The world of customising has come a long way in recent years as the days of raked out, high bars and acres of chrome have had their time. Instead, innovative new-age bike builders have started to appear from around the globe, turning every machine imaginable into unique and bespoke works of art. These builders are an exciting new breed of motorcycle enthusiasts - Café Racers, Street racers, Brats, Retros, Board Racers …you name it and someone, somewhere has probably given it a go...
This recent shift has also seen a change of style – no longer do custom machines have to just look sharp and often minimalist but they have to perform. Be that on-track, off-road or on the street, the performance of these machines has, at the very least, got to rival that of the donor machine as it arrives from the manufacturer.
Klock Werks Kustom Cycles in America have experienced a similar trend. "For sure the custom scene is growing," said VP Laura Klock, "We are finding more people coming to talk to us wanting something different to the standard machine that anyone can pick up from a dealer or secondhand. The only problem we find with this is that designing and creating completely new, bespoke and unique machines becomes tougher when there are so many around!
"This is one of the reasons we like to build really different machines - take our recent project, a 2013 Triumph Thunderbird Storm. This is a big 'bruiser cruiser', but instead of turning it into another custom cruiser, or chopper, we thought we would go to the extreme and completely transform it into a Cafe Racer!
"Of course, turning such a big bike into a Cafe Racer is no easy task and it took a lot of work, a lot of imagination and some dry wit! At the base of the 'Kafe Storm', as we called it, remains the big 1699cc Twin cylinder DOHC Water cooled Triumph engine but the rest of the bike was inspired by a 1937 Graham "Shark Nose" automobile. This inspiration was sparked by the horizontal fining on the Triumphs engine, resembling the chrome grillwork on the original car.
"In homage to the inspiration, we even put a genuine Graham headlamp in the new hand formed aluminium fairing. We see the Kafe Storm as a stretched out, powerful machine that is built for the long haul – much like a locomotive, and this image carried through into the design when a Union Pacific Streamliner Locomotive suggested the shape of the bump stop seat!"
But why has customising become so popular in recent years? "I do not think there is one singular reason as to why," says Tim Rogers from Spirit of the Seventies, a specialised custom motorcycle building company in Southern England, "I think it is a mix of reasons. For sure programmes such as Cafe Racer, Bike Build Off and even Orange County Choppers have helped massively and you can find our biggest biking title Motorcycle News even running competitions such as 'Britain's got Biking Talent' to find the best the UK has to offer."
Manufacturers themselves are showing more interest in custom machines too, as the Spirit of the Seventies found out in 2012 when Kawasaki UK commissioned them to transform a W800 into a unique and eye catching design. As further proof of the growing interest, the Spirit W800 was then displayed on the Kawasaki stand at the Motorcycle Live show at Birmingham's NEC centre. Similarly manufacturers have turned bikes over to customisers before the public get to see them such as the MT-01.
Tim continues, "Obviously looks and style remain the key factor in custom machines, biking is all about camaraderie and lots of bikers go to meets and like to show off, so a bespoke design unique to them is something they can proudly display. That said, performance is just as important nowadays and our recent Triumph 675 commission is a great example of these two ideas combining.
"The Triumph 675 creation is indeed a great example of beauty and track performance combining. The donor bike started life as a standard road bike, and has been through quite a transformation in its short life. "The original owner bought it brand new, and used it for a short while on the road before wanting to transform it into a pure track bike" explained Tim, "So he took it to T3, the guys behind the Triumph Triple Challenge racing series, who transformed it into a fully fledged Supersport machine. He used it for two years at track days before deciding to ask us to turn the bike back into road trim, but with the important brief of making it different."
"The bike already looked great, and we loved how the gold forks stood out against the black fairing - it is not often our donor bikes come equipped with Öhlins so we wanted to keep these just as prominent in the final design. We came up with a part Bol d'Or, part Moto2 road racer design – something that would definitely stand out in the crowd."
"We completely redesigned the fairing of the 675, making it out of aluminium. This meant that we had to relocate the air filter slightly, so it is now part of the single headlight in the front. The seat unit and rear of the bike were completely redesigned and we fitted a custom exhaust, which was built by the people at Co-Built. We kept the colour scheme similar to the original machine in homage to the racing history of the bike."
Also turning heads across the World is the German built Triworx 'Raise the Dust' machine, the ultimate in the style of stripped down 'Scrambler' featuring 43mm upside down Öhlins forks and rear shock. With wide MX bars and super knobbly tyres, this Triumph certainly 'Goes its Own Way' to coin their slogan! See our feature story for more on this fascinating machine….
As previously featured in Performance, the Warrs Harley Davidson customisers have seen their requests and creations change 180 degrees over the years. Chief designer Charlie Stockwell explains "I've been building customs since 2001, and the style of the machines has definitely changed over the years. We find that people look to us at Warrs and to what we're producing and often follow suit, so a 'trend' then starts. I've always liked to build slightly unorthodox customs, machines that people look at and think I must be crazy for building that!
In recent years the idea of big chrome Harley Davidsons with a big paint scheme has died out while more focus is placed upon the handling and usability of the machine. I've been using far more sports orientated products, customers are spending a lot of money on these machines and unlike America where there are these big open roads, the UK is all about twisty roads so the bike has to handle too."
Of course, there cannot be a story on custom motorcycles without mentioning the iconic team at Roland Sands Design. The company are well known around the globe for their outlandish creations, such as the truly bonkers 990 MotoGP V5 engined boardtracker they produced!
Now they have created a thing of beauty in the RSD BMW Concept 90 - a one off concept built to celebrate not only the 90th anniversary of BMW, but also the 40th anniversary of the R 90 S. The bike was unveiled at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este 2013 show to universal acclaim.
Roland Sands have built plenty of fantastic machines – some with ultimate track performance, some built just for the drag strip and some, like in the case of the KH-9 Vrod Nightrod Special for simply showing off. Based on a Harley Davidson V-Rod, the engine was tuned while the sub frame altered to accommodate a hand-built rear. A set of Öhlins Road & Track forks and TTX shock with linkage keep this monster on the road.
Customising has certainly come a long way from tassels and chrome...