Starry-eyed Americans fortunate enough to attend Mooneyes' Hot Rod Custom Show in Yokohama every December are generally effusive regarding the bikes on display at this world-class event, and for good reason. For two decades, Mooneyes has been the greatest bike show on earth. Cool as the customs at this motorized fashion fest may be, it's the hand-built street machines that flood into Yokohama's parking lot that steal the show in my book.
Until Born Free organizers Grant Peterson and Mike Davis fine-tuned Shige-san's master plan for US consumption, Mooneyes was the hippest brodown in bikerdom. Today Born Free trumps Yokohama by a wide margin on both volume of two-wheeled porn and classic chopper style in general. To my slightly jaundiced eye, the custom creations at Born Free are more innovative and interesting than their Nipponese counterparts. While Japanese builders appear to have cornered the market on barn-built patina, that aesthetic exudes a certain prefabrication that compromises honesty and belies the style. You can't really fake patina, can you? Some Japanese builders are trying, and it comes off rather sad.
Fortunately, the bikes Japanese chopper freaks actually ride exude an essence that screams "made in Japan." I've never understood any person's compulsion to dress like James Dean or Easy E, so Japan's obsession with American greaser and West Coast barrio culture seems creepy and contrived. That being said, a majority of the period-correct peacocks who parade into Mooneyes' parking lot in bomber jackets, carefully cuffed 501s and striped prison pants are riding some of the coolest old Harleys, twisted JDM singles, shaft drive V-twins and chopped mini bikes I've ever seen.
Next week we'll take it indoors with bike and car features from the land of the rising sun. Today, please enjoy these grainy pics from the the 21st annual Mooneyes Custom Hot Rod Show. I tried to stay focused and well lit—honest I did—but the jelly-jar sized sake shots Grant Peterson introduced me at the pre-party Saturday night ruined my vision and work ethic by Sunday. My photos from inside the Mooneyes show are much better. I promise.