Classic Motorcycle Build

Custom Motorcycle Build

Article by Mark Trotta

Customizing a motorcycle can be anything from bolting on a few chrome goodies to building a bike from the ground up. So, where do you start and where do you stop?

Hardtail Sportster Build

There are several reasons to want (or need) to customize a bike. My first custom build was trying to fit my lanky frame onto a 1972 Sportster.

Hardtail Ironhead Sportster, author Mark Trotta

I started by changing the handlebars, then I tried a different seat. Then forward foot controls were added.

After a couple riding seasons, I decided to build a ground-up custom bike starting with a stretched hardtail frame. My original goal was to build a bike that I fit comfortably on, and to build it myself.

Hardtail Sportster Build

Back in the 1980's (just like today), guys were building bikes that looked cool but didn't run worth a turd. Of course, this frustrated those of us who actually rode ours!

So, the 2nd part of my goal was to build a bike that not only looks good, but actually runs good.

Hardtail Sportster build

The style I was after was a no frills, bare bones, minimalist motorcycle. I strived to finish the bike to the highest level I was capable of, within my limited skills and budget. What I was most proud of was, my bike consistently started on 1 or 2 kicks!

You've probably been looking at custom machines already built, either live or on the internet. Custom motorcycles look good sitting parked, but they look even better out in the wind being ridden.

Ground-Up Custom Bike Build

One of the hardest and most overlooked parts of a any custom motorcycle build is how the bike will sit when done. The way to check overall stance is to trial-fit everything including the motor. The motor needs to be put on the frame to put weight on the front end, so you can get an accurate view of how the bike will sit.

A classic custom motorcycle is never out of date

What Bike To Start With?

My thoughts here are start with a bike that you have a background with--maybe your present ride might do. And there's never a shortage of project bikes that you can buy cheaply and start from there.

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Custom Hardtail Build

Originally, all motorcycles were hardtails, and since there are no rear suspension components, a hardtail frame is much lighter than a conventional swing-arm frame. They are also easier and cheaper to construct, due to their simplicity.

When you buy a hardtail frame today, all the brackets you need are already welded on. But that wasn't the norm 30 years ago, we had to make our own. Oil tank mounting, rear fender brackets, fork-stop tabs - most of these needed to be fabricated. Also, if you're running a rear drum brake, you'll need a rear brake stay tab. But today, these things are already on the frame when purchased.

Ironhead Chopper

Many purists believe that with the absence of rear suspension, road vibrations become part of the experience, and the rider truly becomes part of the road.

High Mount Gas Tank

As an alternative to welding mounting tabs onto the frame, consider a gas tank that already has tabs.

Hardtail Sportster Build

This low tunnel, high mount tank retains the classic chopper look, but the original-style mounts were replaced with tabs front and rear.

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Notes and Misc

The motorcycling community is not a particularly big one. If you want to stand out, build a custom bike.

You'll need or want a second bike to ride while you are building a custom motorcycle. It's nice to have another bike to ride while working on the other.

If you're on a tight budget or in a hurry, a ground-up motorcycle build is not for you.

Building that first custom bike from scratch started me down the road of learning new skills and overcoming unforeseen problems. It's still one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life.

A custom motorcycle build lets you pick the exact parts you want and have everything sized just for you. If you build a bike that's easy to start and pleasant to ride, you'll end up riding it a whole lot more!

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