Making a New (or Just New to You) Bike Your Own

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What are some common weak points of the “as it sits” new bike? And how do you go about making a bike right – for you?

* Factory seats –

The stock saddle often leaves a lot to be desired – whether it’s the shape itself or the padding underneath. This is true as much for sport bikes as it is for big cruisers. And since few dealers are going to let you test ride a new bike for an hour or more (if they let you ride the thing at all before you buy it) you won’t know how good (or bad) the stock seat is until after your name’s on the title. The upside is it’s pretty easy and not too expensive to replace the factory seat with an aftermarket one more to your liking. You can either have your factory seat redone by a local specialist (the stock pan is reused) or you can buy a complete new seat that bolts in place of the original. In addition to different covers, patterns/trim and padding, it’s also often possible to get a “two-up” seat, or a seat with built-in backrest, or a solo “gunfighter” style seat. The possibilities are extensive. Corbin is one of the best-known names in custom seats – for everything from crotch rockets to antique bikes to heavy cruisers. Dennis Kirk also carries custom seat covers.

* Handlebar risers/custom bars/pegs/rearsets –

It’s frustrating to really like a bike that doesn’t fit you quite right. Here’s where handlebar risers (and custom pegs/bars, etc.) come into play. Handlebar risers are typically blocks of billet aluminum that fit between the stock handlebar and its original mounting point, raising it by anywhere from 1 to 3 inches or so. This can make a bike that might otherwise be uncomfortable for a taller rider (or a rider with shorter arms) closer to “just right” than the one-size-fits-all factory set-up permitted. Risers are pretty cheap, too – usually less than $100 – and very easy to install with just basic hand tools. Another way to make your bike fit you better is with an aftermarket/custom handlebar; while it’s harder to change the angle of sport bike bars with “clip ons,” with cruisers and dual-sports (and many “naked” or super-standard bikes) you can often replace the factory handlebar with an aftermarket piece that’s angled differently (“pullback”), or swap from straight style to “buckhorns.” Whatever suits you and your riding style best. You can also usually adjust the angle of the stock/factory bars by slightly loosening the bolts/clamps that secure it to the steering head. Experiment with different angles, find the one that fits you best and tighten up the bolts. (You may need to then adjust the mounting of the mirrors and switches to compensate – but again, this is very easy to do with basic hand tools.)

Sport bike riders also sometimes like to alter the position of their bike’s footpegs using custom rearseats – especially on bikes (such as nakeds/standards) that have fairly conservative riding positions in stock/factory condition. More aggressive rearsets give the bike a sportier, more “tucked-in” riding position – and more clearance during hard cornering. See www.scootworks.com and www.twistedthrottle.com for risers and bars; see www.jdacustom.com and www.kneedraggers.com for custom rearsets/pegs.

* Exhaust (pipes/slip-on “cans” and systems) –

Factory exhaust systems are often fairly heavy, fairly restrictive, generic-looking – or just too quiet. Bike manufacturers are limited by law (all new bikes must meet noise and emissions standards, just like new cars) as well as by cost constraints when it comes to the exhaust systems they fit to their bikes at the factory. But that doesn’t mean you have to live with the compromised factory system. You can replace just the “can” (bike-speak for the muffler) or the entire exhaust, which usually includes a header, main pipe and new can(s). Stainless systems are endlessly durable and easy to keep looking as new, while titanium systems are extremely light (an important consideration for sport bike riders). Performance systems reduce exhaust backpressure, increasing engine output. And aftermarket chrome pipes/cans are available in a virtually limitless variety of styles, to customize the appearance of your machine. Exhaust tone can be tuned to your liking, too. Some of the big names in aftermarket exhaust for bikes include Vance & Hines, Kerker, Muzzy, Akrapovic, Yoshimura and Jardine, among others. Dennis Kirk has a huge selection for all makes and types of bikes. Be aware that you may need to re-jet your bike’s carburetors (or adjust the FI system on injected machines) to get the most out of an aftermarket exhaust system.

* Custom bodywork/trim/bits and pieces –

It’s easy to give your bike a unique/custom look by replacing some of the stock bodywork (or controls) with aftermarket pieces. For example, carbon fiber bar ends and cowling, billet aluminum (or chrome) trim pieces, etc. A popular modification is to send out factory stock engine case covers, wheels and so on to be chrome-plated. A simpler (and much less costly) mod that can be done in under an hour with basic hand tools is to replace the factory fasteners (screws and bolts) with better-looking aftermarket ones. They come in anodized, chrome-plated and hex-key styles – among others – and it’s just a matter of unscrewing the originals and screwing in the new ones. You can buy individual bolts – or an entire kit that comes with everything you need to swap out all (or most of) your bike’s stock bolts with exact-length replacements.

Sport bike riders often like to of add frame sliders to their machines to limit damage to the bike’s expensive (and fragile) alloy engine/cases and plastic in the event of a crash. Spools – which are small fittings that attach to mounting points near the rear wheel/axle – are another popular add-on. They allow the bike’s rear end to be raised and supported by a special cradle for easy removal of the back wheel, or to service the chain and sprocket. If you have a cruising/touring bike, you might want to add “bags” (either hard or soft) for additional storage, a sissybar for the backseat passenger, or highway pegsĀ  to make long-haul stretches on the freeway more comfortable. Any major supplier of motorcycle parts will have a large selection of bodywork/add-ons/bags and so on to choose from. Large dealerships also typically have various items on display – or can order them for you. Several bike manufacturers currently offer factory-designed custom parts, too. Ask your dealer about them – or look them up on the bike manufacturer’s web page.

* Electronics –

If you’ve got a cruising/touring bike, your machine probably came with a high-output alternator (and maybe even a factory plug-in) to run a heated riding suit/gloves. Now you’ve got an all-year bike, instead of just a summer ride. Another popular aftermarket feature for long-haul touring is a GPS unit; several aftermarket companies (Garmin, TomTom) make models designed specifically for motorcycles. On a bike, GPS can be even more helpful than it is in a car – since it’s not easy to read a paper map on a bike. Also, many motorcycle navigation systems offer the same “turn by turn” directional assistance you’d find in a car. Some riders like to add custom lights – and high-output stereos – to their bikes. This is fine – provided you’re careful to wire everything up properly – or have it wired up properly by someone who knows what he’s doing. It’s important not to overload the bike’s stock alternator/electrical system – and with late-model bikes that have onboard computers/ECUs, you want to be very careful about power surges or anything else that might fry critical (and expensive) components. If you’re not sure, ask. And if you’re uncomfortable about installing any part yourself – it’s no shame to ask a pro.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I now factor the price of a custom seat into the overall acquisition cost of a new or used motorcycle. It’s frustrating that so few brands and models of bikes are equipped at the factory with adjustable seat heights…esp. street and adventure bikes (the latter of which should be the last refuge of tall riders like myself.) Ah, well.

    • As a tall guy myself, I have the same issue. Especially with sport bikes, most of which fit me about as well as a Mini Cooper fits Lurch!

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