Gone Outdoors

How to Customize a Motorcycle

by Sandi Stritch

Riding your own bike means not letting anyone else dictate how or what you ride. One way you can make your ride your own is through customization. Almost everyone who owns a motorcycle customizes it to a certain extent, from after-market mirrors to exhaust upgrades that increase power.

Aesthetic Upgrades

Change the handlebars. This is a simple matter of taking the grips, levers and master cylinders off the OEM handlebars, disconnecting the old bars from the top triple trees and bolting it all back together with the new bars. Of course, depending on the size of the new bars, you may have to replace some cables. New bars can make your bike look sleeker, more menacing or more laid back, depending on what style you go with.

Bob the rear fender. This is a shortening of the rear fender, and it makes the bike look a little more like a vintage hotrod with a more exposed rear tire. On the other hand, you could replace the rear fender with a longer piece and make it look more like the old-style lead sled custom street rods. These are called tail draggers.

Paint the darn thing. No motorcycle customization is complete without a new paint job. Flames, lightening, dancing girls or anything from your wildest imagination can be done by a skilled painter. Unless you have the equipment and the skills to tackle this project on your own, have a professional do it.

Comfort Upgrades

Change the seat. OEM seats on many manufacturers are known for their less-than-comfortable padding and shape. Several companies specialize in OEM replacement seats with different upholstery options. Even more offer completely custom seats to fit a variety of motorcycle models.

Get new shocks, or take them away. Some people prefer a stiffer ride, some a softer ride. It all depends on how you intend to ride. Quite popular is the hard-tail style. This is achieved on a bike by a custom frame or by removing the rear suspension and putting in struts to hold the swing arm rigid. Even the front suspension can be changed out to get a new feel. Progressive fork springs are a popular choice, as is a springer front end. These suspension modifications require more than basic knowledge of how to turn a wrench, but they can be achieved by the home mechanic with a little patience.

Add highway pegs. This is not only a comfort feature but also a safety feature. Riders who spend long hours on their bikes often need to stretch their legs. Forward-placed highway pegs afford the rider that opportunity.

Performance Upgrades

Change the air filter. This is one of the first and easiest things you can do to improve the performance of your bike. A higher-flow air filter allows more air, which means you can rejet the carburetors to add more gasoline, which equals more power.

Upgrade the engine internals. Just a bit more complicated than changing the air filter, upgrading the cams and valves and even adjusting the timing mechanisms can add 10 or more horsepower to your ride. Have a professional do these upgrades, unless you are familiar with the process yourself. A few wrong moves with the engine open or putting it back together incorrectly can be devastatingly destructive.

Upgrade your exhaust. This can be an aesthetic or a performance upgrade, but is most often both. Along the same lines as the air filter, if you let more air out of the engine, more air can get in, therefore it makes more power. Be careful and follow all local laws regarding emissions equipment upgrades and changes. Some states do not allow exhaust pipes to sound above a certain decibel level.

Items you will need
  • Basic set of tools
  • Motorcycle lift/jack

Tips

  • Don't go overboard or your bike may end up looking tacky or thrown together.
  • Have fun with your bike; customization is often an ongoing project.

Warnings

  • Obey all local laws regarding upgrades or changes to your bike.
  • Never ride without a proper helmet.
  • When working in the shop, make sure you take proper safety precautions. Protect your eyes and hands. When the bike is up on a lift, make sure it is secured properly, or it may fall over.

About the Author

Sandi Stritch specializes in alternative health and mental-health topics. She has more than five years experience working in a psychiatric hospital. Valentine began writing online in 2007 with pieces appearing in "The Main ARTery" and "In the Panhandle." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Shepherd University.

Photo Credits

  • C and M Upholstery