Building a motorcycle from the ground up is not a process just anyone can do. You need time, patience, persistence and possibly a fair amount of money. Following this guide will offer you direction and fundamental tips to avoid any hidden costs.
Let’s state this upfront. If you’re considering building a motorcycle from the ground up you’re in for a long although rewarding journey. A journey not everyone is cut out for. Before you half heatedly commit to such an undertaking, ask yourself, Do I have the time, patience, persistence, skills and of course money, to see this through to the end?
If you answered yes to everything except for skills, you’ll be OK. This article and the useful resources mentioned in this guide will help teach you how to build a motorcycle from scratch without spending too much money.
How To Build A Motorcycle From Scratch
If this is your first time attempting to build a motorcycle or you’re still relatively new to the process, there are a few qualifying steps to consider before we jump into building a motorcycle from scratch.
How much does it cost to build a motorcycle from scratch?
With so many options, it’s a difficult question to answer. You could hypothetically build a motorcycle by strapping a lawnmower engine to a bicycle for less than $500. To build your own bicycle you need to set a budget and stick to it.
How long does it take to build a motorcycle?
Most motorcycle builders are weekend hobbyists. Building a motorcycle can take months, if not years without access to the proper machinery and parts. For an experienced mechanic, a complete motorcycle rebuild from scratch could take as little as a few days.
How much does it cost to build a bobber motorcycle?
Converting your bike into a bobber motorcycle will cost between $1300 – $1700 depending on the parts, labor and tooling needed. The cost will be cheaper for more popular motorcycle models with an abundance of spare parts.
Is it cheaper to build a bike from scratch?
Building a motorcycle from scratch will cost more than buying one new. Motorcycle’s are often stripped down and sold for spare parts as the parts are more valuable on their own. Buying a new motorcycle will save both time and money.
Build The Right Motorcycle From Day One
This is a crucial step in the process. Choose the wrong bike and you’re screwed. Imagine getting half way into a custom motorcycle build to find out the parts you need are no longer in production and you now have to ship them from a junkyard in Asia. Not ideal.
Choose a bike that is well recognized around the world.9 out of 10 times you’re better off choosing a slightly older model. This will help ensure that replacement parts are readily available and at a much lower cost the rare parts. At the end of the day you want the project of building your own motorcycle to be fun, not a pain in the ass.
Motorcycles with carburetors are generally much easier to work on. So choosing a slightly old bike (which generally use a carburetor system) is a win win. On top of this, older models also tend to have electrical systems which are not as complicated at the newer modern day bike.
You’ll encounter a lot less problems if you choose a popular bike with a large active online community to offer advice along the way.
The best motorcycles to build from scratch typically tend to be popular cafe racers, the older Harley Davidson chopper models and of course there are some big loyal members in the Triumph community.
The Detailed Plan
After deciding on which bike to build, which is arguably the easiest but also most important decision, you need to have a plan. A detailed outline of the smallest details. Now this doesn’t mean an exact blueprint – things change along the way, but you need to have your bearings set right from the beginning.
If you can come up with an exact blueprint, that would be ideal. Be on the lookout for books, magazines, online forums that offer bits and pieces of the puzzle that you need to put together yourself. In the following guide you’ll find a bunch of really useful resources that will help you get to the finish line with a beautifully well crafted hand built motorcycle.
What You Need To Build A Motorcycle
There are really only three things you need to build a motorcycle. Obviously knowledge and skill but you can learn that, what’s more important is having the right tools and knowing where to find the right parts.
Junkyards can be a great source of spare parts when building your motorcycle, however the problem with buying parts from a junkyard is that you never know the history of the parts, their usage or the previous owner. This means that it’s likely going to take you a lot of time searching each and every junkyard looking for the exact part that you need in usable condition.
With the help of the internet and popular online communities the process of scouring junk yards for spare parts has become a lot more efficient. However, the reliability of the part you’re looking to purchase is still going to be in question.
From our experience you’re much better off asking around through people you know or through active members of bike building communities. There is always somebody that knows somebody that might have a spare part. Your chances of finding good quality parts to build your motorcycle are much higher when recommended by another person, Needless to say, one man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure so below you will find our tips for buying used motorcycle parts from a junkyard.
Tips For Buying Used Motorcycle Parts
- Know what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at. Make sure it’s in working condition.
