Espresso With Menacing Ayu.
Shinya Kimura's secret weapon.
Ayumi Yamakita was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan and relocated to California by herself and went to a boarding school in Northern California when she was 12 years old.
She started noticing motorcycles in high school and rode occasionally on the back of her friends’ sport bikes. She preferred Triumphs, BSAs, and the Yamaha SR500 by appearance and always wanted to ride one herself some day. By her mid 20s she got her motorcycle license and started riding small bikes like the Honda Rebel, Kawasaki KZ200, etc. until she gained skills and confidence. She and custom bike builder Shinya Kimura have been been running their workshop together since 2006.
I met Ayu in their workshop along Foothill Boulevard in Azusa, California on the day of Paul d’Orléans’ Custom Revolution exhibit launch at the Petersen Museum in April 2018. Ayu and Shinya led a ragtag group — including David Borras and John McInnis — on a thrilling canyon ride in the San Gabriel mountains before leading us parade style to downtown Los Angeles.
If you follow Shinya’s progress and exploits on Instagram, it’s Ayu you need to thank for chronicling their life together (2,500-plus posts and counting), which includes long days and nights of fabrication, problem solving and plenty of riding.
Q: Tell me about your educational and working background.
I studied geology but ended up working with Shinya. Actually, I used to interview people here in southern California and wrote articles for Japanese magazines mainly about automobiles and some culture stuff.
Q: When and how did you meet Shinya?
I don't remember exactly when, but I met Shinya about 16, 17 years ago when he was still in Japan but brought his bikes to some motorcycle shows in the United States. I had been admiring his work and went to a show to see them in person and met him there. We became friends and went to several shows together. I don't remember which show was the one we first met, though.
Q: Describe a typical day at Chabott Engineering for you.
First thing in the morning I make some espresso for Shinya and myself with pretty old school equipment. I take photos and go for a ride or two and do some office work if there is any. I stay until Shinya finishes his day and clean the shop so that he can start with a fresh feeling the next day.
He is a neat guy and he cleans his tools and machines very well, but I like to make our shop cleaner at the end of the day anyway. My job here is to provide Shinya the best environment possible for him to do whatever he likes because I simply love what he does.
It sounds like self-sacrificing, but it's not. I'm doing this because I'm good at it and Shinya lets me do whatever I want to do and he supports me 100% to make it happen, so we are pretty much even.
Q: Where in the world have you traveled with Shinya?
Before this pandemic, we traveled a lot. We went to Sardinia, Biarritz, Beijing, Verona, Bangkok, Jog Jakarta, Munich, Milano, and of course, Tokyo.
Q: Where did the social media name 'menacing ayu' come from?
When people were still blogging — way before social media was born — I started posting pictures I took of Shinya and his building process on our blog. I just came up with the name and called myself ‘menacing ayu’ because Shinya often tells me “you are a menace!”
Sometimes people recognize me and say “you don't look menacing; why do you call yourself ‘menacing ayu’?” and Shinya always mutters under his breath “oh, she is” by my side.
Q: When did you start publishing social posts of Shinya and his building process?
It was around 2008, 2009. I started posting pictures of Shinya and wrote about trivial things on our blog also. The reason I started was before that, people could only see the still pictures of Shinya’s finished bikes in magazines or on websites, but never the process or in video. I thought it would tell how much Shinya devoted to building a bike and how much he loved motorcycles and riding them.
Q: Tell me about your current favorite motorcycle and automobile.
My current favorite motorcycle is of course my orange 1953 Triumph Thunderbird, and my favorite automobile is my 1966 Plymouth Valiant.
Q: What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on you?
Shinya and I already knew and had very solid ideas of what we loved, what we wanted to do and what we didn't need in our lives so we've already been living a very simple life before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I felt more realistic that nothing should be taken for granted and how important it is to be healthy in order to do the things I like.
During the first three months of the California stay at home order, we didn't ride at all. After the order was lifted, we were able to ride and it still felt good when we are riding but it's not the same as before. This is the biggest impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on me.
Q: Where do you and Shinya hope to ride this year?
We’d love to ride in other states like Utah or in other countries like before, but we won’t ask too much. Anywhere is fine. We just want to ride freely without boundaries.