You’ve finally pulled the trigger and are the proud owner of a new (or new to you) motorcycle.
Or maybe you’ve owned your bike for a few years and are ready to make some changes and create a new look.
In both cases, there is a certain pride of ownership that drives all of us to put our own personal stamp on our motorcycles, to truly make them ours, and to create something that really turns heads and earns nods of approval.
Luckily, we’re living in a time when there are a multitude of ways to create a custom look for our rides, and a seemingly infinite number of resources, both online and offline, to inspire, instruct and guide us in creating the bike of our dreams.
Add to that the many advances in technology over recent years, and radical designs can be brought to life with such things as design software, laser cutting and 3D printing. So, if you’re looking for a place to get started, read on.
Motorcycle Customization Options
First, think about how you will ride.
Preferably you’ve already done this before you bought your bike, but if you’re still on the fence, think carefully about what motorcycle style is best going to suit the way you ride.
Planning on taking some road trips?
While a café racer may represent the ultimate in cool to you, that hunched riding position is going to be tough to maintain as the miles unfold. And a touring bike will be overkill if all you do is take it back and forth to work.
But there’s a lot of room in between. You can take a stock cruiser bike and modify it quite easily to give yourself a more aggressive riding position, and go further by adding performance components to give yourself the thrill of speed and a signature exhaust sound. You can also put new handlebars on a chopper to change the grip location and give a whole new feel to your riding experience.
So, before you start making changes, take a fair assessment of where, when and how you ride to help narrow down what your dream bike is going to look like when you’re done.
It doesn’t get more obvious than this: a new paint job done right will make your bike look fantastic. However, a bad paint job can ruin a good bike. How do
you ensure that you get the most wow-factor for your dollar? It starts with research.
Many motorcyclists can’t believe that it takes more than sanding the parts and spraying on a couple coats of their favorite paint to get the look they want. But a great-looking paint job requires a series of careful steps.
For example, a simple two-tone paint scheme requires at least three different layers of material.
Note the word layers, not coats. Each layer will have multiple coats of different types of paint material, consisting of primer, color coats and finally clear coat.
And that’s for a simple job. If you’re adding multi-layer graphics, the painting process gets very complicated.
While there are numerous videos on the internet breaking down the steps so that you can do it yourself, your best bet for getting the results you want is to seek out a qualified professional to paint your bike.
Experts say that you should always go to a shop that specializes in motorcycles, even if an auto body painter offers to do it for much less.
Don’t stop there.
Look up the motorcycle paint shops in your area and check out how long they’ve been in business. Hopefully, they’ve put some examples of their work up on their webpages. If you have a specific design or style in mind, make sure they’re experienced with that type of style.
And while photographs are helpful, (good paint shops should have a portfolio for you to view) there’s nothing like seeing a painter’s finished work in person from a variety of angles to really be able to assess that person’s skill.
While you’re at the shop, take a look around at their setup, and ask to see the painting booth(s). You shouldn’t see dirt or dust anywhere. High-end painting is one of those areas where cleanliness is next to godliness.
Without a doubt, you’ll want to talk about price.
If you’re working within a budget, be clear about that and hopefully you’ll find a paint shop that will work with you and give you the best they can for what you can afford.
Generally speaking, and there will always be exceptions, a single-tone motorcycle paint job may cost you $500 to $800.
A two-tone job will probably be about double this.
If you just want to have the tank painted, it will usually cost from $350 to $800 or more, depending upon what you have in mind. For a job where you’re changing not just the base color, but adding flames and/or other graphics, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000-$3,000 and up.
Always ask your paint shop about how they warranty their work. A good shop will stand by their work if you later find any defects.
Lastly, if you are planning to take your bike to a show or other event after painting, make sure you and your chosen painter agree up front that your bike will be ready before that date.
There’s nothing like paying for a custom paint job that you don’t get to show off because your bike components are still drying in someone’s shop.
A New Tank
Whether it’s secondhand, custom or aftermarket, a new tank can completely alter the lines of your bike.
Check out sites like Craigslist, eBay, or custom tank builders like Orange County Choppers, Lowbrow Customs, or Throttle Addiction. Then, get it professionally painted to really express your personality.
For altering your bike’s bodywork, there’s nothing quite like vinyl wraps to really make your whole bike pop.
Vinyl wraps are a fraction of the cost of a custom paint job and can now be found in hundreds of colors and designs, with matte, gloss and even carbon fiber looks. It’s essentially a sheet of vinyl that adheres to the surface of your bike like a second skin, covering up old, outdated paint. It’s more durable than paint and requires a minimum of maintenance.
What’s more, it’s possible to wrap your bike yourself with the proper tools, skill and patience, or you may want to have it professionally done.
And, if you thought it couldn’t get any better, you can remove vinyl wrap and replace it whenever you feel like a change.
Check out manufacturer 3M for what are considered the best materials, and retailers like rvinyl and others when you’re ready to buy.
Decals And Stickers
Here’s another alternative to a custom paint job. Decals are available in a variety of designs to please any taste.
You can go with something humorous and cartoonish, or something more ‘dangerous’ and aggressive-looking. Decals can be purchased in sizes that fit your specific motorcycle, and can be quickly and easily applied with a minimum of tools.
Check out Tattooed Ride, or J&P Cycles, and also MotorcyleDecals.com, if you’re interested in branded decals.
Another great way to customize your bike is by re-covering or completely changing out the seat.
You won’t just be adding style and flair to your machine, you’ll also likely be getting a much more comfortable ride once you swap out your stock seat.
