• When Is It Time To Customize My Motorcycle? (Part One)

    reprinted from BB.com , April 2003
    copyright owned by author

    So you've jumped head-first (hopefully with a DOT approved helmet) into the motorcycling world and finally acquired that first bike. After taking any classes and learning the basics in a nearby parking lot, you've no doubt been logging a few extra miles onto the odometer that really served no other purpose other than simply getting on the bike to ride...

    Sooner or later you're going to come across another bike that has something on it that simply grabs your attention, something that says "I want that on mine too!" Maybe it's little more than a sticker, or perhaps it's as elaborate as a completely revamped rendition of what you're riding. Or perhaps it's simply a decked out custom and while you can fantasize about making your bike look somewhat similar, you might feel there's not much out there for it in terms of availability.

    Customizing is little more than an extension of one's personality. What you do with your bike artistically says something about the rider. The popular expression is "a stock bike says the owner is boring," which is probably why you don't see too many purely stock used bikes for sale. There's always at least one item added on to a used cruiser when it's for sale. So when is it time to start, you ask? My answer is this: if you got an itch, scratch it. I'll break down some of the things that you can do on your soon-to-be custom cruiser.

    Bolt on Accessories

    This is the simple stuff, a shiny chrome doo-dad that merely bolts right up to an existing piece (or perhaps even replaces the stock piece). Chrome always dresses up any area of a bike, chrome can get you far but not necessarily get you home...these accessories would consist of horn covers, rotor covers, caliper covers, bolt & nut covers, and the like.

    Replacement and Add-on Parts:

    This entails a little more tear down from a bolt on part, such as a new set of handlebars, a new seat, saddlebags, or a backrest. Oftentimes some additional work may be called for, such as extended length brake line and clutch cable for a taller handlebar or some drilling for a backrest.

    Electrical Goods

    There is a vast supply of aftermarket electronic accessories out there, ranging from spot lamps to MC stereo systems to wild and wacky lighting goods. The nice thing here is you really don't have to stay within the confines of brand and model specifications, all this stuff works the same: positive and negative connections. The actual mounting to the motorcycle is where the work is. Just make sure your charging system can handle the extra load before adding it on.

    Performance Parts

    For the most part you're going to find replacement exhaust systems, air filter kits, and carburetor jet kits available for most cruisers. Exhaust pipes should be researched profusely, you'll want to sample any and all the various systems available for your bike, mounted on a similar model bike. I suggest hanging out at your local dealership, you're bound to stumble across a similar model with a set of pipes sooner or later. Get the bike's owner (or tech if the bike is in the service bay) to fire it up for you to sample. See how it sounds while idling and while revving. Also note that if the bike is in a service bay at the time it will echo, suggesting the exhaust sound is louder than it really is. Pipes are the most expensive piece in this list so you'll want the ones you like the first time around. Nothing's worse than having another bike like yours pull up next to you with a set of pipes on it that you end up liking better...

    Frame/Chassis Mods

    Lowering is a common mod in this arena. Many models have specific kits or replacement shocks and/or fork springs available, if not there are various ways around an unfriendly aftermarket including altered fork spacers and modified rear shock(s). Whatever method you go by, just be sure not to lower the front more than the rear or you unbalance the bike in the wrong way, impairing vital operations such as braking...the bike leans forward under hard braking so if it's already in a leaned forward stance you stand to place even more stress onto that front end and a loss of control is more probable.

    The other portion of this is frame modification. This is tricky stuff so you need to know what you're doing here before you do it. Altering the frame geometry will alter the motorcycle's handling, this is no newbie mod so you'll also need to have some mastery of riding as well. If you alter your steering geometry you will in effect be altering the motorcycle's stability as well, make it too long one way and it will be super stable at highway speeds but nearly impossible to maneuver in parking lots, go too short and you'll have a seemingly crispy handler in the twisties but get it out on the highway and it might turn into a bar slapper. Needless to say, do some research before attempting any of this yourself. Choppers look cool but if you don't design them right they can be a death trap. Fortunately for those of us without engineering degrees, there is more stuff being manufactured in this field now that is relatively safe and sane for this type of modification. Unfortunately there are also some items produced that aren't...in other words consult some specialists before attempting any frame or suspensionmods.


    One other popular mod is bobbing (or cutting), some folks will cut down their OEM fenders and hack off the rear portion of their frame to make the bike into a solo-seater, and add a custom made or fabricated fender onto the swingarm. Just be careful here as to how much weight you add to the swingarm, any excess un sprung weight to the swingarm can alter the bike's handling. This means you'll have to be conscious about any saddlebags or luggage that may be added to the equation. Adding a passenger pillion and foot pegs is simply insane, unless you go for the rigid rear end route. Which also raises a few sanity questions in its own right, but loading weight onto a rigid rear is much safer than onto a sprung rear end.

    Self Fabricated Mods

    This is the truly rewarding stuff. Say you want to alter the appearance of your bike but cash flow is tight or there simply isn't anything resembling what you're looking for. Ingenuity and creativity can go a long ways here. The sky's the limit here and imagination is the needed fuel. These types of mods would include reshaping an OEM fender, stretching a tank, shaping your own style of seat from scratch (or utilizing the existing OEM version), welding on a cosmetic piece, revamping a part from another model to fit yours...well the list is practically endless but in the end it is a unique feature that you won't find on other bikes.

    Custom Paint/Graphics

    Sooner or later (or maybe it started last week...) you'll eventually lust after a wild paint job or perhaps even some simple yet effective accentual graphics. Painting is an expensive process on motorcycles, even a simple one color scheme can run upwards of $800. If your bike has metal bodywork powder coating is an inexpensive and very durable option, but you are limited to single color applications. Check out the paint on your bike's frame (the frame is actually powder coated in some instances), tough to scratch in comparison. Once you leap into this one you will probably redefine your ride as going from a daily driver to a show-queen...

    Some Final Obstacles

    Chrome-cash: This is the ultimate definition in how faryou can go with your customizing project. If you shop around long enough chances are you can find what you're looking for at a better price so don't go for the first one you see. Sometimes the price outweighs the need, and this is where self fabrication can take you far.

    Time: Some of these mods will require some down-time, so plan them accordingly. Winter months are a great time for customizing if you live in an area where the bike gets stored rather than ridden.

    Keep your knees in the breeze, and see you in the next bike show!

    This article was originally published in forum thread: When Is It Time To Customize My Motorcycle? (Part One) started by Shadow Shack View original post
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