MOTORCYCLE CLUBS OF JAPAN

When I arranged to meet Shawn McHugh at his penthouse in Los Angeles, I didn’t expect to arrive at a dark building on Skid Row.

After shuffling through padlocked gates and up a few industrial staircases, we arrived at his flat on the top floor which, as it turns out, was bloody enormous. McHugh's living space doubles as a workshop. Huge windows light up a haphazard scene--motorcycles in different stages of being painted with custom designs, a welding station, a few guitars, and bizarre set pieces for an under-wraps project coming to theaters 2020.

Center stage in the madness is a Triumph TR6 Trophy--the same model Steve McQueen rode in the chase scene of The Great Escape.

“The Triumph is for a guy in Belgium,” he tells me, hauling a table saw out of the way as we searched in vain for a chair. “Once I did the tour of Japan I picked up a lot of international clients.”

McHugh blames, “either dumb luck or fate”, for his introduction to the motorcycling moguls of Japan. Having missed his flight home from a work trip in Cairo, he took refuge in a bar and struck up a conversation with a fellow patron, one Yusaku Hirose. 

“Yusaku's a good guy. He's got about 20 custom rides and carries a lot of weight in the Japanese scene, but you wouldn't know it grabbing a beer with him. We got to talking about motorcycles and he told me his idea for a fuel tank design. I sketched it out on a napkin, and he liked what he saw. An hour later I was on a plane to Nagoya." 

Glancing at his wrist I saw Shawn was sporting the Carpe Noctem. I can't say I was surprised. 

During his weeks in Japan, McHugh toured the lesser known roads of the countryside alongside Yusaku’s 12-man motorcycle club. ”You wouldn't call us a gang," he laughs, "it was just a solid group of us there to ride and explore. We didn't go around raising hell. Unless you count Kaito. He's an animal." 

A touch of Japanese culture McHugh picked up from his travels is a meticulous attention to detail when caring for his bikes.

"Serious Japanese riders maintain their motorcycles like an art form, and they do all the work themselves. Having an old bike in good condition is very well respected there. A lot of riders in the US have dealers and mechanics handle their bikes, and there's nothing wrong with that... but taking the time to learn the ins and outs of your machine makes a difference on the road. I've seen it."

Next on the horizon for McHugh and his pals is a journey through Africa. He plans to meet with Hirose and other companions in Cape Town, picking up a new ride and heading to Maputo in Mozambique. "From there it's anyone's guess. Maybe Madagascar if I can hitch a boat that will ferry us."

Wishing him luck, I went on my way and considered how a man could wing his way to an African island. Something tells me Shawn McHugh will figure it out. 

- Jack Taylor | Reporting for Who Dares Wins