You can up your game by using exotic leather materials, adding a removable backrest for passengers and even installing a heated seat for those colder rides toward the end of the season.
Plenty of online retailers will sell you a brand-new seat that will definitely be a step up from the original equipment.
If you’re interested in a custom seat, KonTour Seat makes comfortable, custom made or rebuilt saddles, or you can retrofit your current seat for more comfort with help from Dynamic Systems.
Also check out Rich’s Custom Seats, or take a look at Mac’s Upholstery for some great before and after pictures of their work.
Custom Wheels and Tires
Even those less technically inclined can, in a matter of minutes, transform the look of their bike with new wheels and tires.
Many people go for aftermarket wheels made of lightweight carbon fiber, which can have several advantages, including improved handling, fuel economy and acceleration.
And new tires should give you more grip on the road and provide overall better handling for the conditions you plan to ride in.
The experts offer some useful tips:
- Don’t ignore a tire’s recommended rim width.
- Be sure to bleed your brakes and bed in brake pads carefully.
- To ensure a correct fit, mount all the wheel hardware before you install new tires.
- If you’re performing a non-standard installation, check with both the wheel and tire manufacturers to make sure you’re within safety specifications.
- Make sure your new tires reflect the correct load ratings, especially if you’ve added other modifications that will add to the bike’s weight.
With custom wheels, you’re really only limited by your imagination now that advanced technology can cut virtually any design on a variety of materials. For some inspiration, head over to sites like Sinister, Performance Machine, and Metalsport Wheels.
Bolt-on items are just that: motorcycle parts that (generally) don’t require professional installation or any custom fitting or tuning, yet can make a huge impact to the look and performance of your bike.
Sometimes it’s the smallest touches that have the most impact. A set of aftermarket grips, brake handles, brake pedals, bolts and pegs can really make your bike stand out from the rest. KapscoMoto carries a large selection of bolt-on parts.
Consider new handlebars and foot pegs which can create a more, or less, aggressive riding position.
How about saddlebag lids with some high-end speakers built right in? Or new exhaust pipes to get that deep, throaty exhaust sound?
The variety is endless and each type of bike will have its own suitable bolt-on parts.
Here are some pro tips for adding aftermarket products to your bike:
- Consider mixing it up with different kinds of metal finishes. Stainless, chrome and polished aluminum all stand out with slightly different tones.
- Be sure that your new accessories complement each other and your bike.
- Chrome parts scratch easily, so take care when installing them. For the same reason, don’t clean chrome with abrasive cleaners.
- If you are thinking of chroming the ugly parts of your bike, consider hiding them first. There is such a thing as too much chrome.
Depending on the type of bike you have, a tinted windscreen can really compliment your bike’s color and reduce glare from the sun.
There are many different colors and effects available for purchase.
Styling pros say that reflective and polarized tints look best on a sports bike, while darker gradients look good on a variety of bikes.
Check with your local dealer or online retailers for your specific brand of bike to see windscreens that will fit right out of the box, like MOTORCYCLEiD and National Cycle.
Saddlebags and Leather
While not suited to every type of bike, there’s nothing more old school than slapping some cowhide on your ride for functional cargo-carrying and eye-popping style. You can even find unique tank ‘bibs’ and tank chaps at retailers such as Dennis Kirk.
Just be sure that all your leather accessories incorporate compatible styles so your bike doesn’t look thrown together.
Besides leather, saddlebags come in a variety of materials, from hard shell plastics to canvas, vinyl and waterproof fabrics.
Check out this buyer’s guide for some inspiration, and here are some expert tips:
- Make sure ‘throwover’ style saddlebags are securely attached to your bike.
- Dark-colored leather saddlebags are less susceptible to the elements than light-colored bags.
- Treat your leather regularly with a high-quality leather soap and conditioner.
- Never overload saddlebags, especially fork bags, as this can cause dangerous handling problems.
- Make sure softer saddlebags don’t swing into the rear wheel when you’re riding.
With the wide availability of low-consumption, long-lasting LED technology, there’s no limit to the possibilities for lighting up your bike to create a one-of-a-kind head-turner.
LED lighting kits are available at online and brick-and-mortar retailers, and can often be installed in a matter of hours or over a weekend. LEDs can be mounted near and under the frame to create an emanating glow effect, or LED strip- and yarn-style lights can be strung in a myriad of colors and configurations over your bike’s surface.
You can also just light up specific points on the bike, such as the tank, mudguard, fenders, or the wheels.
Many kits also come with a Bluetooth controller that allows you to cycle through colors manually or run a few of your favorite configurations on a continuous loop. Plus, you can really stand out by incorporating LED lights on your helmet that match or complement those on your bike.
Check out some cool examples here.
Another lighting option is HID (High Intensity Discharge) bulbs, also known as Xenon lights. These lights are much brighter and more focused than the standard halogen lights that likely came with your bike, allowing you to see better and farther at night.
The added benefit is that you’re much more visible to other motorists and, therefore, safer.
Plus, they just look cool! HID lighting is generally sold as a kit that you can install yourself.
Customization Wrap Up
As you can see above, there’s really no limit to the ways you can create a customized bike. Not only are many of these fun, affordable projects you can do by yourself or with friends on a weekend, they add style, flair and personality to your ride.
Your bike can tell a story that’s as unique as you are, all while adding comfort and maximizing the enjoyment of every hour spent in the saddle.
So get out there and start putting together a bike that you’ll be proud to tell others, “Yes, that’s mine.”