How to Build a Motorcycle: Complete Beginners Guide!
Can I Build My Own Motorcycle?
This is the question that most motorcycle aficionados would ask themselves.
To start off, this is going to be a guide for beginners up to the intermediate level riders. We are going to look into how to build and mod an older bike. We would either be using a rolling chassis or a just a frame from a wreck.
We have to understand that before we begin part of this, or even the majority of it is actually the enjoyment itself of being able to build and be creative.
Next is safety. Aside from the thrill and the satisfaction of being able to literally complete a project with your bare hands, you’d also have a sense of coming away with more than you could ever gain than by just being a rider. We must be aware that starting from the frame up to the finishing touches, safety is not only crucial but is key to the outcome of your project.
A little skewed adjustment or maybe a miscut to the basic frame of your bike could be the difference between the success or failure of the build, once the bike is complete. That is, for any other reason if your frame is a little to the left, it could spell danger to normal operations. Naturally, such is the case because this thing is literally running on just 2 wheels.
Lastly, once it is finished we can always look at it with pride and satisfaction as a sort of testament to our hard work and persistence. Okay, before we get all fuzzy and everything, let’s look at the basics of choosing a method of rebuilding an old bike, or making it from scratch:
Donor Bike vs Building from Scratch
It’s not easy to do but is significantly feasible in terms of build success, and the time and cost that it will take to do it. Meaning, you get more chances of being able to rebuild an older bike and make it look like new or customize for a different look.
Either way, there is about a 90% chance that you will be able to actually ride and use it without too much trouble and repair. These are for reasons that we will be discussing later on in this article.
Not much creativity here, you basically have to follow the manual, as well as the basic design to be able to get it together and work. Although, if you are an advanced builder you can make safe mods that can suit your taste.
Building from Scratch
With this method, you will have the freedom to create a fully unique bike that you may have designed from the frame, type of engine, cowlings, paint job and so forth. It will be a bike that no one else has and no one else can copy.
Not advisable for beginner builders. It may not work properly, or you may have to continuously make repairs or adjustments. It may be a little bit more tedious and complicated since you will have to decide on each and every part that you will be using.
Building Custom with a Donor Bike
A Donor Bike basically means a bike that has already been put in the salvage yard. However, it could come from anywhere, a neighbors backyard, a vehicle pound, even a mechanic’s storage. Wherever it is, you will have to take note of two things. 1st it can be a rolling chassis or a wreck that still has an intact frame.
Most bikes that were made prior to the year 2000 are carburetor driven. This makes them easier to restore compared to the electronically driven injector type combustion.
You can also choose a bike that has a common model, an example would be the Yamaha motorcycles that were made during the 1990’s or earlier. With these bikes, you can be assured of spare part availability. This way you won’t have to deal with having to scrounge around for spare parts, they are aplenty. You can also have someone just give it to you if they’d be willing to.
Try to stick to the year model of your chassis in picking out parts so you would not have too much difficulty in collecting necessary replacements. Again, Japanese bikes have perfect designs, so any alteration could greatly affect performance. And also, it would make a lot of sense especially if you are a beginner to just go with the flow and maybe make some minor modifications. You might not want to modify the size and shape of the frame, either, at least not yet.
These bikes once altered can become unsafe, and what’s more a bike that is patched with different spare parts that aren’t compatible can bring problems more than you can find a use for your bike for. So, you might want to avoid that as well. Getting an older American motorcycle is always a great option to build a custom.
A Harley motorcycle made also in the 1990s is a good choice. For build success and safety, it is recommended that you stick to the year that it was released. Harley parts are practically in abundant supply. There is no doubt that you would enjoy building this brand as well as you would a common Japanese bike.
Additionally, a critical advantage to building older bikes is that its electrical systems are much more simple and easy to deal with. When on the process of building, and it is your first time to build a bike, we suggest that you purchase one that still runs.
This will allow you to experience the build process without too much focus on the details of deciding which spare part to use. This way you still get the experience and also get to enjoy a less complicated process. This also goes with being assured of a functioning result in the end.
Plan Your Build
It is always good to plan the start and end of your build, so you can maximize the time that you have. With a timeframe, you have a basis for progression of your project. This would also avoid unnecessary perfectionist moves that can stall and sometimes delay an installation, or, whatever stage you might be in.
Just like any other activity, custom building has a beginning and an end. You can also always make space for changes in the schedule, or to the plan itself. Make it flexible for unforeseen events or a sudden flash of creativity.
