A little Mad Max and a lot of BMW

MOBILITY/MOTORCYCLE: Hard, harder… the bike of Japanese customizer Shinya Kimura

BMW Motorrad presents the next SoulFuel bike.

The R 18 „The Wal“ by Shinya Kimura.

Unique, different and yet completely BMW R 18- that is „The Wal“, the latest creation of Japanese customizer Shinya Kimura. After Roland Sands and Dirk Oehlerking, Kimura is the third customizer to transform the R 18 into an extraordinary one-off for the „SoulFuel“ series. „SoulFuel“ is a collaboration between BMW Motorrad and selected customizers.

Until recently, Shinya Kimura has mainly worked on older motorcycles, but more and more the Japanese customizer is also dedicating himself to projects with modern machines.

„The Wal“ is one of them. The base is the R 18, powered by the latest and greatest engine I’ve ever worked on. It all started when I visited the BMW Motorrad R 18 development team in Germany. While there, I learned about the immeasurable passion and innovation that reigns at BMW Motorrad. Finally, in February 2021 in California, I then rode the production R 18 for a few hundred kilometers to get to know the character of the motorcycle. Together with many conversations, this ultimately led to my personal interpretation of the R 18, in which I used the entire spectrum of my activities as a customizer,“ says Shinya Kimura, recounting the initial phase of „The Wal“ project.

Kimura then began work in mid-February and „The Wal“ was already on its wheels by the end of June. „However, there were still some mechanical problems that kept me busy for another two weeks,“ Kimura continues.

Kimura’s motorcycles are created exclusively „hands-on

The master at work

Shinya Kimura’s craftsmanship can be aptly described by the term „hands-on“, because he has no sketches, drawings, blueprints or mockups during the build process. But there is a precise idea of what the customer, or in this case the customizer himself, wants.

„I built the R 18 entirely for myself. When I rode the stock R 18, I thought that maybe it would fit my stature and riding preferences better if I designed it with a fairing that was a little more front-oriented. I decided to keep the frame, wheels and tires, as well as suspension and brakes, because I didn’t feel the need to change them after riding it. In addition, I wanted my R 18 to be able to ride long distances while feeling and enjoying the legendary boxer engine. It was very important to me to preserve the two characters of the R 18 as I experienced them when riding it. Thanks to its massive engine, it is wild and of almost inexhaustible power on the one hand, yet completely docile on the other. Like a whale, in fact, hence the German animal name for this R 18, which for me is something like a „Sports Endurancer,“ explains Kimura.

The „Sports Endurancer“ is unmistakably evident in Kimura’s R 18 „The Wal“. This is ensured by a larger tank that is completely different from the original, an elongated, harmoniously rounded seat hump, and a half-shell fairing.

„I also moved the footpegs back about two inches to give more flexibility for the position of the legs. At the same time, I lowered the handlebar position and changed the seat to my liking. The seat pad was also designed by me and then handmade by BACKDROP Leathers in Japan. All together, it finally resulted in the very natural posture I like,“ Kimura continues.

The half-shell fairing houses two asymmetrically arranged headlights that almost look like eyes and, with a little imagination, actually give Kimura’s R 18 the appearance of a whale, along with a „set of teeth“ incorporated underneath. The color scheme and the roughly textured paint surface are also chosen to match the theme of „The Whale“. In short: „The Whale“ – an animal R 18. Powerful, mighty, but always good-natured.

„My favorite thing about my version of the R 18 is that I was able to change the style and seating position to my liking without destroying the excellent original functionality of the R 18. But drastically changing the seating position and adding my own style and taste was a big challenge in my interpretation of BMW Heritage. ,Plus, all these computerized systems and wiring were pretty new to me and I learned a lot,“ Kimura says, pleased with the result of his work.


Handlebars: 8 inches narrower, 6 inches lower.
Fuel Tank: Made longer to move the seating position rearward and gain additional fuel capacity of approximately 1 gallon for longer rides.
Seat pad designed by Kimura himself, handmade by BACKDROP Leathers in Japan in bucket style for more buttock support.
Seat in a design that creates a natural flow from the seat cushion and leads to the round tail light.
Half-shell fairing for comfortable handling at high speed.
Design of the side covers so that they do not destroy the look of the original frame.
Special painting in the form of bronze powder coating, having previously hammered the components to give texture to the surface.
After Kimura finished all the body work, he decided to keep the classic symbolic shape of the stock exhaust system, but paint it in black.
The King of Customizing: Shinya Kimura.
Born and raised in a family that ran a small rivet factory in downtown Tokyo, Shinya Kimura was always surrounded by the smell of steel and oil and the sound of machinery and metals. Perhaps that’s why, after studying entomology, Kimura decided to return to what felt most natural to him: tinkering in his workshop and building things out of various metals.

Kimura, the father of the so-called „Zero Style“ motorcycle, began his career as a customizer in Japan at Zero Engineering, a company he founded in 1992. He rose to international prominence back during the 1990s when his custom Harley-Davidson „Samurai Chopper“ was created. It followed his signature wabi-sabi influenced style.

Seeking new inspiration, Kimura later moved to Azusa, California, where he founded his own independent company, Chabott Engineering, in 2006. Today, the sought-after customizer builds just a handful of bikes a year – exclusively for customers with whom he feels a mutual understanding and no time pressure. His great passion that drives him: „Passion for all the motorcycles that were born into this world“, as he says himself. While working on „The Wal“ project, he discovered new things every day that stimulated and motivated him. Looking back, he says, „I appreciate BMW Motorrad and all the people who supported me in this project. It was such a valuable and impressive experience for me.“

The photo series for the article in German:




BRAND: Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft

virtualdesignmagazine Michael Hiller


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