Zero Engineering’s Custom Choppers Are True Old-School Cool

Zero Engineering custom motorcycles article highlights:

  • Founded by renowned builder Shinya Kimura, Japanese company Zero Engineering builds minimalist custom choppers and bobbers, often with Harley-Davidson V-twins
  • In addition to one-off bikes, it also has some ‘production’ models; in the US, it has the hardtail Type 5 and 6 as well as the Type 9, which has a rear monoshock
  • Although annual production is limited, a $30,000 starting price is reasonable for a custom motorcycle of this quality and engineering

Classic style without the vintage tech hassles—it’s why retro motorcycles are so popular these days. Yet no matter how well they ape the look, modern bikes can’t fully capture the slim, spare vibes of their ancestors. Or at least, most can’t. But some builders and shops, such as Italy’s Magni Italia, can still satisfy those with old-school itches. And if you daydream of riding a custom chopper that could’ve come from the 1950s, Zero Engineering has your fix.

Zero Engineering motorcycles reimagine vintage American style via brand-new Japanese artisanship

A red-and-gold Zero Engineering Type 6 Iron Man replica on a driveway
Zero Engineering Type 6 Iron Man replica | Bonhams

In addition to several international OEMs, Japan is also the birthplace of several custom motorcycle styles, two of which have recently risen to worldwide prominence. One is brat style, named after founder Go Takamine’s first shop. The other is zero style, which similarly takes its name from founder Shinya Kimura’s shop, Zero Engineering. And no, there’s no relation to the electric motorcycle company Zero.

Established in 1992 in Aichi, Japan, Zero Engineering’s early builds featured simple lines that emphasized the engine and incorporated plenty of patina. With Kimura no longer involved, its latest custom motorcycles aren’t as heavily patinaed. However, they remain studies in simplicity.

Their long, low gooseneck frames still put the engine, which is usually some kind of Harley-Davidson V-twin, on full display. And rather than acres of chrome or flashy paint, Zero’s custom choppers instead celebrate “old-school aesthetics and impeccable build quality,” Bike Exif says. If you looked at one of these bikes, you’d swear someone had rolled it straight out of the 1950s. Or perhaps earlier.

But Zero Engineering’s motorcycles aren’t restomodded classics. Instead, like Janus, the company takes inspiration from the past but refines it with modern eyes and tools. And when new-school materials meet old-school style, something special happens. Or rather, several special things happen.

No matter the Type, a Zero Engineering custom chopper has classic looks and a modern V-twin soundtrack

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Although Zero Engineering still makes one-off custom motorcycles, it also has a series of ‘mass-produced’ choppers and bobbers. Though in this case, ‘mass-produced’ means an annual production of roughly 100 bikes for the US market. And because buyers can spec everything down to the footpeg metal, the chances of seeing two identical Zero bikes in the same place are virtually nil.

Zero Engineering splits these ‘volume’ models into Types. The Type 5 and 6 are the closest things to ‘traditional’ zero style bikes, what with their hardtail gooseneck frames, sprung seats, and springer forks. They have carbureted air-cooled Harley-Davidson 1.6-liter V-twins, too. The Type 6 has a Shovelhead with a kickstarter and electric starter while the Type 5 has the Sportster’s Evolution engine.

But while those forks look antique, Zero designed them with modern handling and disc brakes in mind. In addition, the forks have Minebea bearings, the same kind many Formula One cars use. Also, though both the Type 5 has a Harley-Davidson five-speed manual, the Open Primary version has a very un-Harley-like dry clutch. Plus, while the Type 6 has a Harley engine, it has a Baker six-speed manual. And with 552-lb curb weights, they’re actually lighter than the lightest Sportster, the Iron 883.

However, if you want something a little comfier and more advanced that still looks vintage, Zero Engineering has the Type 9. While it looks like a hardtail, the custom chopper really has a four-link monoshock arrangement in the back, BE explains. Changing the rear also required reworking the entire frame and springer forks. But the resulting smooth ride and more controllable handling were worth the effort. And while the Type 9 comes standard with a 1.6-liter S&S Evo V-twin, the shop offers up to a 2.0-liter version.

From Tony Stark’s garage to yours: how much do these bikes cost?

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Admittedly, like many bobbers and choppers, Zero Engineering motorcycles aren’t exactly touring bikes. Plus, the Type 6’s fuel tank doesn’t even hold two gallons, Bonhams notes. But cruising around town or blasting down the freeway, there aren’t many bikes that look cooler. And don’t just take our word for it: take Tony Stark’s word.

If you watch the original Iron Man movie, you’ll notice Tony Stark’s workshop/garage has several sweet rides parked inside. In addition to some supercars and hot rods, there are a few motorcycles in there. And one of those is a custom-painted Zero Engineering Type 6, Bonhams reports. But while there’s no indication that Robert Downey, Jr. owns that bike, Brad Pitt does own a Zero Engineering chopper IRL.

If you want to get your own, it won’t be easy. On the plus side, Zero Engineering has a dedicated US workshop in Las Vegas. However, as noted earlier, it only builds about 100 motorcycles annually for US buyers. They’re not that expensive, though: builds start at roughly $30,000. For a hand-built custom chopper or bobber, that’s not bad.

So, who wants some old-school style?

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