Feature: Heiwa Motorcycles BMW R NineT Custom | Practical Motoring

Words: Mike Ryan and Tadashi Kohno       

Photos: Hiromitsu Yasui

Following the R nineT custom project of 2014, BMW Motorrad turned to Japan again, specifically Heiwa Motorcycle in Hiroshima, when they wanted a new take on the R nineT Scrambler.

If you remember the quartet of BMW builds created back then, as well as the wild pair of K 1600GTL-based customs produced by Hot Dock Custom Cycles and Ken’s Factory that followed in 2015, you’ll know Japanese creativity is second to none, so the pressure was on Heiwa to maintain that standard.

Hundreds from Hiroshima

Founded in 2005, Heiwa Motorcycle is the result of Kengo Kimura’s passion for customising, which stretches back to when he was a service mechanic at a new bike dealership and spent his spare time making custom parts for older British motorcycles.

Kengo (who’s no relation to Shinya Kimura, in case you were wondering) has a particular passion for British bikes, which is reflected in the BSAs, Triumphs and Nortons he’s built and owned over the years. A customised Norton Model 50 (a 350cc version of the Model 18) is his regular ride, with the staff at Heiwa M/C also favouring British bikes.

That being said, there are Harleys, a Buell and a broad spread of Japanese bikes  amongst the more than one hundred customs that have been produced by Heiwa since it the business started. Of the latter, Yamaha SR400s feature prominently, as do CB Hondas and W650 Kawasakis. There are also models largely unknown here, like the Honda FTR223 and Kawasaki 250TR.

Kengo calls Heiwa M/C a “country custom shop”, but he’s underplaying it a bit, we reckon. Hiroshima isn’t exactly rural by Australian standards and Heiwa aren’t exactly bumpkins, either, having won trophies at numerous high-profile custom shows, including the ‘Best of Show’ motorcycle at  the 2016 Yokohama Hot Rod & Custom Show and the ‘Best of Euro’ bike award at the same event for four consecutive years from 2011.

Looking through Heiwa’s past builds, the surprising thing is that there are no BMWs; maybe that’s why BMW Motorrad Japan tapped Kengo in September, 2016, to produce an R nineT Scrambler custom – perhaps they wanted a new vision, untainted by past experience.

“We had never customized a BMW, and had never owned one either,” Kengo admitted. “So before beginning customization, I tried to find as many opportunities to ride the R nineT Scrambler as I could, in order to learn about what kind of bike it is.”

With his history in customising singles and parallel twins, the BMW’s flat twin was a challenge and Kengo said that, initially, something felt ‘off’ about the strong presence of the engine, but after riding the R nineT Scrambler, he started to realize the engine was one of the bike’s best points, which would influence his treatment of the build.

“I rode the R nineT Scrambler to work, through town, and did some touring. The engine has a rather flat torque curve, making it easy to handle, and surprisingly light. Controls are light, and it is simply easy to ride. I had no problem keeping up with friends who ride four-cylinder Japanese bikes when touring.”

Scrambler for the Street

So, after a couple of months of riding and getting to know the R nineT Scrambler, Kengo started the actual build in December, 2016.

While Heiwa devote one build each year to something more elaborate and more “show” than “go”, the rest of their creations are made to be ridden and that mantra was applied to the R nineT Scrambler project.

“We focused on a feeling of street riding – normal, everyday riding,” Kengo explained.

“What I wanted to express with the R nineT Scrambler was not that this was a completely unique bike, but a bike with possibilities, one that new customers would want to ride, and maybe base their (own) bike on with a few modifications.”

Kengo did go above and beyond with this build, though, starting with the creation of creating an entirely new rear frame section, the aim being to lower the seat height and make the bike look more “street” than “scrambler”.

The swingarm pivot points and engine mounts are the same, but the new frame layout results in a seat line that’s not only horizontal, but also much lower than the factory version. Kengo calls it a “linear tone”  which makes the conversion sound simple, but it’s only when you see the Heiwa creation alongside a factory R nineT Scrambler that you understand how substantial that transformation of the back end actually is.

