So you want to build your own motorcycle? How do you proceed and what’s the first step?
As an initial step, figure out the style of bike you want to build. You’ve got a nice array of choices here and there are whole cottage industries devoted to helping you build your ideal cafe racer, bobber, chopper, metric bobber, Harley throwback or street custom, so use Google and Ebay to research your choice. Think before you act and understand what you’re getting yourself into before you lay out the cash.
Building your own bike can be as time-consuming as building your own plane, though not as dangerous, so keep that in mind as well when you’re making your ultimate commitment.
We’re going to try to make it easier on you by providing some custom motorcycle building tips and resources.
Do I have the tools to make the job easy?
First, you’re going to need the right tools. Anyone who sells custom motorcycle kits and rolling chassis is going to tell you you can do it with a “standard tool kit,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer. A standard tool kit rarely includes sockets with articulated joints, a full range of Allen wrenches, an acetylene torch, a drill press and full array of grinding and polishing wheels, but those are the kind tools you’ll actually need to get the job done. If you’re building from a kit, you’ll also need a motorcycle lift because building a bike on the ground is a godawful pain. You can find a nice lift brand new for $500 or less, and you won’t be sorry you bought it as the job progresses.
Save yourself further pain and annoyance buy purchasing a Dremel tool or the equivalent and a good angle grinder. A high-output air compressor and a set of air tools will make your life a whole lot easier, so but them and bite the bullet when it comes to the price here.
Get at least two nice bench vises, one for delicate parts and one you can beat the snot out of with hammers and heat. You won’t be sorry.
Aside from the proper tools, you need to clear out a whole bunch of space in your garage or workshop. A couple of rolling tables are always a time saver and your toolboxes should be well-organized and on casters as well.
You’ll need an auxiliary gasoline tank on a tall, rolling stand and by all means buy yourself a decent engine analyzer, a circuit tester and a wiring kit which includes nuts and connectors.
Buy some Locktite and know how – and where – to use it.
If you have a whole lot of money, you can start with a kit that includes nearly everything you’ll need to complete your bike. A Google search will present you with a bewildering array of choices, but be sure to check out exactly what you get for your money. Is it just a rolling chassis? Does the kit include the entire powerplant and drive train? You need to know, and take your time when you make your choice of kit to buy.
Don’t want to buy a kit, then the best way to go is to buy an existing used bike and and customize it yourself. This method has the virtue of familiarizing you with the various systems on a motorcycle without the need to spend a horrendous amount of money. There are parts suppliers within easy reach through the internet and many of them specialize in particular makes and models like the Yamaha XS 650 line and Harley-Davidsons.
A couple of hints here: if you’re customizing an existing used machine, do not make major changes to the frame or suspension without giving what you plan to do some serious consideration. Changes to the basic systems of your bike can affect steering geometry and handling characteristics in a very, very dangerous way. Changes to the engine and exhaust systems can have truly unfortunate consequences as well. Nothing like messing up the back pressure or fuel system on your bike to leave you stranded or moving along at a snail’s pace.
Getting on the right side of John Law
It’s also a good idea to do some initial research on what you’ll have to do to title and license your creation. You may need what’s called an MSO title to make your machine street legal, and that can be a major pain. Possible, yes, but just one more complicated step in the process.
Every state has slightly different laws procedures for registering a custom built motorcycle. It pays to do the research here as you’ll need some answers to hard questions. Quite a few states limit the number of “builder’s titles” you can apply for within a specified period of time to avoid buying a business license which classifies you as a motorcycle builder..
For the most part, the process of registering your custom bike depends on how and where you got the parts used to build it. If you bought a basket case with frame and engine parts, make sure you get the title that goes with them. No title available? Without a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the frame and engine that match you just ratcheted up the complexity of getting your title. The authorities make it hard to title this kind of bike to prevent “chop shops” from stealing and parting out bikes, and you don’t want to find yourself in possession of stolen parts, so take care here when buying the basis of your projects.
Since a new custom bike from a kit is generally defined as a motorcycle assembled from new parts,make sure you have all the necessary Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) documents for everything you bought or used when it comes time to register your creation. That means a folder full of payment receipts to be able to prove that every part was gathered legally.
When you’re all done, you’ll have to have a coming out party for your bike and parade it in front of the local law enforcement agency in your area. It’s going to be inspected for road worthiness, comparison and checks of VIN numbers, and a certification of the odometer reading. Without this step, you got nothing. If you pass all these hurdles, your bike will be eligible for an assigned ID Number, and once you’ve shown all the applications and documentation, you submit the whole pile to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. If it all goes well, you’ll get an ID Number plate which you’ll need to properly place and attach to your bike.
You’re finally ready to get your Certificate of Title for a Custom Built Motorcycle from Aftermarket Parts. Once you have the title, you’re good to go and you can pay the normal fees for registering a motorcycle and a license plate.
- Tires. Must be DOT approved for street use. No racing tires allowed, bub.
- Exhausts. Open pipes? Not going to cut the mustard at inspection time. Your bike may well be tested to insure that it meets requirements to meet local noise ordinance, so do yourself a favor and make sure it does.
- Mirrors. Every state requires that you have at least one rear view mirror. I know, the ruin the lines of your creation, but put one on anyway to avoid problems at inspection time.
- Turn signals. Not every state mandates that you have turn signals. Your call here, but check with your local DMV for the actual laws regarding them.
- Headlamp and Tail Light. Oh yeah, you have no choice here. Every state requires that motorcycles have a DOT approved headlight which includes high and low beams and a tail light (with a running and license plate display light) hooked up to the front and the rear brake.
- Horn. An absolute must as all states require your bike have a horn.
- Manufacturers Statement of Origin (MSO). Some states, in fact most of them, require an MSO or MCO (Manufacturers Certificate of Origin) wad of paperwork which states that your bike is intended for highway use. Get one and make sure you have all the required parts receipts when you do.
Resources for custom motorcycle parts and rolling chassis
Carolina Custom Products –
Chopper Blueprints -
CMU Enterprises –
Demon’s Cycle –
DNA Specialties -
Heartland Biker -
Leroy Thompson Choppers -
Low Brow Customs -
Paul Yaffe Originals -
Pitbull Motorcycles -
Raw Design -
Redneck Engineering -
Rolling Thunder Frames -
S.A.T. Motorsports -
Vicious Cycle Works -
West Coast Choppers -
Get in touch with your insurance agent or get an online quote to see how much it’s going to cost to insure your work of art. There are often different requirements and costs involved in insuring a bike with an MSO title , so make sure you know what you’ll be dealing with along those lines before you take to the highway.