Words: Maeda | Photos: Emery
Tencho “Yoshi” Sako
Hometown: Osaka, Japan
Years Wrenching: 8
Rider: Taka Higashino
Past Riders: Masa Shirotani, Yuta Ikegaya, Rasmus Sjoberg
Unlike many professional mechanics, the path Tencho “Yoshi” Sako followed to land his job as Taka Higashino’s freestyle motocross mechanic didn’t involve any formal training or a burning desire to become a top-level technician—it was fueled simply by the desire to become involved in the American motocross industry.
Back in Osaka, Japan, Sako’s family owned a small motorcycle shop where he worked from the time he was a teen. A vacation to the United States to watch the Anaheim Supercross in 1993, though, planted a seed in Sako’s head when he was in his mid-20s, and just before his 40th birthday he announced to his family that he was moving to America to find a job. “My father and brother told me I was a fool,” Sako says. “They thought I was crazy to move to another country at my age to start over. My mother, though, was supportive and encouraged me to chase my dream.”
When he landed in SoCal, Sako took a job as a waiter in a Japanese restaurant as he attended school to learn English on his student visa. In ’09 he landed his first motorcycle-industry job at Yoshimura R&D where he worked first as a fabricator for the road race team, and that was followed by a stint at Tokyo Mods as a mechanic before landing his current job with enzo racing as a suspension technician in 2012. One year earlier, Sako bumped into rising FMX star Taka Higashino—also from Osaka, Japan—and offered his services. “I knew who Taka was from our hometown, but we didn’t know each other,” Sako says. “I told him I was available to help him with bike maintenance, and he was looking for someone, so it was a good coincidence.” Together the pair have formed a formidable team and have earned three X Games gold medals, an ASA Freestyle World Championship, and a Red Bull X Fighters gold medal. “My full-time job is with enzo racing, but as Taka’s mechanic I’ve been able to see many things and go to many places with him,” Sako says. “I am very grateful for the opportunities that both jobs have given me.”
Hands On: Taka likes to do many things on his bike himself, but he relies on me for everything that involves the engine and suspension and some other attention-to-detail things. Taka always cuts down his own seat foam because he’s very particular about the shape and the way the seat cover is installed. He also installs his own graphics because he’s very good at it. Sometimes, Twitch-san will text Taka, “Come help me put my graphics on!” Taka also handles getting the subframe modified for grab handles, and he cuts the holes in his side panels. The Yamaha YZ250 subframe must be cut and re-welded to have a good surface to grab onto when doing seat-grab tricks. We install griptape where his hands go so that he doesn’t slip.
Bling: For this year’s X Games, Taka sent his fenders to a place to have them painted with a black chrome finish. I don’t know for sure, but I think it was pretty expensive. It seems to be pretty tough because he had a big crash in practice and it didn’t chip off. I polished the aluminum parts like the triple clamps, kick starter, brake master cylinders, and brake pedal, then took them to a shop to be buffed out. It looks like chrome to match the bike. The front brake caliper mount is powder coated with a paint that has sparkles because Taka likes flash. The frame and swingarm are powder coated black because Taka says a freestyle bike should have a black frame, not chrome.
Power: Taka likes his bikes to have good low-end throttle response to get the boost off the ramps. When we built his new 2015 Yamaha YZ250, he still had a brand-new ported cylinder and modified head left over from when he was sponsored by Pro Circuit, so I installed that. FMF is his new exhaust sponsor, and he likes the pipe and silencer that they sell so he doesn’t need a custom build. Jetting is important at every different event, and that’s my most important job at the contests—to get the bike running clean. The Boyesen Supercooler helps keep the bike from overheating. This is important because they’re not riding at high speeds to get air through the radiators.
Homeland Parts: Zeta is an aftermarket parts company from Japan, and they sponsor Taka for many accessories like handlebars, levers, shifter, hubs, and chain blocks. He also uses ISA Sprockets from Japan and D.I.D wheels. Taka has brought many sponsors with him from Japan, and he feels it’s important to stay loyal to companies that always helped him back home.
Suspension: A lot of people compare freestyle suspension to Supercross stuff, but Taka actually has a stiffer setup for ramps than if he were racing Supercross. enzo racing sponsors Taka and tunes his suspension, but he gets special factory parts from KYB Japan, like his works shock body and spring that both have special coatings. I have to rebuild his suspension pretty often because the jumping wears out the oil and seals pretty quickly.
Mission Control: Taka runs a very high bend of Zeta handlebar because it’s easy to get his legs through the bars. I zip-tie all of the cables and hoses close to the bar so that there’s no chance of his boot getting caught on them during tricks. The flip levers are made by a company in France, and he has to buy them. They’re expensive!