Those who have never built a custom motorcycle might
think that the builder starts off with a set of plans and then simply
executes the build. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact most
custom bike builds start with only a few of the details worked out.
Most builders have very clear vision of what they
want the bike to look like. They usually know what engine and transmission
they want to use and probably the rake and rise of the frame. Beyond that
most of it is made up as they go.
Truth is that these bikes are called "custom" for a
reason. We are not merely buying off the shelf parts and assembling a
bike. Well, most of us aren't, anyway. From the very onset a custom
motorcycle builder has to "tweak" his vision: things that should work on
paper or in his mind's eye don't always work in real life.
A lot of details are overlooked in the planning
stage. Many details that are planned out simply do not look right once the
parts are on the bike. Custom motorcycles are art, and just like any
piece of art the artist sometimes just moves in whatever direction he's
feeling at the moment.
The few bikes I've done have turned out looking
almost exactly how I planned, but the path to get there changed multiple
times. I have spend countless hours staring a partial build just trying
to figure out what kind of bracket I want to use as a fender mount or how
I want to mount the seat or what turn signals will look best.
While my paint schemes are usually locked in from the
bike's initial concept how to mount the gas tank might turn into an all
day experiment. A bike builder just never knows what he's going to run
Sometimes a bike gets completed and a week later it
gets torn down and repainted. I remember a bike I did in flat black lasted
only 3 days before I ripped the tins back off and repainted it with gloss
A lot of custom bike building is simply intuition.
Knowing what size wheels are going to look best or what style fenders will
complement the custom frame isn't a science that can be measured. Many
people can tell you what will fit, only a real artist can tell you what
will look the best.
Next time you see a custom motorcycle that you really
admire remember what went into that bike build. A man started with a
frame, engine transmission and a vision in his head of how he wanted it to
look and produced the finish product you're admiring.
You'll never know how many sets of handle bars he
went through or how many hours he spent staring at custom wheels in a
catalog trying to find the right set.
There's an old saying that "you can't rush a
masterpiece". Some guys will spend a couple of years building their custom
bike because it's the only one they'll ever own and they don't want to
settle for anything less than their dream bike.