Outsource Complex Tasks
If you are not a mechanic or at least being with someone with some experience, know how to take apart an engine block. It is recommended that you delegate the task of inspecting, stripping and rebuilding the engine to make it work.
You can go to an expert mechanic or to a specialist shop for motorcycle engines. This would save you time and the headache of having to deal with potential engine troubles after completing the build.
At least make a drawing of the end product of your project bike. Moreover, if you have knowledge of CAD for motorcycle designs makes it all the better. Otherwise, you can just take a stock photo of the model you are looking to assemble, then you can go ahead imitate it.
The first tool you need to acquire is the manual for the specific model, and build of your motorcycle. This way you will have an exact specification to replacements and assemblies.
Secondly, you will need to make your own lift table or have one built for you. This a wooden platform of certain dimensions specially constructed for building motorcycles. Why? It is practical as well as convenient since it is easier to work on a bike up on a platform than you being sprawled out on the concrete floor.
As you begin the teardown process, make sure that you have all the necessary tools and make an inventory of every single part. Obviously you won’t be able to remember all of them since removing them is easy, Putting everything back is a little bit more tricky. Do make a list of all the items that you come across and label each and every one of them. Whenever possible, take a photograph of each spare part, and do it down to the last bolt.
Store them in individual plastic bags and label them as to what part goes where so that when you start rebuilding you will have an accurate guide. As you are disassembling the bike, write a current list of parts that needs to be replaced.
Clean all the components and use the appropriate solvent for each part as prescribed. Make sure to read the label of each type of cleaning solution/ degreasers, solvents and the like. Some of these parts have dirt and debris that have accumulated throughout the years. Be ready with protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and eye protection. Always follow the label when it comes to how to dispose of these chemicals properly.
Parts for Replacement
Roller bearings undergo normal wear and tear and later become too worn out to be reliable. Replacing them is highly recommended to maintain performance.
Air, fuel, and oil filters are generally disposable items once they reach expiry. So it is a good idea to allot for replacements immediately. Rarely are they kept and reused especially when the bike has been sitting for years.
If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you outsource the repair and refurbishing of your engine to an expert mechanic. Upon disassembly though, take care to list down and label each and every disassembled part.
Rubber cracks and degrades against elements of heat, direct sunlight, and even the passage of time. Inspect grips, hoses and even tires. Replace them at once.
Test fit the parts together with all that have been replaced. Mocking up your project bike is necessary in a way that you will have everything already squared away prior to having everything painted.
It will also give you the chance to see if there was anything that you missed and if something is needed to be added on as you are about to complete the project.
You can also avoid damaging new paint by test fitting everything. It doesn’t matter how many times, what matters is you get it right.
You can do the wiring right after the mockup. Inspect wiring and wiring harness. If found to be old and crusty, replace. You need to cut harnesses to the exact length needed as this would help reduce any possible and unwanted electrical faults in the future.
It would be a good idea to make upgrades in small increments. Smaller details like grips, footrests, the seat, and even tires. These are mainly comfort upgrades and some even just cosmetic. But then, it will really help your motorcycle’s performance and aesthetics.
New paint will always be a standard when it comes to customizing your project motorcycle. It could be either a faithful reproduction of the stock or some wild variation of the original that would look equally good. This is the part where you can DIY if you are a paint hobbyist. Or, you can opt to outsource it to a body shop specialist. Carefully package the parts to be painted so they can return it to you in good condition as well.
Customizing your exhaust system is one way of adding that new look to your bike and at the same time adding power to your engine. You might want to look into the legal limits of your state regarding maximum decibels that are allowed for such muffler noise. An upgraded exhaust system could surely add uniqueness to your newly assembled bike.
This is the last rehearsal for the final build that would have you tightening your bolts permanently. This is done assuming that your outsourced paint jobs have already been shipped back and are ready to install. You can actually test ride the bike to verify any other possible adjustments, or to bring out any problem that could only be diagnosed in normal riding conditions.
At this point with several teardowns and many adjustments that you have done to your bike, you might have already gotten the feel of disassembly and reassembly. And by this, you have gained much experience and knowledge in building your custom bike. You already have become an expert and you are now in the home run phase. Complete the assembly with the proper nut and bolt torque, and put everything in place. You can go outside and do a final test ride on your bike.
Finally, you have to come to the conclusion of your build.
