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Embracing the Custom Culture


The custom culture has been around since 1945 but it was not known as such. The world of custom motorcycles was dominated by Harley-Davidson, and from around 1958 through about 2005 was better known by association as the V-twin aftermarket. What changed was the acceptance of multiple brand drivetrains combined with their unique and influential heritages. Sure there was Triumph and Honda choppers, but they represented an inexpensive substitute until one could afford to customize the Harley they really wanted.

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The evolution of the Custom Culture genre started appearing more recently at the new era bike shows including The One Moto Show, Garage Brewed, Mama Tried, The HandBuilt Show and Born Free. So today we have a Custom Culture that reflects a broad motorcycle history but also incorporates music, moto art and lifestyle events including food trucks, craft beer and artisan coffee. The Custom Culture is more aligned with younger generation riders (millennials and younger), whose personalization of their machines is an outward reflection of their lifestyle, as opposed to identifying their lifestyle around the legacy custom scene.

Custom Culture is a more conceptually open approach to motorcycle customization celebrating a diversity in contemporary expression, combining form and function with multiple style cues. Custom Culture expands the traditional view of V-twin custom trends to include brand and engine configurations never considered before.


This means you have to change your marketing approach to draw in this new audience, which is larger than boomers, and primed to grow into the largest demographic opportunity for motorcycling.

Let’s discuss an updated approach to your annual open house by creating a Custom Culture event. First, some sort of open format bike show gives customers a chance to show off. You can simply have four classes that are not brand or style specific such as Free Style/anything goes, Retro/any pre-’84 drivetrain and no replica motors, Street/starts with a post ’85 original drivetrain and chassis, and any special class that fits your shop demographic (i.e., FXR, Bagger, Performance, Sport bike, Antique, etc.). Hand out trophies to the winners and runner ups and maybe some donated gifts from your suppliers and you got the enthusiast draw covered.


Now to draw in those non-motorcyclists, bring in a couple of food trucks, get your local artisan coffee shop to set something up, and if your situation allows, offer a few craft beers. I recently went to an event that had an ice cream maker run by an antique John Deere compressor. Bring in a tattoo artist, temporary, henna or traditional will do. A band to perform music is always nice but a good sound system with the right selections will work just fine. If you have the room, invite a local car club to put on a car show.


Look to your younger employees and/or customers and ask them for direction. The result should be an experience that everyone remembers: a good time had at your shop. We are all interested in attracting new riders but with a focus on the Custom Culture you may be creating new enthusiasts. The difference being enthusiasts are in for the long haul. An enthusiast buys into the moto culture, is very

DIY motivated and will probably be spending money at your shop if you provided the event where he or she got to hang out, have a good time and get customization tips. We must understand that motorcycling adventures contribute to the millennial lifestyle of community experiences. Their lifestyle is not centered around motorcycling, but encompasses the experiences of what building a motorcycle of your dreams creates.


For a first-hand experience of some of the latest Custom Culture trends, be sure to visit the Custom Culture Pavilion at AIMExpo September 21-24 in Columbus, Ohio.

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