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Why Are Most Custom Motorcycles So Hideous? … And What’s The Point? (Editorial)


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, but ugly is in the disjointed, mishmash design of most custom motorcycles these days. There are sites devoted to posting pictures and stories of one custom after another. BikeExif and PipeBurn come to mind, but there are many others.

“Back in the day” customs were largely Harley-Davidson choppers, which I never cared for. Now, there are all types of customs … all shapes, sizes, engine configurations and supposed genres. For the most part, what we have is too many builders getting too much press for too little talent.

The other thing I can’t figure out is why motorcycle manufacturers hand out so many bikes to customizers that end up defaming the manufacturer with a monstrosity that will forever be bound to the valuable brand built by the donor company. I think I understand why this started, but it needs to stop. Like most trends, it is now played out.

It started because a small handful of manufacturers gave bikes to custom builders who were typically well regarded, and turned out a quality product. As a result, these pioneers got lots of positive press, and drew crowds at motorcycle shows. This started a trend that the other manufacturers felt compelled to join. Unfortunately, there are only so many quality, custom builders available, and, apparently, too few good designs to riff off of.

But it is the truly garage-built stuff that is the worst. As a “custom” builder, your bike must be different … unique. Most guys are just trying too hard, and forgot one other necessary element, aesthetics. Not just pleasing to look at (although that would be a great start), but exhibiting utility.

In the end, there are just too many custom bikes these days that don’t deserve to be built and, in particular, don’t deserve to be displayed. Guys like John Britten must be turning in their graves.


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97 Comments

  1. J Wilson says:

    I think a lot of guys watched the Tuttles build Trailer Queen after Trailer Queen for big-buck customers (ironically, a lot of blue chip corporations, go figure . . . . ) and Jesse James laugh all the way to the bank and marry a movie star ( I STILL feel sorry for Sandra getting sucked in by that huckster), and thought ‘thar’s gold in them there hills!’ and the race was on.

    Most of them are dreadful, kinda like what teen-agers dreamed up reading old issues of Easy Riders while smoking a joint and drinking near beer. I really think it goes back to that whole Harley thing (‘I must have a Harley just like everybody else, but mine is different ! ! ). Take a couple shop classes, live in the S&S catalog, and have at it.

    But hey, somebody’s gotta make motos for those ROBB REPORT ads ! !

  2. fred says:

    Agreed. Lots of the “custom motorcycles” are neither art nor motorcycles.

  3. jim says:

    yeah you’re right on the custom build diarrhea, but a lot of modern bikes are easily mistaken for insects. while the functionality is there the visual is more a lack of roach killer than aesthetics. so say i to ktm to yamaha to kawasaki etc. there are custom bikes that are art pieces that happen to run but barely ride and there are ones that are functional and beautiful. motorcycles can still do that. by the time you’re a major manufacturer rolling out stilted, rigid, 3rd rate origami i wonder.

    original work is defined by it’s rarity, so readily illustrated by this very discussion……

  4. kjazz says:

    Everybody is an artist. Every musician that has written a tune, regardless of whether or not they actually wrote anything remotely original…gets the title of “artist”. Similarly, many of these bike builders just get too damn much credit. Most of this stuff is hideous, non functional, and just exactly like the one sitting next to it…..built by another “artist”. They say it can’t truly be art….unless there is a significant chance that it fails…. But when they do fail, we have to call them out. Thanks for doing that here. We should all walk away from this stuff. I’ve been going to the Motorcycle Shows that travel around the U.S. And I’ve seen this junk lined up in the aisles between the manufacturers booths. I’ve written notes to the motorcycle show sponsors telling them this junk is junk and please stop putting it out there as some sort of art show. We are educating show attendees that this stuff is worthy. It’s not. It’s mostly junk. But every once in a while, some guy does something really cool mechanically or aesthetically. So there are gems in the junk. I guess we are too afraid to tell someone that their 1,000 hours of labor were wasted.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey, we could also burn some books while we are at it.

    • Gutterslob says:

      It all started when some bloke met another bloke and decided they could sell a picture of a circle within a square for thousands of dollars. From that day, even shit on a sidewalk could be sold as art. What’s that big silicon valley buzz/weasel word that popular these days? Ah yes, disruption!!

  5. paul s says:

    Amen to that, glad to finally see someone calling a spade a spade.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “And What’s The Point?”….. click bait.

  7. Ron says:

    I guess that builder must think running flat tires is the next big “thing”. No doubt it costs extra too.

  8. Gutterslob says:

    The bikes get built because people want them.
    The majority of people have no taste.
    I’m sure you can do the math.

  9. Rhinestone Kawboy says:

    I’ve been saying this for most of the custom bikes that show up on here. A very few aren’t bad. Others say they’re great, would love to have one etc., but I thought most of them were all just plain fugly. And then they charge one he** of a price for a fugly yet. Not for this guy. Looks like they even forgot the seat on the one pictured in this article. Jimminy crickets.

  10. Steve says:

    Right on the money.

  11. takehikes says:

    I worked for one of the most famous builders of the late 60’s early 70’s. We had a designer/engineer on staff. There was a plan and it had to get past a lot of people before being built. We had a few misses but mostly not. Today its a “hey lets throw everything at it” mentality. Also we didn’t have CNC, water jets, billet, wire welders etc at our fingers tips. You had to cut and form and hammer anything you built so you had to think it through or you would be wasting weeks of work not minutes. I also see that builders have no comprehension of design flow and form, more like tack it on it will be cool. Last ours were built to be ridden and often though they were built as show bikes. our owner would drag one out at night to go riding and I seriously doubt any of these abortions get ridden anywhere.

  12. Jim says:

    First World problems

  13. Dave says:

    Most are very ugly

  14. HS1... says:

    When most builders are expressing their individuality by doing the same few extremely exaggerated things, they become the most derivative sheep in the flock.

  15. Curly says:

    I’m a firm believer in saying ride whatever you want to ride. But if it’s unrideable is it really a motorcycle or just an art piece? Plank seats, square profile tires or no fenders on dirt bikes. No just no. Stop with all the stupid “builds”!

  16. John A. Kuzmenko says:

    editorial
    noun
    1.a newspaper article written by or on behalf of an editor that gives an opinion on a topical issue.

    Hell, I agree with Dirck on this subject:
    Loads of these bikes look like sh@#.

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