Venturing into the world of custom motorcycle building is a thrilling journey that allows you to turn your dream bike into a tangible reality. Whether you’re an experienced gearhead or a novice enthusiast, building a custom motorcycle is an opportunity to express your creativity, learn new skills and create a unique masterpiece on two wheels. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of custom motorcycle building, from the diverse community of builders to the essential tools and workspace organization as well as choosing the right starter motorcycle and discovering the wealth of online resources available to support your project.
Choosing Your Canvas: Starter Motorcycles
As a beginner, selecting the right motorcycle to serve as your canvas is crucial. Opt for an inexpensive starting point, such as a Yamaha XS650 or an older Harley-Davidson Sportster. These models are popular among custom builders due to their affordability and ample customization potential.
Kody Urig started with a 2001 Sportster as a baseline for his build, and the finished product looks completely different from the stock bike.
“Some friends basically told me how cool the Sportster was and how the platform is versatile,” Urig said. “I started upgrading and cleaning it up, and now it’s its own beast.”
What was once a classic-looking chopper is now a dirt-bike-esque off-road racer with a raised front end, off-road tires, TC Bros MX bars on custom brass risers and a 3-D printed headlight cover, among other additions.
Take your time to explore other custom bikes for inspiration and define the style and features you want to incorporate into your project. Remember that your choice of starter motorcycle can significantly influence the direction and complexity of your custom build.
Building your Tool Arsenal
Before embarking on your custom motorcycle project, assembling the right tools is essential. The saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” holds true in the world of custom motorcycle building.
As a beginner, you can start with a basic set of tools. Common hand tools, such as wrenches, Allen keys (both SAE and metric, depending on manufacturer), pliers, wire cutters, a dead-blow hammer and screwdrivers (Phillips and flathead), are indispensable companions in your custom bike-building journey. Investing in quality tools within your budget is crucial, as they will become your trusted allies throughout the project. Remember, skimping on tools often leads to frustration down the road.
For most applications, new owners can buy complete toolsets from hardware stores that will have most of what they need for a job. Of course, a service manual will come in handy when assessing if specialty tools will be required if upgrading a motorcycle that isn’t being built from the ground up.
Building a custom motorcycle requires precision, especially when it comes to tightening fasteners to specific torque specifications. This is where torque wrenches become invaluable. While a foot-pound torque wrench is typically sufficient, having both foot-pound and inch-pound torque wrenches can be beneficial for specific tasks.
Investing in a reliable set of torque wrenches is a wise choice; these tools are not areas where you should cut corners. Ensuring that components are properly torqued is crucial for safety and performance. Many an oil pan have been cracked from tradesman tightening bolts too tight; don’t make this mistake if you want to save time and money.
While welding skills can enhance your custom bike project, don’t let a lack of experience deter you. The majority of the build can be accomplished without welding. If welding becomes necessary, you have two options:
- Seeking professional help: Experienced welders can assist you, and their services are often affordable. This option also provides a fantastic opportunity to learn and collaborate. Don’t hesitate to ask them to share their knowledge and techniques.
- Do-it-yourself (DIY) welding: Alternatively, you can invest in a stick or MIG welder. These machines are surprisingly affordable, and with the wealth of information available on platforms like YouTube, you can quickly acquire the basic welding skills you need. Consider adding a grinder to your toolkit, as it’s essential for smoothing and finishing welded joints.
If you have the funds, seeking professional help in this regard is probably the best route. People like Steve Garn of Brew Bikes have a heap of knowledge and experience in this regard.
“I’ve been building custom bicycle and motorcycle frames for decades and welding them up nice. A lot of the time, people give me free reign to do what I want, and other times they’re much more specific on what they want built. It depends on the person.”
Organized Workspace for Efficiency
Creating a well-organized workspace is vital for a smooth and enjoyable custom motorcycle building process. While some passionate enthusiasts have crafted show bikes in unconventional spaces like living rooms, it’s not a recommended approach for practical reasons.
Take inspiration from professional race teams, who maintain clean and organized workspaces to maximize efficiency and reduce frustration. Inevitably, you will encounter moments when you misplace a bolt or tool, but an organized workspace minimizes such occurrences, ensuring that your project remains enjoyable and stress-free.
It will also be necessary (depending on what specifically you’re doing to the motorcycle) to have some sort of lift available. Many motorcycles have a center stand, which makes wheel removal/replacement and other lower-end jobs a lot easier. Having a motorcycle lift or hydraulic jack is even better, although much more expensive.
Utilize Your Resources
Building a custom motorcycle has never been more accessible, thanks to the wealth of information available online. The internet offers a treasure trove of valuable resources, including instructional videos, forums and websites like Lowbrow Customs.
These platforms provide comprehensive guides, tutorials and access to a wide range of parts and tools to support your custom motorcycle project. Leveraging these resources can accelerate your learning curve and help you overcome challenges along the way.
If you’re a little less mechanical and just learning the ropes, businesses like Skidmark Garage can be a godsend. It’s a community garage where you can store your bike and work on it if you don’t have the space. There’s also a wealth of knowledge available at your fingertips with different classes you can take to hone your skills.
Embarking on the journey of crafting a custom motorcycle is a fulfilling and exciting endeavor. It provides a platform to express your creativity, learn new skills and transform your vision into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Armed with the right tools, meticulous research, dedication and the support of online resources, you can navigate the challenges of custom motorcycle building with confidence.