Although the phrase custom motorcycle might suggest a unique bike that has been custom made, the term is more widely used to describe any motorcycle that mimics the cruiser style popularised by Harley Davidson. However, just to confuse matters, the phrase can also be used to describe a special, one-off bike built to the owners’ specifications, but generally speaking it means a Harley style bike. Most of the big Japanese bike manufacturers, as well as Triumph in the UK and an increasing number of the low-end Chinese factories produce “factory custom” style motorcycles these days, although for most bikers Harley Davidson will always be the most desirable brand for this type of bike and everything else is seen as little more than an imitation.
So, why are they called custom motorcycles when they’re really standard production models and they have not bee customised in any way? The style we tend to think of most when we talk about custom bikes is the chopper style – which features low seats, tall handlebars, forward mounted footpegs, etc. All of these styles came about in the post war era, when it became popular to strip down motorcycles of any unnecessary components to reduce weight and improve the speed and handling of the bikes. The result was a look that endures in modern custom motorcycles, although ironically these days this style is not considered sporty when compared to superbikes, but is seen as more of a comfortable cruiser look.
Not all custom motorcycles are choppers
Another irony about modern factory custom motorcycles is that we have seen a resurgence of many of the unnecessary, heavy decorative components, such as footplates and large fenders, for style purposes. Again, this is kind of ironic since the original motivation for customizing motorcycles was to get rid of all that ornamental stuff to improve performance. Generally speaking, custom style motorcycles are based on a large capacity v-twin engines, which is probably due to the influence of Harley Davidson in this sector, since the company almost exclusively uses this engine configuration. Triumph, known largely for its three cylinder engines, provides several custom motorcycles based on a parallel twin motor, while the leading Japanese manufacturers build custom bikes on a variety of engine configurations – the cheaper Japanese customs tend to be based on modified engine designs borrowed from other models already in production in order to keep costs down, while the high end bikes are usually based on v-twin engines designed specifically for that model.
Custom motorcycles provide a more relaxed riding style than other types of bike, although some riders find the combination of a low seat and high handlebars uncomfortable for long rides. It’s also worth bearing in mind that they are really designed for style rather than practicality, and compared to more modern motorcycle designs they can often handle and perform quite poorly, as well as being quite uneconomical with fuel consumption. But the bottom line is that none of that stuff really matters, because nothing in this world is as cool as cruising down the road on a chopper.