- Know the value. Walking into a scrapyard without knowing how much a part is worth is like handing over your wallet to a stranger from the bar.
- Get in and get out. Have you ever wondered how your misses go to the shop for bread and come home with a new wardrobe? Browse for too long in a junkyard and you’ll understand.
Motorcycle Parts To NOT Buy Second Hand
Replace all perishable and worn out parts
You never want to use second hand parts that easily degrade and are usually replaced at least once per year. The following list is an example of which parts you should not buy second hand when building a motorcycle.
- All your motorcycle filters. Oil, fuel, and air filters are common parts that would not be too hard to find and relatively inexpensive to replace and buy new. It will save you a lot of trouble down the road as well as boost performance of your bike when it’s built.
- Rubber. Any part that has some kind of rubber incorporated like pipes, grips, fuel valves and tires should be replaced with new or extremely good condition parts. The reason for this is because rubber tends to break down over time as it expands and contracts due to exposure to the sun.
- Bearings and rollers. Similarly to rubber, roller bearings also tend to degrade with usage resulting in effective movements. Most bearings have some kind of rubber seal which is the part that will degrade and cause you trouble if not replaced. Bearings are also an essential part for the smooth functioning and performance of your motorcycle.
- Electrical wiring.Imagine completing your project bike only to find that it won’t start. You strip it back down to the frame only to realize the underlying problem is one small faulty wire. This is a common issue and possibly one of the most frustrating issues. Avoid it completely by replacing any old wiring including the wiring harness.
Key Stages To Building A Motorcycle
When building a customized motorcycle from the frame up you will encounter a number of different stages. It’s advisable to follow a logical order when building a bike or chopper. A widely accepted plan of action is to tackle the build in the following order.
1. The Foundation or The Frame
The frame of a motorcycle is what holds it all together. Without a frame you’ve essentially got a bucket of nuts and bolts. Motorcycle frames typically tend to be one of the easier parts to source. Junkyards are a good option here. You may also consider an auction house to find a good deal.
If you’ve chosen to build a fairly popular bike, buying a frame brand new would be a good idea as it shouldn’t cost all too much. However, if you’re looking for a basic frame that you can customize and modify a used frame would be perfect.
The reasons a second hand frame would be a good idea is because you’re likely going to be getting your hands dirty by cutting and welding pieces together until you reach your desired look and feel. Take time with your modifications, this is a long process and you want the end result to be exactly what you picture in your mind.
Once the frame has been tailored to your liking it’s time to mount the bars, shocks and wheels and brakes. Once complete, this should leave you with something resembling a motorcycle. It’s important you get the wheels onto the frame so that you can make sure your bike will clear all legal complexities surrounding ground clearance. Aim to clear at least 4.5 inches and you should be in the clear.
2. Wheels and Tires
We won’t get to much into the type of tires you’ll be using. Each bike has a different look and a different style of wheel and tire which means the choice of wheel and tire is rather subjective. However, generally speaking, Harley Davidsons and Choppers have a wider tire at the back and a much narrower tire in the front. The most common tire sizes are a 250 or 300 fatboy in the rear and a much smaller 130 in the front.
Once you’ve got the tires on you want to gently push the bike or rotate the wheel to ensure the wheel/tire and fender do not rub against each other at point. As we mentioned earlier, it’s best to buy tire new. If you’re unsure of what tire to be looking at check out our handy guide on knowing when to replace motorcycle tires.
Pro Tip: Make sure that the spacing between the tire and the fender is even all around. This tells you that your current setup is symmetrical and you’re in a good position to press on.
3. Installing The Engine & Transmission
Once you’ve got the frame all set and the bike standing on it’s new wheels it’s time to work on getting it up and running. The engine and transmission are the core components to getting your motorcycle moving faster than you can push it.
Buying a second hand engine instead of a new engine could save you a lot of money. However, if you buy the wrong engine you’ll be crying yourself to sleep for many many nights. Make sure to do a thorough inspection. If you can source the motorcycle engine through a friend of a friend that’s even better. You will still want to conduct a thorough inspection. We’ve got a neat guide on what to look out for when buying a used motorcycle that could save you a bunch of hassle. For quick check, make sure there are no cracks in the engine cover or crankcase. The seals should all be intact. If possible, check that the pistons actually fire. Inspect the carb for any damage. Don’t worry too much if it’s just grimey and caked with dirt. You can get your hands on some multipurpose carb cleaner which we’ve reviewed in detail..
