For motorcyclists, there may be no more important quality than individuality. We don’t ride bikes because we want to be like everyone else—we ride bikes because we want to experience life differently.
So, it’s very common for riders to want their motorcycle to be unique, too, whether it’s a unique style or custom features.
Many people seem to think a custom ride is out of reach, that it’s too expensive or difficult to customize your motorcycle, or that you have to have the right kind of bike to customize.
But I’m here to tell you, no matter what skills you have, customizing your own motorcycle is within reach. Especially today, when there are so many aftermarket parts available for hundreds of common models, and when enthusiasm for custom motorcycles is at an all-time high.
Finding the right motorcycle for you
Many new riders fall into the trap of thinking that the first motorcycle they buy has to fit with their personality from the moment they buy it. They end up searching dealerships and Craigslist for eternity, trying to find the bike that matches up exactly with the motorcycle they had in mind.
However, I’ve found it’s much more fun, rewarding and personal to start out with a stock motorcycle and change it to suit your tastes.
All you have to do is figure out which stock motorcycle is in the right “vein” as your dream bike. There are hundreds of motorcycles out there, but the most important thing to consider is the kind of riding you want to do. You might love the look of a retro cafe racer, but if you want to do long-distance rides, you might want to reconsider that hunched riding position!
Determining the kind of riding you like will help you choose whether you want a sport bike, a cruiser, a chopper, or an adventure bike. You might also be drawn to different manufacturers—maybe you’re a die-hard Harley-Davidson fan or you’ve always dreamed of a Triumph Bonneville. Do your research and figure out what will suit you best.
Once you’ve established what general style of riding you want to do, and whether you have any manufacturer preferences, you can essentially buy just about any motorcycle and make it your own—like your own little “fixer upper” project.
Don’t discount new bikes, either. Even if you want a motorcycle fresh off the showroom floor, complete with a warranty and all the modern features, aftermarket parts or a new paint job can still help you make it your own.
Functional upgrades to improve your riding experience
One of the first things I think about when I get a new bike are the tires. New tires might sound like an obvious swap, but I think it’s underrated. After all, it doesn’t matter how great your motorcycle looks, without good tires you’re not going anywhere!
Tire technology has changed so much, even in just the past 10 years. For example, if you’re both an on- and off-road rider, ContiTC80s will stick in an aggressive paved corner while still ripping in the dirt. If you’re thinking about doing a track day or two in addition to your regular riding, a three-compound tire will give you the sticky grip you need to drag a knee, but will also have a harder center compound for highway riding and better longevity.
Riding position is another important function to consider. If you’re not comfortable with the current seat height, you might be able to get a shorter custom seat or a lowering kit to bring the ground a little closer.
And whether it’s a cruiser or a sport bike, something as simple as new handlebars or foot pegs can create a more (or less) aggressive riding position. If you have tiny hands (like me!), adjustable levers can help you get a better grip on your clutch and front brake.
Other functional upgrades you might want to consider could be a larger aftermarket fuel tank to support longer-distance riding, or mounting hardware for your phone to help you navigate. And if you’re looking to give your bike a performance boost, there are dozens of companies creating aftermarket exhausts that can get you the power and sound you crave.
Customizing (and restoring) older motorcycles
I have a special place in my heart for neglected older motorcycles. I love taking an older bike that needs some work and restoring it back to its former glory.
I usually try to restore as much of a bike back to stock as I can, but sometimes the damaged or out-of-date parts lend themselves to a more custom approach. For example, suspension has come a long way since the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I generally replace or even redesign the rear suspension to improve performance.
Often, it doesn’t take much to transform an older bike into a work of art—even a new tank, whether it’s secondhand, custom, or aftermarket, can completely alter the lines of the bike.
And, of course, you can’t forget about paint and finishes. Simply polishing a tarnished, tired side cover can help perk up a motorcycle, and there are so many options for paint and powder coating that a good automotive painter can help you bring almost any idea to life.
Why wait to customize your motorcycle?
Right now, we’re living in a golden age for motorcycle customization, whether you’re simply making your bike more comfortable or designing a rolling work of art.
There’s a huge influx of passion and energy in the custom motorcycle world, and people are creating online communities, classes, and shows to share their passion with others. Technology is changing, and we’re able to bring radical design ideas to life with design software, laser cutting, and 3D printing.
Whatever your idea, you can find someone to help you bring it to life. Don’t believe me? Go to a show and start talking to builders and other enthusiasts—I guarantee you’ll walk away with new ideas and lifelong friends.