Custom Motorcycles: what they are and how they were born

Custom motorcycle

Custom Motorcycles: what they are and how they were born

Custom motorcycles make heads turn when they ride down the street: bikers easily recognize them and, in some cases, turn them into real cults!

As we all know, a motorcycle becomes a “custom bike” when a part (or more) is added, replaced, or removed by the owner. The one of custom bikes is an incredible universe in which bikers are free to modify their motorcycle and make it unique.

In this article we will talk a bit of the details of some of the most famous custom motorcycles styles.

Custom Motorcycles: history

Although custom motorcycles history started way before WWII, the myth of custom bikes was born right after that landmark. Customizations happened all over the world; however, the most important contributions and innovations came directly from United States and United Kingdom. We all know the drill: soldiers coming back from Europe looking for a cheep transportation, comradery and fun, started to buy motorcycles and establish clubs. These soldiers, impressed by the performances of European motorcycles, started to do some good ‘ol “cuttin’ and bobbin’ “ in order to replicate the performances of those bikes. The huge number of ex-soldiers combined to the great number of ex-military bikes, incredibly raised the level of personalizations.

In the 50’s, using Harley-Davidson as a base, bikers started to make more radical customizations. Inspired by dragsters, bikers start to equip their custom motorcycles with: long forks, small fuel tanks and tons of chromed parts. The name of this movement is Kustom Kulture and its influence is still recognizable to this day in Vintage and Rockabilly styles.

Due to fork length exponential growth, the common need was to modify the frames too. We are not talking about some little “cuttin’ & bobbin’” we are talking about disassembling, shaping, and welding frames back together.

During the same period, in United Kingdom, the motorcycle movement was led by teenagers. They used to meet in front of transport cafes that they also used as “Start” and “Finish” lines for their races. For this reason, they’re called Cafe Racers.

The main objective was to do “The Ton”, which meant to hit 100mph while racing from a café to another. At the time, there were bikes that could easily do that; however, the price range was nowhere near those teenagers’ budget. The greatest ideas come when facing big challenges so, doing exactly the opposite of what people were doing in the United States, the Café Racers modified their vehicles for performances only: stripped down every unnecessary part, long bar, rear set footsteps and seat positioned as back as possible to reduce aerodynamic drag.

This incredible period lasted throughout the 50’s and the 60’s. From the 70’s on, British motorcycle production had to face Japanese competition.

Nowadays, custom motorcycles are going strong. This thanks to companies like Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph and BMW, that – thanks to a line of incredible models – offer perfect bases on which every biker could work.

Custom Motorcycles: styles and customizers

As mentioned before, each style is so unique and so different from another. It all depends on the philosophy and needs of the rider. Let’s see the distinctive traits of the styles we talked about in this article:


We talked about the “bobbin’ & choppin’” that happened in the early days. Bobbers take their name from that exact elaboration philosophy. The main traits are: both front and rear rubber have the same width and height, everything unnecessary is taken off (front fender included), chopped (or removed) rear fender, low seat (sometimes with springs) and large handle bars.


Differently from what happens with Bobbers, with Choppers, mods are a bit complex. The distinctive traits are: frame modification to go with a long fork, and rear wheel wider but lower than the front one. Usually, these bikes are stripped down to the bare minimum as well. Captain America is a good example of an old school chopper.

Cafe Racers

Ideally stripped down to the bare minimum (which is something in common with the other two). Here, though, rear-set footrest and half handlebars. Back in the days they were a majestic mix of multiple bikes, we used to have:

  • Triton – a mix made installing a Triumph motor on a Norton frame
  • Tribsa – a mix made installing a Triumph motor on BSA frame
  • Norvin – a mix made installing a Vincent motor on a Norton frame

This last configuration is super rare because it was really expensive to make.

The best thing about custom motorcycles is that the owner can do a lot of things by himself. However, not everything can be done at home, that’s when the professionals come in handy. There’s a lot of them, some even became icons in the custom world, here’s some of them:

  • Ed Roth
  • Indian Larry
  • Arlen Ness
  • Brian Jones
  • Jesse James
  • Paul Teutel Sr.
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Roland Sands Design

We could not mention everyone, maybe we’ll do an article about them in the future.

Ends Cuoio too, participates in the creation of custom motorcycles. A lot of incredible models, created by the highly skilled customizer at Gietl Bikes, are equipped with premium leather seats, bags and accessories crafted in our laboratory.

Discover all Ends Cuoio products for Harley-Davidson, Indian, Trumph and BMW.

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