There are days when I struggle to get anything done. I thought this was a problem everyone experienced, but then I met Brent King, aka Mifune Werx. Brent is the kind of guy who seems able to do in one week what would take most people a month. He’s an accomplished landscape architect with his own design firm, a martial arts instructor, a sword practitioner, builds replica armour and is a father to boot. Brent also loves motorcycles, but not just riding them, in his spare time (god knows how he has any!?) he likes to customise them too.
Asohka, which is a play on a character’s name from the Clone Wars series that his children obsessed over, is a heavily modified Norton Commando 850. Adorned with intricate details influenced by Brent’s other hobbies and covered in aluminium bodywork this is no run-of-the-mill British cafe racer.
The Norton was first acquired by a friend of Brent’s with the intention of rebuilding it himself. “The bike had 8,759 original miles on it. It belonged to a small motorcycle dealer in Columbus, Ohio named Art Zander. ‘Big Art’ was a legend in Columbus due to his vintage Triumph and Norton collection and this particular bike had laid partially intact beside his front desk for a couple of decades.” says Brent. After the purchase, the bike sat again for around 10 years before Brent and his mate discussed the idea of building it together. Eventually, Brent convinced his friend otherwise and took ownership of the bike and carte blanche of the build.
“The engine had already been gone through and checked, everything was in excellent condition. I finished assembling the bike just enough to ride it for about a year while I decided how I wanted to customize it.”
The project kicked off with a few preliminary sketches to establish a starting point rather than a final outcome. Brent’s goal was to build a “light” bike from both a weight and aesthetic point of view.
“There were a few things I knew I wanted to accomplish and create here. First I wanted to build an aluminium fairing that utilized the original gauges. The Second was to relocate the oil tank to open up the centre of the frame. Third was a curvy sensuous exhaust. And fourth, replace the original forks with a modern alternative.”
Step 1: The fairing and bodywork
With the purchase of the Norton came a handmade Sprint-style aluminium fuel tank. It perfectly suited Brent’s vision for his cafe racer so he sketched a fairing shape that would complement it. “As I worked the aluminium, the fairing really designed itself on the wheel. This is the most exciting part of the build for me. Although I have a direction, I don’t know exactly where the design will end up. I get the most satisfaction out of allowing a bike to evolve organically.”
Along with shaping a one-of-a-kind fairing for the Norton, Brent decided the strengthen the structure using techniques he’d learnt making Japanese swords. “The brass reinforcements gave me the opportunity to explore the introduction of Japanese sword fittings into the design. The pieces were inspired by the menuki located on the katana handle, as well as other decorative fittings found on samurai armour.” The front fairing isn’t the only place Brent applied Japanese-styled brass details. Some are decorative like those on the tail unit while others are purposeful such as the figure 8 bracket that holds the exhaust tips in place.
Another curious addition to the Norton bodywork is the fins, or as Brent calls them, the gills that sit beneath the front of the tank. “I wasn’t happy with the visual gap between the tank and front faring, and the way the triple interacted with it all. I have several of Shinya Kimura’s builds on my shop wall and noticed he used a similar technique with his builds. So, I took a design queue from the Master and mocked something up in cardboard and I felt it really unified the front end, as well as added interest.” he says. Brent’s gills also double as supports for the front fairing which allowed him to skimp on the number of brackets required to stabilise it.
Step 2: Frame and oil tank
Prior to Brent acquiring the Norton its subframe had already been messed with so he had no reservations about modifying it further. To achieve the open-frame look he was after he removed the oil tank and any redundant brackets that held it in place. The plastic airbox has gone too and the carb mouths fit with open velocity stacks. This gave Brent the look he was after but left him with the issue of where to relocate the oil tank.
“It needed the oil tank to be accessible, but I didn’t really want to see it,” he says. The solution he found was to incorporate the tank into the design of the tail unit. A brass filler at the front of the tail lets Brent top the tank up. Behind it sits a finned panel which aids in cooling the oil as it passes through the unit. The oil is delivered to the engine and back using braided lines. Brent then built a custom brake light assembly that completes the rear end’s asymmetrical appearance.
To finish the frame Brent reached out to his cousin who owns a metal plating business in Cleveland and he chrome-plated the entire structure.
Step 3: The exhaust
On a typical Norton Commando cafe racer you’d find upswept megaphone mufflers, but not on this one. Instead, Brent set out to create something unique. Instead of following a traditional route down from the engine and along either side of the frame his system sees the 2 pipes meeting within the open space in the frame. They then run parallel to one another before sweeping back out of the frame just in front of the rear shock. To complete the look the pipes have been slash-cut so along with looking incredible they are sure to sound incredible too.
Although most of this bike is fairly period correct Brent wasn’t satisfied with sub-par handling. To rectify the issue he has adapted a Suzuki GSXR600 front end to the Norton complete with its twin brakes and wheel. Balancing things out in the rear is a set of aftermarket piggyback shocks.
The Finishing touches
The finishing touches on this Norton, which are countless, include a reed valve from NYC Norton that “keeps her from soiling the shop floor” and NYC Norton rear sets. Brent’s wife, who happens to be a gun on a sewing machine, put together the cross-stitched brown leather seat, tank straps and knee pads. Brent handstitched the leather covers on the brake and clutch lines himself and he used brass screws to fix many of the brass embellishments in place. Of all the trick details it’s the primary cover that is the icing on the cake.
“It was a result of a ‘blink’ moment I had when I walked past the bike,” says Brent. “I had a vision of ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. I have several prints of it and actually used it for the logo of my dojo several years ago.”
The process of incorporating the famous artwork onto the primary cover began with a sharpie sketch. Brent then sat on the idea for months, mulling it over while he worked on the rest of the bike. Although he’d tried his hand at carving sword fittings and already made the brass details for the bike, he was unsure he could do the iconic painting justice. Then, right at the end of the build, just before taking the bike to the 2023 Mama Tried Show, he bit the bullet and got to it. As a backup, he’d purchased a spare primary cover, but it was never needed. Check out the photo below and I’m sure you’ll agree he nailed it.
“I had huge aspirations for this bike and the day I brought it home in pieces, I literally thought, ‘this motorcycle will teach me more about myself than all the bikes I’ve worked on’. Every build teaches me more about design, fabrication, patience, discipline, and the drive to finish. Someday my fabrication skills will catch up with my designs,” says Brent. From where we’re standing his fab skills are pretty darn impressive.