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Custom Motorcycle

Learn how to get started on building a custom motorcycle.

Because a custom motorcycle is a valuable investment, proper insurance is very important. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Because a custom motorcycle is a valuable investment, proper insurance is very important.

The popularity of motorcycles has exploded over the last decade, as shows like American Chopper and Motorcycle Mania fuel the custom motorcycle craze. Before investing in a custom motorcycle, it is important for consumers to know what constitutes a custom motorcycle and how the bikes are made. Many riders choose to purchase custom-made bikes, but a hardcore custom motorcycle enthusiast may opt to build his or her own bike. Regardless of how a person comes to own a custom motorcycle, it is imperative that he or she properly insures the motorcycle in order to protect the investment.

Origin of Custom Motorcycles

Custom motorcycles date back to World War II, when they provided an inexpensive mode of transportation for soldiers returning from war. As racing became a favorite pastime of many GIs, the market for faster bikes increased. Consequently, bike owners began to remove, or "chop," the parts of their bikes that were not essential for riding. These bikes gave rise to the term "chopper," which would eventually become a standard term used to refer to most customized motorcycles.

Types of Custom Motorcycles

The term custom motorcycle has many connotations, but it generally refers to any motorcycle that has been modified in some way so that it is no longer a simple stock bike. A stock bike is a standard model produced for mass sale, but if a consumer is willing to invest hours of work, much effort and the cost of aftermarket, or non-factory, parts, a former stock bike can be made into a uniquely custom bike.

A truly custom bike, which is built from the ground up, is typically referred to as a "one off" because it is the only one of its kind ever made. "Factory customs" are sold by bike manufacturers as standard models that are customized for buyers prior to purchase. For example, American Ironhorse sells four custom models, while Big Dog Motorcycles allows buyers to specify a custom seat.

Making a Custom Motorcycle

Custom motorcycles reflect the owners' individuality and personal tastes. Many riders customize their bikes by replacing standard factory issue parts with aftermarket parts in order to improve the performance or look of the bike. This type of customization can typically be performed with a minimal amount of mechanical know-how and within a short period of time.

Riders who possess a stronger mechanical knowledge may spend months or even years modifying and creating their custom motorcycles. The latter method may require more extensive tools and machines for constructing and fabricating the various parts. A recent development in motorcycle customization is the advent of the custom motorcycle kit. Motorcycle enthusiasts can now buy kits that include most or all of the necessary parts for building a complete custom chopper.

Learning to Build a Custom Motorcycle

There are many methods for learning how to build a custom motorcycle, which vary according to a person's budget and time constraints. Once time and money has been considered, begin to review topics pertaining to custom motorcycle building. Internet sites, such as Custom Choppers Guide, are good resources. Other resources include books and instructional videos devoted to the topic of building custom bikes.

The equipment required for custom motorcycle assembly is another factor to consider, especially since it can be expensive to buy or rent certain pieces. Prospective custom bike builders can enroll in community college auto body classes, which will give them access to the costly tools needed to assemble a custom bike. Such classes offer the expertise of an instructor, who can guide builders through their project ideas. First-time builders also get their feet wet by fixing up an old bike, which provides hands-on learning experience in the basics of motorcycle maintenance and helps build confidence. Novice custom bike builders may also find support through local custom bike social groups or from online discussion boards.

Insuring a Custom Motorcycle

Insurance companies typically insure vehicles based on the model or type, as there are standard values associated with repairing and replacing these types of vehicles. Since custom bikes do not fit this formula, they represent an anomaly for insurance companies, and as a result, many companies either do not offer insurance or limit insurance to liability on custom motorcycles. A custom motorcycle owner may need to find a specialty insurance company that will insure the bike for its full value . Prior to purchasing insurance, have the bikes appraised and, if necessary, inspected at the local Department of Motor Vehicles.

Custom Bike Building Contests

Bike builders who enjoy showcasing their custom creations and skills might consider participating in a custom bike building competition. One of the largest custom bike competitions is the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building, held in Sturgis, S.D. The competition takes place each August and allows American builders to compete with bike builders from Europe and other countries.

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