biker” style—beach cruising in sneakers, in other words, as opposed to black leathers—and building a custom bike that will make an impact, so that when he rides by, people will ask, “What is that?” He says he’s found a heaven in Southern California: He can ride in the casual clothes he prefers, the weather is great, and parts are far easier to come by.
So, what’s next? Taking a page from his former employer, the late Soichiro Honda, Chica says what impressed him most is that all of Honda’s milestone products were surprises. “I like that spirit, to surprise each time.” So far, he seems to have succeeded.
|Bike Name:||Rat Bike Knuckle Street Tracker||Black Invader|
|Base Machine:||Special Construction||1999 Special Construction|
|Owner/Designer/Builder:||Chica Custom Cycles 7522 Slater Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92647||Chica Custom Cycles 7522 Slater Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92647|
|Paint and Chrome|
|Molding:||n/a||Burke Custom Paint|
|Painter:||High Tech Coatings||Burke Custom Paint, High Tech Coatings|
|Displacement:||80 cu. in.||74 cu. in.|
|Heads:||Flat Head Power||H-D|
|Valves:||Flat Head Power||H-D|
|Lifters:||Flat Head Power||H-D|
|Carb:||Linkert||Rivera SU Eliminator|
|Air cleaner:||Swap Meet||Rivera|
|Make:||H-D||Chrome Specialties ratchet top|
|Primary drive:||H-D Chain||Rivera open|
|Make:||Tedd Cycle Inc.||1999|
|Make:||Tedd Cycle Inc.||Tedd Cycle Inc.|
|Wheel:||Star hub spoked||Chica|
|Tire size:||4.00 x 18||120/70-16|
|Brake:||Drum||PM caliper, Chica rotor|
|Wheel:||Star hub spoked||Chica|
|Tire size:||4.00 x 18||140/80-16|
|Brake:||Drum||PM caliper, Invader rotor|
|Grips:||Tedd Cycle Inc.||H-D|
|Rear fender:||Chica||H-D, modified by Chica|
|Taillight:||CSI||H-D, 1930s old style|
|Electrics:||Chica||H-D, modified by Chica|