A custom-made airbox occupies most of the space in the new “triangle” created by the custom rear frame, with a compact lithium battery and repositioned electrics also residing in this space. The cover plates are custom-made, too.

Another notable change is the fuel sub-tank slung under the seat on the near side, which we’ll get to shortly.

Boxer Clever

When Kengo said he found the R nineT Scrambler’s boxer twin to be one of its best features, it explains why he trimmed down much of what surrounded it to enhance its presence. The finished build is no mere engine and wheels, though. The incorporation of the custom parts, like the one-off solo seat and other touches, create  what is arguably a very cohesive design.

The internals for the 1170cc engine were left unaltered, but that stylish 2-into-2 exhaust system is Heiwa’s own work, as is the compact, hand-beaten fuel tank that sits atop the frame and carries much less visual bulk than the factory tank. That tank is SMALL, though; too small, in fact, to take the factory fuel pump and still hold enough fuel to be practical, so Kengo came up with a clever solution.

“The fuel pump was moved to a new sub-tank below the seat, in order to make the bike easy to use on a daily basis, and to ensure sufficient tank capacity. . . to a certain degree,” Kengo explained.

That idea also gave him greater freedom to work with the shape and size of the main tank. While he’s applied the same idea to past SR400 custom builds, Kengo said that producing the sub-tank for this BMW project was far from easy: “I had to remake the sub-tank a number of times in order to mix a sufficient volume where the fuel pump would function, and a simple finish on the body.”

Simplification

Like the engine, the front and rear suspension are the factory BMW units, as are other mechanical and chassis parts like the gearbox, shaft drive, single-sided swingarm, headstem and triple trees.

The wheels are spoked units from the R nineT Scrambler accessories catalogue – 19-inch front and 17-inch rear – shod with Metzeler Karoo 3 tyres in this instance. The factory ABS remains, as do the standard BMW brake discs and Brembo calipers. The rear brake master cylinder is factory, too, but the front master cylinder has been replaced with a Grimeca unit.

Heiwa’s goal of making the control centre more compact meant the factory handlebars and switchgear was dropped for a simple 7/8-inch tube bar, hand-made by Heiwa, that carries the least amount of garnish possible. The multi-function speedo has been relocated to the near side of the engine, while two basic switches on the handlebar carry the engine starter and indicator controls. Custom levers, a simple mirror on the off side and old-school gum grips add to the retro look.

That compact headlight is actually a Lucas automotive foglamp, rotated 90 degrees and placed in a housing that Heiwa produce themselves using aluminium sand casting. The tail light is another Heiwa custom creation, made using the same casting process.

Pegs and pedals are the BMW factory units, but the brackets holding them are Heiwa’s own and unique to this bike.

Indicators are present, but their small size and smoked lenses make them virtually invisible. Finally, Kengo’s metalworking skills also extended to the stubby front and rear guards.

Paint and Presentation

A major part of this creation’s old-school appearance is the paint. Laid down by Heiwa associate Six Shooter, the grey/cream shade is accentuated by black coachlines and a subtle, monotone BMW roundel on the fuel tank. Also on the tank is a Heiwa logo, with its mother-of-pearl effect adding to the vintage look. If you saw this tank without the BMW graphic, you’d swear it was off a long-lost Japanese motorcycle brand from the 1950s or ’60s.

Upon completion of this build, Kengo said he drew a lot of good feedback: “Regular customers who saw the finished bike commented on how it had the signature ‘Heiwa look’,” Kengo laughed. “I don’t know which parts have our signature look, but I did my best to create lines that I thought looked cool, and I’m satisfied with the results.”

The finished bike was shipped to Germany for the BMW Motorrad Days event at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in July, 2017, then went back to Japan for both the Osaka and Tokyo Motorcycle Shows in March, 2018.

Kengo calls this creation the ‘Heiwa R nineT Scrambler #001’ which suggests more customs based on this model are to come. If that’s the case, we’re looking forward to seeing numbers #002, #003 and beyond!

Find out more about Heiwa Motorcycle at: heiwa-mc.jp.

Thanks to Tadashi Kohno for additional assistance with this article.



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