Custom Motorcycles or Why To Tear Down A Perfectly Good Bike

I have had my ’08 Sportster for a few years now. Though it was not exactly stock when I bought it and had even been modified further once I got my hands on it, it just wasn’t the bike I wanted it to be. It was high time I tore it apart, changed and replaced some parts and put it all back together again. On the day I started this project a friend was there to drink with me, provide extra hands and, as it would turn out, inspire some pretty thought provoking questions.
There were two things that started the wheels turning. Number one was my swap from wide glide ape hangers to narrow glide ape hangers. If you are reading this, I surmise that you know what ape hanger handlebars are. In case you do not, they are more or less just very tall handlebars. Most aftermarket manufacturers offer both wide and narrow glide apes to accommodate two popular Harley-Davidson front end types.
My bike had wide glide apes on it when I bought it. Since my bike has a narrow glide front end, this mismatch created (to my eyes at least) an unsightly overhang. When I put the new bars up against the old bars, my friend shook his head. To him, the difference was negligible. To me it demanded attention. Changing out handlebars usually isn’t a big deal. It is slightly more painful if your electrical wiring is run through them which, of course, mine was. After attempting to free the pins from their factory quick-disconnects, I decided to cut the wiring harness which seemed to distress my friend even more.
Next up was the paint issue. My bike was black and I repainted it…black. Granted, it is a different shade of black and furthermore a specialty black but still, I went from black to black. Much like changing handlebars, painting a bike is not a huge deal. At least for my DIY “ride not polish” style of bike it isn’t. My friend chuckled at me again shaking his head.
To him, all of these efforts were unnecessary. As he explained, he was happy to tear his bike apart when it needed attention. Around the same time, his bike was suffering from electrical gremlins and it seemed it was coming apart on a daily basis. This type of necessary wrench-turning was acceptable whereas my elective, unnecessary variety was lost on him. I joked that “awesome isn’t for everyone” and we got a laugh out of it but in the end it was clear we did not see eye to eye.
After he finished his Bloody Mary and was on his way, I was left to my own devices and the goal of furthering my customization efforts. I started thinking…why was I doing this? What was my motivation to take something that worked perfectly well and change it? Why did I go about in some way or another modifying every motorcycle I have ever had? Why was stock unacceptable?
I am obviously not alone on this front. Harley-Davidson riders in particular are fond of changing up their bikes. From simple chrome farkles to full-blown one-off choppers and customs, outside of the dealership it is rare to see a factory stock motorcycle. If the part and accessory aftermarket is any indication, Harley is the most modified motorcycle on the market. Why is this? The company would probably sell you a line about their owners being rugged individualists and that change and customization is freedom or some other drivel like that.
I cannot say why most riders change their bikes. I do know that for me, it begins with the idea that a motorcycle is not only transportation. It is fun and excitement. Otherwise, all motorcyclists would all be driving cars. A bike should look just as good in a parking space as it does going down the road. Even at rest it should look sleek, sexy and capable. I feel that the bike should be an extension of the rider. In my case, I would not be caught dead on a yellow bike. One of my friend’s bikes is painted with orange and black tiger stripes. It fits him very well. I like my bikes to look different. I want to look at it and know that it is unique and that it is mine.
I guess since I feel that motorcycles are awesome, I want my bike to fit the best possible vision I have in my head for it. Other people would obviously disagree with how awesome it is or is not and that is a moot point. It is my bike and therein lies the beauty. A lot of custom builders and shops will sacrifice functionality for cool and that is where I draw the line. If a bike’s tank, for example, looks great but doesn’t carry enough fuel to get you down the road, it wouldn’t work on my bike. There are a lot of things in the custom scene that fit into this category but I digress. Besides, it is their bike, not mine.
As long as their have been motorcycles the guys who ride them have been taking them apart to make them, better, worse and most importantly theirs. I just cannot see myself on a stock bike and I think that will be the case until I’m old and have a hip replacement and end up on a factory styled bagger. Even then, if I am too old and tired to turn a wrench or stencil my initials on the hard bags, maybe it is time to hang up the helmet. Until then, they are all coming apart and God willing, when they go back together they will not be the same. They will be custom. They will be awesome. They will be mine.


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– who has written posts on Bama Rides.

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