Speedtractor vs Samezu Speedtractor vs Samezu

Getting your custom ride registered in Japan (shakken) presents a unique series of challenges. In a country with automotive manufacture and vehicle ‘consumption’ as a corner stone of its financial stability, the difference in level of difficulty in registering an up to five year old bike versus a 20 plus year old bike (with modifications) is vast, with it often appearing as being in everyone’s best interests but your own to have your aging machine off the road so you’ll go and line up for shiny new Honda.

With a burgeoning auto maintenance industry to also support, the urban myth going around is that it is all just far too complicated for Joe Public to handle for themselves, seeing most people pay the equivalent of US$600 dollars or more for having someone else go stand in line and run the gauntlet to register anything over 250cc.

To muddy the waters even more is Japan’s heightened view that bureaucratic time wasting equals thoroughness, one that would do any government clerk the world over proud, resulting in a complex combination of largely benign but mandatory paperwork. In addition, at the Tokyo Samezu registration center they know important rider fitness is to on-bike performance and have kindly spread the process out over four buildings and 26000 square meters of land, Speedtractor forgot the stepometer on this last visit but suffice to say there was enough sweaty trekking over hot bitumen to see us go home a few kilos lighter for our troubles.

Our date with Samezu’s finest set we then got to drawing straws to see who would be the hapless soul to mount a full frontal attack on this impenetrable fortress in the name of freedom (or at least freedom to register custom bikes).

The various documentation required is long and inventively titled, the steps convoluted (what do you mean you haven’t got the 2005 council parking receipt from the former owner, perhaps you can track them down and ask for it ?) and honestly far too dry a read to post here. For those looking to follow our footsteps, the process and lingo is well documented on several sites including Tokyo Riders.

What this visit did provide was proof that your average rider can perform their own shakken and even far more interesting was a chance to chat to one of the inspectors (who remains anonymous) about some of the modifications which make it through and some that don’t. So here’s the rub:

Frame: the loop from headstock around motor to swing arm pivot is sacred ground, anything more than cosmetic treatment or engineered strengthening of key points without changing frame geometry, is a no go. The sub frame, however, is open territory for modification so long as it is structurally sound and does not interfere with the running of the bike. So hand us the rear frame loop, ourTIG trigger fingers are itching to go.

We’ve had guys measure our wheel base before to check it against the paperwork but it has been rare so our bet is unless you’re sporting 3 foot fork extensions or a hill climber style stretched rear swing arm (neither really Speed tractors bag) it’ll probably be ok.

Brakes: as long as it matches the original item in design intent ( drum > drum or disc > disc ) and meets the 60kph brake machine test, anything goes. A tasty Brembo caliper upgrade on machined alloy spacers or Grimeca drums the size of dinner plates? be our guest. Front and rear brake light switches are also a good idea. Braided lines also pass without commment.

Suspension: if it is still looking roughly like it could have come from the factor (conventional forks, girder, leading link) then it really only has to be there in spirit. We have yet to take a rigid conversion so we’ll let you know more once we’ve tried it and expect home grown hub centre steering set ups or similar to attract alittle more attention.

Horn, winkers and rear lighting: if you’ve got them, you’re in business, and while there is probably a legal requirement on width, height, brightness, in the various machines we’ve offered up the only knock back we’ve had is on blown bulbs. We would recommend you don’t present something with “not for road use” in plain view however, as that would just be asking for it.

Front lighting: Position check and brightness of 150 (lumens?) seem to be the magic number. We had one of our XR’s knocked back with a dim 30 watt incandescent bulb ( really, you’d have struggled to read by the light it threw) but quick replacement with a halogen 35 watt bulb saw 160 plus and the all ok.

Tip: directly opposite the center is a mechanic with the same machine who, for under 2000 yen, will let you test until you get it up to par. Note for twin or more headlights – you will most likely be requested to test each individual headlight by taping paper over all but the one testing so the automated machinery can check brightness and alignment without getting confused.

Exhaust: Rumors by your friendly local mechanic is that you need to have the standard exhaust fitted (of which he always seems to have one available that he’ll put on for the day for a hefty fee). it might be the rule but in practice we’ve put through several bikes with aftermarket items without issue. The sound meter is waived and as long as they didn’t split eardrums you’re ok (though the 750 Kawasaki with the Moriwaki pipe was actually painful but still got the thumbs up after some minor discussions, so go figure). On our older bikes we have yet to see anything resembling an emission test to be performed, that said, we’ve got a big bore 70’s two stroke which runs premix on the drawing board so this may test the friendship.

Wheels and tyres: Tread depth is obvious, but beyond that it seems anything short of sand paddles is ok (we’ve seen plenty of guys like us running through with Firestones, Cokers, K 180’s and ribbed vintage rubber). We’ve had no problems with bikes going up or down a few inches on the rim diameter either, just think ahead about how any changes in rolling diameter is going to make your speedo perform when you have to accelerate to an indicated 60kmh on the rollers.


A few things you never knew you’d need:

Mirrors, two please, and yes, they should be facing rearward though we’ve not seen a test for actual visibility.

Seat, if you want your machine to be rated to take a pillion you’ll be needing that funky strap or grab rails. There is no criteria for the strap that we know of though as long as it doesn’t come off when they give it a good tug. How being rated for single rider impacts the bike in reality we are yet to learn.

Rear reflector, you’ll need a natty little red reflector somewhere on the rear. We suggest one of the 1300 yen jobbies that bolt on with your number plate. It surprising how few kms they take to “fall off” after inspection but are easy to replace before the next time around.

Gear selection marking, you’ll need to have the 1 N 2 3 4 5 6 shown next to your gear selector lever. If you haven’t got it cast into your engine cases then go for little stick on numbers (or even a black marker neatly hand written as we have successfully done in desperation!).

Truth be told, we’ve now done it more than a couple of times and in our experience all bar one of the staff was actually very helpful and so long as you have the right paperwork, the process is tedious but not complex. The total cost for 2 years registration and mandatory insurance gets up around around 20000 yen (for a 750cc) and as little as 2 hours of your time on a quiet day assuming no fails.

Know anything or registering your ride inJapanthat we’ve missed ? let us know.

Disclaimer: This post offers anecdotal information only and is not offered as legal advise. The registration and roadworthiness rules of any country are beyond our control and the following does not constitute professional advice on road worthiness. Owners are suggested to contact their local authority to confirm applicable design regulations and roadworthiness criteria.