It all began because we didn’t have anything else to put on the cover. Paul Dean had been editor at Cycle World for just three months, his arrival having ended an internal cold war over editorial succession while triggering an immediate exodus of pretenders. I had been technical editor at CW for just two years and hadn’t written much beyond “How Motorcycles Work” articles—certainly no road tests. Ken Vreeke was the new hire, the fast-guy replacement for John Ulrich. The staff was young, Paul was ambitious and the November issue was rolling around without a significant cover story planned.
In the editorial meeting, the subject of the unobtainable machines of Japan came up, and wouldn’t it be great to do something on them? We knew about the many radical, domestic-only Japanese bikes because our mailroom was full of foreign motorcycle magazines that we exchanged subscriptions with.
Most American riders had no idea in that pre-Internet era. The project was crazy because there really wasn’t much time to make the story happen, and it would be very expensive. But Cycle World Japan (“Journal for Tasty Riders” was its slogan, and, yes, that means something different in “Janglish” than to an American reading it) had been recently started, a joint venture of then Cycle World-owner CBS and Sony. We had connections there who could help. The fax machine started to burn with messages organizing the trip.
A few days later, Ken and I found ourselves on a plane bound for Tokyo. CW Japan had arranged the loan of three domestic 400cc four-stroke Fours, two 250cc two-stroke Twins, the Yamaha RZV500R V-Four two-stroke GP replica and a Suzuki 250cc four-cylinder. More importantly, the editor there, Koji Hiroe, had arranged for us to rent Sugo Circuit (at about four times the cost of an American track rental), had contracted the stunningly talented Koichi Ohtani as a photographer and had hired American expatriate Ken Frankel to act as our guide and translator. Hiroe-san only asked that the CW Japan staff participate in the story, which, from their point of view, was as much about our reaction to these motorcycles and motorcycling in Japan as anything else.
The highlight of the trip was traveling with Frankel. Ken had lived in Tokyo for more than a decade (he had met his Japanese wife in Hawaii and followed her home) and was multi-talented: He wrote for Japanese motorcycle magazines, acted in Japanese movies and TV productions and often served as a guide/translator for American celebrities and executives traveling in Tokyo.