Ever dream of hitting the open road on a dream motorcycle? It’s easier than ever to customize a bike to suit.
The customization market “right now is really, really popular,” says Nick Maffey, owner of Maffey Moto Fabrication, which customizes vintage cafe racer-style motorcycles.
The high-end customization market is driven by baby boomers’ desire for need-specific motorcycles that are easier to handle. Boomers also have disposable income, longer retirements than earlier generations, and generate stronger overall demand thanks to lifestyle marketing by well-known factory brands Harley-Davidson (HOG), Triumph, Honda, Yamaha, and others.
Enthusiasts can find bikes to customize at any level. That might include visiting a showroom of an established manufacturer like Harley-Davidson and choosing from a wide variety of aftermarket Harley-made parts, or building a bike from the ground up, says David Zemla, vice president of marketing for S&S Cycle, a manufacturer of motorcycle aftermarket performance parts.
The most popular bikes to customize tend to be Harleys, Zemla says. There are several reasons, including the fact that Harley hogs are the biggest sellers in the U.S. and typically the easiest to get parts for, whether for a new or used bike.
“The customization base is split between franchise Harley dealers and independent Harley dealers. The independent guys will take [customization] to a level the franchise dealer never will, as they don’t have to deal with the same rules as a franchise dealer. It depends on how crazy a guy wants to do a bike. It’s relatively common for any given new Harley purchase to have a level of customization before the owner ever rides it,” according to Zemla.
The top-selling motorcycle in the U.S. is the Harley Street Glide, which starts around $20,000, Zemla says. Once ordered, any part on the bike can be changed—from something as simple as the seat to more complicated parts like wheels, he says.
“As you get older, that crazy chopper that rode terribly and was hard to ride is a lot less fun. And I speak from experience,” he says. “The Street Glide is very nice to ride. It has a radio. It has [anti-lock brakes]. By virtue of that, it’s the preferred motorcycle in the U.S., and for customization.”
And From Scratch?
To fully customize a bike from the ground up, riders can work one-on-one with builders. Winston Yeh, founder and owner of Rough Crafts, says riders might start by looking at builders’ styles.
“The easiest way to work with the designer is to find your favorite one or two builds from that designer and share it with him or her,” he says. “Along with understanding your body size and riding style, a good designer will know how to find a direction for you, within his own style.”
Maffey will normally use the frame, or platform as it’s known, of a vintage motorcycle from the ’60s or ’70s, then sketch designs for the finished bike to show clients. He may custom-design a part or use one that is already fabricated.
Zemla says fully customized bikes can take about six months to create because it’s not uncommon for the companies to hand-craft bodywork, which can cost upwards of $100,000 or more.
“These guys are artists. They’re smaller shops, doing very, very unique work. There’s no production line, so it doesn’t happen quickly,” he says.
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