Congratulations! You are now finally ready to unveil your new custom-built bike.
One last step so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and earn your bragging rights as a successful project motorcycle owner. B
e aware that there are different laws for different states governing the registration and ownership of custom-built bikes. However, they all point to one single purpose which is to allow bikers to build their own bikes and be able to use it as well.
Although there are some limits such as, for example in the state of California; a custom motorcycle is defined as “built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer.”
Here is the list of some of the requirements you need to successfully register your bike (for more details please refer to your local vehicle registration office).
- Title of Ownership
- Purchased Frame and Engine Block
Make sure that the VIN or Vehicle Identification Number on the frame or engine block matches the one in the title. If there is no VIN, you can ask a Manufacturer Statement of Origin (MSO) from the seller instead
- Self-built Frame
If you DIY’d your frame, the registration office can issue you a home built VIN number in lieu of MSO
- Safety inspection Certificate
- Emissions Certificate
- Builder Title Limit
Completion of Registration Process
Make an appointment with your local Department of Motor Vehicles and pay the registration fee. Submit the required documents along with your motorcycle insurance.
For more details on registration requirements visit this site: www.motorcyclelegalfoundation.com
Once you get everything in place paper wise, you are now set to conquer the streets.
Other Styles of Custom Built Bikes
The Brat Style Bike
The name and design of the Brat Style Bike originated from Japan by a shop called Go Takamine. The design was so successful and popular that it was imitated and adopted all throughout the world. It was named as the Brat style bike. It was a unique standout in a way that it was the anti-thesis of the Harley model of a customized bike.
The Harley was more on great-looking chrome, low riding seats, really big and strong engines, and some really loud exhaust systems. This type of custom-built bike is a classic even up until today. The Brat Style, in contrast, is on the low profile side, with chrome from the exhaust pipes removed and replaced by matte black. It had a rear suspension that added comfort to the rider and all other features that make it look low, dark and mean.
And what’s more, apart from looking good, it is also cheap to build.
The most distinct feature of the Brat Style design is its unique flat slab seat that can seat up to two riders or a solo seater which is lowered on a midframe modification. The way you can customize your bike to this particular design has something to do with doing the usual steps for customizing a bike and adding these other features to give it the final look as a Brat Style bike.
Main features of the Brat Style:
- No clip-ons handlebars have mini-apes style handlebars
- The rear tire is equipped with spring suspension
- Has a lowered single-seater, or a 2 seater flat slab seat
- Fairings are removed, has bobbed fenders and matte black paint instead of chrome
Paying attention to these modifications will show you a true Brat style mod on your custom bike.
Flat Track Motorcycles
This is another style of modification that speaks to the racer instinct of the rider. Flat track racing, otherwise known as dirt track racing began in the early 1900s in the U.S. These races where previously held in oiled wooden planks which made it dangerous. Eventually, organizers decided to hold it in dirt track ovals.
The idea of the customization of flat track motorcycles was born out of the necessity of needing bigger and heavier motorcycles that can negotiate the dirt oval better.
This model generally has bigger wheels and larger engines. If you come to think about it is rather quite unwieldy if you think in terms of motocross. But its design is just perfect to make those unique turns that look a little strange but thoroughly exciting.
You can begin your project by getting a motocross bike and use the frame as the base for the customization. Choose an engine that could provide more horsepower or one that you can modify to get more horsepower out of.
Convert to 13:1 compression-ratio in CP piston and it will give you the needed power. Use high-end piston valves and springs, and ensure that they are properly machined to the exact specs. This way, so that they will fit tightly. In estimates, this setting will be able to take you to 13,500 rpm.
To further increase your horsepower, put a downpipe. It helps in keeping the engine cool by reducing heat build-up and maintaining temp even at high speeds.
Replace your front wheel with a 19-inches replacement, along with reliable disc brakes. At the back put a 19-inch wheel as well.
Add your preferred brand of brake line and brake lever. Install your throttle and clutch lever. Lastly install a fairly comfortable seat, favorite footpegs, and your high-quality handlebar grips.
You can now test your custom-built flat track motorcycle on the dirt oval. and if everything checks out, you’re good to go for a race.
Overall, building custom bikes is ultimately an expression of creativity that varies from one rider to another. What matters most is that you as the builder will design your bike according to what really inspires you and ultimately bakes your cake.
So I hope you use this information to your advantage and make a beastly motorcycle of your dreams!