Mitsuhiro Kiyonaga - Kiyo’s Garage
By now everyone has probably heard about the double engine Honda called “Gekko” that won Born Free 8 this year. The same bike shortly after doing 155mph at Bonneville Speed week then 173mph on El Mirage dry lake. It wasn’t so much of a shock that Kiyo could build something that would win Bon Free. He has been building amazing machines year after year. Everyone knows it. This year however, he pushed it a little bit further. Racing a show bike is not uncommon but no other Born Free invited builder has ever taken that route.
When I first saw a glimpse of the twin engine Honda being built I knew he was going to win the. The Born Free show needed a bike like that to shake things up and Kiyo provided nothing less. Being a predominantly American iron event, it was hard to see a Japanese bike having a place on the podium. There has been Japanese bikes is the past but everyone knew knuckleheads and panheads reign supreme.
Kiyo grew up in an ocean side city south of Japan called Kumamoto. He said that the fist time he had a taste for motorcycle was at a theme park. He was nine years of age and they had mini bike rentals. “ I was hooked from the first time I turned the throttle” He went over and over again and didn’t want to quit. “ I couldn’t stop. I am still trying to get that same feeling on a bike. Every time.” Kiyo moved to the US in 2001 and started working at Garage Company for Yoshi. He spent 11 years working there. Built a lot of custom bikes. Mainly Harley’s that were sent to Japan.
In 2012, he went on his own and opened Kiyo’s Garage. He got married and his wife Kat left a marketing firm and joined him to help grow the business. Now, the business is smooth. He has clients from all over. I can personally say that Kiyo runs one of the most respected shops in LA. His knowledge on engines especially Harley’s is bar none.
The CB1620 Gekko (meaning Moon Light in Japanese) was something he had thought about building for along time now. Drawing inspiration from the old Vance & Hines double engine drag bikes from the 70’s. It was an idea that was too hard and expensive for him to execute until he was invited to build for Born Free 8. He didn’t want to build a customer bike so the guys at Born Free gave him the extra push he needed to build the double engine Honda. It took about 6 months to build. He said that everything was hard because he never did it before. “ I like doing different things. I want to push my skills and myself with a challenge.” The bike was build around two Honda 750 engines. “ I wanted to keep it mild. I want to keep racing it every year.” Most of the parts on the bike is either modified or built from scratch.
The forks are from a CBR600RR. The front wheel is from a KZ750 and the rear disc wheel is a vintage Performance Machine wheel. “ It is very light but very soft. It’s ok for racing but not for the street.” Both engines are running of a a set of ARD magnetos. The paint work is done by his friend Gen Love Ear Art in Japan. He does all Kiyo’s bikes. It gave the bike the final touch to set off the same kind of vibe Kiyo gives when you meet him. As we talked more about the bike and what wanted to build next he said “ I want to grow with the Gekko. At El Mirage I did a little over 173mph and the bike still had more to give. But I wasn’t ready.” He also said he kept the engine mild just for that reason. So that he knew when and where to squeeze more power out of the bike. He’s in no rush. A hopped up motor is the last thing on his list. I know he will be going much faster next year.
Kiyo and Kat ordered lunch and had me joined them. I was surprised. I had never had a builder buy me food before. They are genuinely one of the nicest people I have met and the perfect example of the subculture most outsiders think is filled with hipsters and hardcore biker snobs. “ The next bike challenge is in my head. I can’t say it but it will be very different. Totally different. I build bikes for the builders and not for the people. I wanted the builders to see that a cheap Honda could be great. Because it is different. That’s a custom bike. I hope some people understand.” Kiyonaga.