Valen Zhou's 1987 Kawasaki KZ 250 Rat Tracker
WORDS Michael Hilton IMAGES Valen Zhou
Valen Zhou is resourceful and ambitious, and proves that it doesn't take a big budget or a big ego to build a bike that most would be proud to ride and own. Shadow 26 is a bike with a tattered, devil-may-care attitude that begs to be beaten like a dusty couch cushion — a bike that just wants to have some dirty fun.
In college, Zhou suffered from a crippling anxiety disorder and battled through a dark period of his life before finding a surprising cure in Shinya Kimura’s moto masterpieces. “Seeing Kimura’s passion, instincts, and vulnerability” inspired Zhou, who began building his own motorcycles and finally put his illness behind him.
From Chengdu, Sichuan, China, a beautiful city known as "The Country of Heaven,” Zhou turned out a a few choppers, café racers, and a dragster, then turned his attention toward this salvaged Kawasaki KZ 250, transforming it into the filthy lovechild of a tracker and a bobber. Taking visual cues from a ‘54 Triumph Thunderbird, Zhou cut the frame in half and customized the tail section, which proved to be the most difficult aspect of the build. Without proper equipment to measure with, he relied on fishing line and a level to dial in the correct dimensions before cutting and welding.
The fuel tank is actually a camping flask that Zhou cleverly hides underneath a fabricated shell. It’s very small, but he likes it so much he’s willing to carry an extra bottle of fuel with him. Adding to his style of using whatever is available, Zhou crafted the seat from an old sofa that was taking up space in his studio. The seat spring came from an old bicycle with the right tension for him ... and him alone. “That makes the bike uniquely fit for me only,” he laughs.
The name "Shadow" refers to a photography project of Zhou's that highlighted motorcyclists from around the world, and “26” is his lucky number; it showed up everywhere as he worked on the build. “I really love that number," he says. Zhou loves taking Shadow 26 off road and to flat track races. “I always wanted a bike that I could just have fun with," he says. "That is the main purpose of this bike ... and I do have a lot of fun with it.”
This article was originally featured in Issue #32 of Iron & Air Magazine