Kenzo by Death Machines of London
By Ross Sharp - 18 Nov 19
Death Machines of London burst onto the custom scene with a bang. Their Moto Guzzi Le Mans based Airtail was a crowd favourite at Bike Shed Paris 2016 and it was followed by Up Yours Copper, one of the more radical Triumph Bonnevilles we’ve seen. Then came Airforce, an aluminium clad homage to Giovanni Ravelli, a WW1 fighter pilot, motorcycle racer and co-founder of Moto Guzzi. And that’s the thing with DMOL projects - there’s always a pre-build story that stokes the imagination of the company’s founder, James Hilton. We wondered how DMOL would up the ante and produce a bike equal to, or better than it’s predecessors. And here's the retort - Kenzo, a 1977 Honda Goldwing. The bike was actually unveiled at Bike Shed London 2018 but it'd been a 7-day-a-week, midnight oil burning dash to complete the project in time which inevitably left the DMOL team less that 100% satisfied with the final result. So last winter it was stripped back and they started again. One of the main causes of discontentment was panel and component fit due to the combination of melding traditional techniques with sci-fi modernity. 3D scanning, CAD modelling, deposition printed and composite parts were accurate to the bucks and pre production forms, whereas the hand-beaten aluminium sections, although exquisitely crafted, simply looked different to the ultra precise robot-made panels and components. Now, after many many hours of remanufacture the team are content with the more cohesive end product. The segmented body draws inspiration from samurai body armour and the fork and headlight surround replicates a Katana sword. There's further Japanese combat influence throughout Kenzo - the Tsukamaki leather wrapping technique replaces regular handlebar grips and the amazingly intricate speedo was cast from an 18th century jewel box before being layered with a series of light diffusing film and a precision-etched nickel lattice outer bezel. The three dimensional depth and appearance of components floating while the needle indicates velocity is quite something.
This level of detail is something DMOL pride themselves on and there's always fancy tech included in their builds and the lighting on Kenzo is an area they're particularly proud of. Californian specialists Luminit fabricated the LED lights front and rear which utilise holographic diffusion film technology to refract the light (at 80 degrees if you must know) across machined lenses to produce a seamless, almost plasma-like glow.
Beneath all that imagination and engineering posturing is the venerable Goldwing, not the obvious choice for a tech strewn custom build but it works with the DMOL story and having four horizontally opposed cylinders juxtaposing the futuristic body ties James' vision together. The powerplant is effectively as new, the internals refreshed with the same exacting standards as the outer cases. DMOL's feather in the cap is Ray Petty Meccanica, one of the UK's leading Ducati specialists. Ray's workshop has been the backbone of DMOL builds from day one and his team has form when it comes to creating jaw-dropping custom work.
The 'wing's frame geometry was altered with gooseneck headstock section, added to increase the wheelbase by 100 mm while decreasing rake by 7 degrees for a lower, meaner stance. The basic twin shock rear suspension has been superseded by a cantilever system, controlled by Öhlins ACOU 60 shocks with specific Hagon supplied springs. The fork is also an Öhlins unit, with altered internals to cope with the Goldwing's heft and re-anodised to suit.
Ingenuity continues with the controls. For the last few years DMOL have been developing their own cable operated lever setup. The front brake used here is the latest iteration, Type R01. This machined stunner actuates a BMW master cylinder beneath the fuel cell and pumps radially mounted Brembo M4 calipers. There's also an uprated Brembo master cylinder on the rear. The hubs are stock but laced to new 18" rims with Avon Trail Rider tyres.
Kenzo is brought to life by tapping the RFID keyless fob onto the leather seat and a Motogadget M-Unit controlled wiring harness ensures the bike will be reliable and practical, and not just a show pony. Which is handy as it's available for sale.
Yet again the Death Machines crew have pushed themselves to try and produce a bike that's different to what's gone before and incorporated technology into what's 'supposed' to be the realm of traditional craftsmanship.
And as for the name Kenzo, no it's not a homage to the French fashion house. James Hilton explains; "In 1970, Honda Tadakatsu made a name for himself as one of Japan’s most revered samurai generals, winning against an enemy who outnumbered him 50 to 1 without so much as a punch being thrown, simply because they thought he was either insane, deadly, or both. Badass. In 1930, Kenzo Tada spent forty days travelling to Europe by rail and sea to take part in the Isle of Mann TT. He was the event's first Japanese racer. Also, badass. Then, in 1977, the Honda Motor Company popped out another Gold Wing GL1000 from its production line, which eventually found its way to us in 2018. So… Samurai. Kenzo. Goldwing."
"What’s important here is to not let details get in the way of a good story. Honda Tadakatsu, the samurai general, probably isn’t related to the Honda Motor Company family. And Kenzo Tada definitely didn’t ride a Honda in the 1930 TT. But we don’t care."
More information on owning this bike and to see previous DMOL builds check:
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Photography by Ivo Ivanov