Company founder Mamoru Mo...
Company founder Mamoru Moriwaki
“My father loves nature,” reveals Midori Moriwaki, Managing Director of Moriwaki Engineering and daughter of the company’s founder, Mamoru. “When he was younger he would ride his motorcycle up the winding mountain roads to look at the wild birds. But he also liked to go fast and one time he overtook some of the older racers on the roads. When he stopped at the top of the mountain they came up to him and asked him if he was also a racer. He said, ‘No, I only came here to watch the birds.’ The racers told him he had a very natural skill at riding a bike and he should try racing. My father knew nothing about racing, so he went to the Japanese Racing Federation and asked them which company he should go and talk to about riding racing motorcycles. They suggested he talk to Yoshimura.”
As mentors go, there are few better than the legendary Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura. But despite riding for Yoshimura and becoming a close friend of Pops, Mamoru had to learn his engineering skills the hard way.
“Pops was very old fashioned,” recalls Moriwaki. “He believed that an older engineer never told a new one what to do. He wouldn’t teach Mamoru anything; maybe this is the Japanese way, everyone has to learn, not just copy. I think this is why Japanese engineers are so good, only the person who wants to be a good engineer will learn by looking at the master and studying very hard.”
With no formal training in engineering to back him up, Mamoru borrowed books from the local high school where his mother worked and spent every available minute studying mechanics. But he also combined his love of nature with his new found passion for design.
Mamoru Moriwaki during his...
Mamoru Moriwaki during his early racing days. Note the pudding-bowl helmet, skinny tires on wet pavement, and unprotected Armco guardrail lining the track.
“He was very clever with mathematics. When he was riding race bikes, he was learning all the time, thinking how the bike was reacting but also comparing it to nature. He found the frames were too flexible, wobbling all the time, so he had an idea based on engineering but inspired by nature. It sounds crazy, but when you think about it, a bird flies even when the tornado arrives. They can do this because their bones are very light but incredibly strong, like carbon fiber, but also flexible. This is like a racing motorcycle. When you go into corner on a bike you need the chassis to be strong but flexible, giving the rider lots of feeling. Think of a cheetah hunting an animal; they run very fast with strong bones but they are also flexible so they can turn quickly at high speed. Many chassis builders only think about motorcycles, my father thought about nature as well. He treated the bike as part of the rider — as part of nature — which is why we are different.”
Having now gained an understanding and knowledge of frame design from Yoshimura, Mamoru also acquired something else from Pops — his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage. Few know this, but the Yoshimura and Moriwaki families are connected. Mamoru married Namiko Yoshimura, Pops’ eldest daughter, while he was working for the company. Although initially this wasn’t an issue, in 1973 Mamoru set up Moriwaki Engineering after a disagreement with Pops.
The legendary Hideo “Pops”...
The legendary Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura (left) helped Moriwaki get his start in learning to design chassis, although the two split up (despite Moriwaki marrying Yoshimura’s eldest daughter) over Yoshimura starting a U.S. subsidiary.
“In 1973 Pops decided to go to America with Yoshimura, but Mamoru didn’t agree. They kept telling Pops that it was too dangerous to join up with the Americans, but he got very upset and said, ‘If you don’t follow what I say, you leave our family.’ It was a very tough time for my parents, but my grandfather (Pops) was like a samurai — very strong-headed and he said he never wanted to see my parents again, which is why they set up Moriwaki in Suzuka.
“About a year later, my grandparents called my parents asking for help, they had lost everything after the American man cheated them. They had no money and returned to Japan to say sorry to my parents. Moriwaki had been making exhausts under the Yoshimura name, and my parents gave Pops the money they had made to start Yoshimura Japan again.” Japanese companies are usually incredibly guarded when talking about their affairs, but this insight into the history of both of these legendary tuning firms shows the strong bond between the two firms that still exists today…although not necessarily on the racetrack.
“We used to always have our pit boxes next door at the Suzuka 8-Hour,” remembers Midori, “every 8-Hour week all the Yoshimura people used to stay out with the Moriwaki people but we still want to beat them on the track!”
With the firms so closely linked it is a bit of a surprise that they have established themselves with rival manufacturers. Yoshimura has extremely close ties with Suzuki, while Moriwaki is linked to Honda.
Moriwaki started out making...
Moriwaki started out making frames for the original Kawasaki Z1, with this example being raced at the 1978 Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race. Note the Yoshimura sticker; both companies were closely related then, and now.
“At first Moriwaki started with Kawasaki, making frames for the Z1. It was a great bike, but very heavy and not good at stopping! My dad chose this bike to start racing because Kawasaki is a heavy industry company, so he thought that the engine would be very strong. He was right and took the standard engine from 81 horsepower to 150 horsepower. The bike was very fast and with my father’s chassis it also went around corners.”
At this point Mamoru needed a rider to showcase his bike, so he traveled to Australia and spotted a rider who he thought had potential.
Moriwaki went to Australia...
Moriwaki went to Australia and signed a young racer named Wayne Gardner whom he thought had potential to be world champion. Here the two are shown conferring during practice for the 1981 Suzuka 8-Hour.
“My father went to a local race and saw a young rider called Wayne Gardner. He said, ‘That rider will be a future world champion’ and asked if he would like to come to Japan to ride. Wayne rode the Moriwaki in Japan, Daytona and also England. He raced against many famous riders and beat them on a non-famous bike. It put our name on the map. But then my father let him go. My father is too nice, he never thinks about the company; he cares too much about other humans and he let Wayne leave Moriwaki to ride for Honda UK, which put him on the path to his world championship. It was good for Wayne but possibly not the best for Moriwaki.”