With the engine and transmission in place, it’s time to look at the motorcycle drive chain, your clutch set-up and lining up your primary casing. The outcome of this stage is to get your bike in a nearly finished position which will allow for some time to play and make small tweaks until your heart bursts with joy. It’s crucial to ensure that your final drive system, whether that be your standard motorcycle chain system or a belt drive system is perfectly lined up from your rear tire through to your transmission box.
At this stage you can start placing some of the smaller items. You want to keep enough space for your hands to be able to work inside the frame which will keep life simpler for now.
3. Stock, Custom, or Performance Exhaust
The type and style of exhaust you choose will play a huge part in both the visual appeal and performance of your hand built custom motorcycle. While looks are completely subjective, performance is not. We won’t cover which are the best performance exhaust as we’ve already discussed this topic in great detail. If you plan on customizing the exhaust you’ll need to start out with a stainless steel pipe which is what most exhaust are made from. Then you’re going to need a tool to be able to bend the pipe into the shape and style that you’re aiming for. This part of the process will require a fair amount of machinery and welding. If you’re unsure, rather get a metal worker or a professional to assist.
3. Bling Time, Babay
With the greater portion of your custom built motorcycle looking to be in good shape it’s time to have some fun. Pimping out your motorcycle with some awesome accessories is a great way to add your golden touches. The beauty of building your own bike is that you can add just about any accessory you like.
The most common parts to change are handlebars, foot pegs, backrests, your seat, gas tank and of course lights. If you want to go all out you could even install a speaker system. While many of these modifications don’t provide much value from a performance perspective, some of them will definitely prove to be a worthwhile investment in the long run. If you enjoy going on weekend cruises or long road trips, comfort may be an important aspect to you. Upgrading your motorcycle seat is arguably the quickest way to add (or remove) a little extra leg room or provide firmer back support.
The gas tank is likely the one feature on every custom bike where bike builders really go all out to express their creativity and skills. Making your own gas tank from scratch requires a lot of time, patience and a huge amount of skill, not to mention the machinery. Buying a new gas tank or picking up a second hand one is the quickest and simplest way to reach your end goal. Customizing an existing gas tank is a bit easier and a bit more realistic for most of us.
Unless you really really want, there’s no real need to create your own fuel tank from scratch. There are hundreds of makes and models on the market with all sorts of cool looking features. What you want to make sure to look out for is that your gas tank and handlebars don’t collide when turning. Mount your tank in the correct position and fully lock your bars both left and right, making sure there is enough space between tank and bar.
3. Handlebar Position and Styling
The handlebars are another feature of any custom built bike that make it stand out in a crowd. Quite literally for some. There is a lot of debate about which is the best position for your handlebars to be fitted in. At the end of the day, as long as you feel comfortable and follow the regulations, that’s OK. To find your comfort zone you want to take a seat on your bike. It’s best if you have the seat nearby so that you can get an actual feel for the position. It’s really up to you if you want to sacrifice comfort for style and this comes down to the purpose of the bike. Are you building a show bike or a motorcycle you plan to use as a daily commute?
4. First Test Ride
With everything in place and ready to go it’s time to fire up the engine and see how she performs on an open road. Before you get rolling, make sure your brakes work fine. If this is the very first time opening up the throttle, ease into it. You’ve probably just rebuilt your engine and it will take some time to run in before it’s ready to be pushed to the rev limiter.
This guide assumes that the parts you’ve purchased have already been treated with the detailing you want. If your parts are still in the “used” condition, you need to take your bike apart and send your parts in for detailing. Customize your paint job, apply powder coating and make sure that your chrome is shining bright like a diamond. For the best shine, check out these chrome polish and cleaners.
Once the finishing touches have all been completed it’s time to put your motorcycle back together again – for good. Repeat the process outlined above paying extra attention to put each part back exactly where it belongs. A great idea is to document with either photos or videos, each step of the initial assembly and disassembly which will speed up the process and limit hidden faults.
Completing Your Build
With everything complete you should now own something you can be incredibly proud of. Learning how to build a motorcycle is no simple task, although no simple task will be quite as rewarding as building a custom motorcycle from the ground up.
We’d love to hear your feedback, how is your build going? Do you have any advice or tips for others?
From the First Checkpoint team, we wish you many happy and safe miles.