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Samurai Type 5 first ride road test

It is arguably that you cannot put a price on coolness, but could the £27k Samurai Type 5 cruiser be the answer

Can you buy cool? It’s a valid question. Every time I try to be cool I mess it up. I trip over my own feet, blow smoke in my eyes or dribble beer down my chin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no geek, but if you have to try then you’ll never really nail the whole Fonzie thing. The Samurai Type 5 doesn’t try to be cool, it just is. As cool as turn-key bikes come. A hard-tailed, cryogenic Steve McQueen on wheels. The one you see here is the only one in Europe. And for the next few days it’s mine. Can it pull off the impossible and make me cool?

The by-product of Japanese custom style gone commercial, the Type 5 is one of a range of bikes available from Zero engineering in Kariya city, Japan. For the team at Zero, picture the Teutuls of American Chopper fame only Japanese and with taste. One hundred staff hammer, tinker and fettle every bike into life by hand; no robots, no production lines, no deadlines and no fly-on-the-wall camera crew. The Samurai name was chosen to suggest the unique appeal of a beautiful vintage weapon. Trying to take in the Type 5 for the first time, swords are the last thing on my mind. Instead I blow smoke in my eyes and nearly trip over my own feet. Let’s be clear about this – whether you ‘get’ customs or not, the thigh-high, impossibly delicate Type 5 looks mint.

I can barely sleep the night before I pick it up. I lay out my carefully considered clothing at the foot of my bed like some excited school kid. I doubt Brad Pitt does the same prior to riding his Samurai (apparently he owns two) but I really wanted to do the thing justice. And then of course I realise I could have worn snow shoes and a pink shower cap; on a Type 5 there’s really only one star.

£27,000 – and yet there’s nothing to a Type 5; rigid tail, no fuss, springer forks and full-fat Avon Coker-style tyres. Nothing tries hard except the rider. At just 680mm from ass to grass, the Type 5 is low and no messin’ – you don’t so much cock a leg as lift your foot over the seat. And that’s after you’ve stood for at least 10 minutes looking at the details. Prod the pinhead starter and, for all its wild styling, it’s a pretty muted and familiar noise that greets you, the lumpy duff-duffing of a boggo Harley Evo lump. So rigid is the bike that, despite the vibration, nothing rattles.

This thing hasn’t been built, it’s been crafted. Getting off the kerb and onto the road is the first reality check; a steering lock shocker. I push and pull like the bike’s a Bowman’s saw just to get it nearly pointing in the right direction, wobbling, swearing and generally looking like a pillock in my helmet and shades. Brad probably gets somebody to do that bit for him. I wonder if he scorched his right calf the instant he got on. I managed it within seconds.

I don’t have the luxury of taking time to get used to this £27,000 machine – I can’t afford a little mishap since nothing will be cheap or easy to repair. Now I’m pointing in the right direction things get easier. An easy-to-use clutch and standard Harley-Davidson gearbox help get things moving. You sit so low that for a mile or two you have to remind yourself you’re on something incredibly expensive, not pinging up the road on a Monkey bike.

Crashing along, it doesn’t take long to realise that all the suspension travel is stashed in the springs of the seat and the sidewalls of the tyres, and that’s it – no hidden shock or funky Buell-style bouncy stuff. The Type 5 is pure sixties style. If you see a pothole you ride round it or you get off and walk. Once you’ve mashed your kidneys over one cats eye you learn never to hit another as long as you live.

Alternatives

  • Krazyhorse custom: Krazyhorse can build you a bike to your spec and design requirements but you’ll have to pay up to £40,000 for a showstopper.
  • Honda Rune: The Rune’s a Goldwingpowered monster, sounds like a V8, looks incredible and will work when you want it to. Expect to pay around £15k
  • Build your own: Break out the welder and tools and make your own. It’ll be exactly how you want it but your wife will leave you, you’ll be skint forever and there’s a good chance you’ll die the first time you ride it.

Putting a price on cool

Blatting past big windows I can’t help looking at the bike rather than the road. The view between the handlebars is ace, with a tiny speedo and the gorgeous pair of fork tops, all proud spring and obvious function. Then there’s the brass surround for the warning lights that looks pinched straight off a Scott Flying Squirrel.

The riding experience is a bizarre cocktail of contradictions. The ride quality feels distinctly 1959 as you carefully plot a path around anything that might trouble the rigid frame. But then when you gas it the throttle brings in silky-smooth 2009 power. Then you dial in some equally contemporary front brake, only to have the dive soaked up sweetly by classic-style springer forks as you pull up for a red light.

While it’s completely normal to have your senses poked when you ride, you rarely get to smell a new bike. The Type 5 smells of fuel and oil and heat within a few miles, and not in a bad way. You’ll love it like you love two-stroke on the air. Whenever your speed drops off you’re treated to another waft of Japanese-blend mechanical Brut for men. Riding in town I kind of expected the bike to draw a crowd. After all the thing is a £27k lapdance – how could it do anything other than draw admiration?

Weird then that it doesn’t really happen. I’ve had more looks on an £8000 Victory, which is of course Samurai lesson number two – the truly cool don’t care whether anyone’s looking. It goes completely against the typical Harley-Davidson grain of choosing a bike that makes people stop and stare. After all, if you can’t ride a bike fast you might as well ride one that’s so slow everyone sees you. For 99% of people the Type 5 is under their radar; invisible. It’s so low some just assume it’s a small-capacity cruiser.

When you’re sat looking up at car drivers rather than looking down on them it’s easier to gauge people’s reaction. Most just look it up and down and leave it at that. Like seeing a celebrity in a supermarket, it’s up to you how you react to bikes like the Type 5 – play it cool or scream and chase it for an autograph – most people do a great job of being completely uninterested. The sacrifice is worth it for the one person who, just every now and then, knows what they’re looking at and can’t conceal their child-like delight, tripping over themselves for a better look. I swear to God if I was on a commission I could have sold three or four Type 5s to random rich bikers right there in Chinatown. They can’t stop asking me questions and when I hit them with the price they don’t flinch – the price serves only to pique their interest further.

Which brings us to The Big Question – can any bike be worth this much money when a Honda CBF600 is better in every quantifiable way? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes. I’ve never ridden a bike so unique, one whose every detail has been so considered; never one that’s made me smile so much without having to stick the thing on its back wheel first. And never one as cool. Trite, introverted and pig headed of me perhaps; but undeniably true.

Where does the cool come from?

  • Fuel tank: A claimed 8 litres, you’ll have to get used to topping it up whenever you get the chance. I was so nervous of running dry my average tankful was a comedy £2.25. Hahaha!
  • Engine: 1380cc Evo lump provides trouble-free mechanicals and plenty of power. Easy to tune and make your own. Desperately needs open pipes.
  • Frame: A gooseneck-style rigid, designed and built in-house at Zero. Every one is handbuilt. A rear shock is available but it ruins the look.

Zero Engineering is run by philosophical bike builder Shinya Kimura, for an insight in to his genius watch this documentary short.

Samurai Type 5 Specifications

Price: £27,000
Top speed:
N/A Engine: 96ci, Evo Style (S&S) v-twin
Bore & stroke: 101.6 x 114.3 mm Compression ratio: 10.1:1
Frame: Original Rigid Goose Neck
Front suspension: 74 Springer Rear suspension: hardtail
Front brake: Single disc. HD 1-Piston Rear brake: Single disc. Wilwood 2-P
Dry weight: 229.5 kg Seat height: 686 mm Fuel capacity: 7.94 litres
Colour options: Black, SmokeBlue/Black, Yamabuki/Black