– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Less Bling Factor, More Grin Factor: Rideable Customs Are the New Trend

Jesse Rooke’s ‘Darla’ is a beautiful example of the latest in
performance-oriented customs. The bike is powered by a KTM 950 V-Twin

Like most motorcyclists I know, I’ve watched with dissapointment the products of the ‘chopper’-related television shows that have become incredibly popular over the last few years. Of course, I appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship displayed by some of the builders, and I can’t deny that they produce some amazing-looking motorcycles. But the bottom line, which is obvious to any rider who looks at most of these bikes, is that they are designed with looks as the first priority, and rideability a distant second.

However, lately it seems like a rebellion is brewing among a certain segment of the custom-builder crowd, and at the forefront of this new trend are builders like Roland Sands and Jesse Rooke. Sands, a former AMA 250cc GP racer and champion who is also the head of R&D at Performance Machine (a massive aftermarket parts company owned by his father), is now producing a new breed of sport-oriented customs at his shop, Roland Sands Design ( A frequent star of the hugely popular Biker Build-Off television series, Sands brings together traditional custom fabrication with inspiration from both modern and historical racing machines. The results continue to amaze – Sands’ latest project is an aggressively styled machine inspired by the board-track racebikes of the 1920s, and powered by a V-5 engine from a Proton KR MotoGP machine!

Roland Sands’ “No Regrets” is a good example of
the performance custom style – it’s Ohlins suspension and racebike
stance mesh gracefully with a Harley V-Twin powerplant.

Rooke (, too, is an innovator in the area of performance-oriented customs, and was recently paired off against Sands in a special episode of Biker Build-Off where the two builders each produced a bike which was ranked not only based on appearance, but on it’s performance in a series of tests that included dragstrip runs and racetrack laps. For this competition, Rooke produced an amazing example of minimalist design, nicknamed ‘Darla’, which was motivated by a tuned KTM 950 V-Twin powerplant. How minimalist? Darla reportedly weighs in at slightly less than 300lbs ready-to-ride, which combined with the hardtail frame and the 100+ wheel horsepower of the lightly-tuned KTM powerplant, probably makes for an exciting ride! Not only that, but Darla is one of, if not the, most strikingly beautiful pieces of functional machinery that this writer has ever seen – beautiful enough, in fact, to start me digging through my couch cushions, wondering where I left that spare $100,000!

At the other end of the custom spectrum is the increasing popularity of the sportbike-based customs being turned out by shops like McCoy Motorsports ( While not necessarily designed for ultimate performance on a twisty canyon road, these bikes are heavily influenced by the increasing popularity of motorcycle drag racing – the style is long, low, and mean, with extended swingarms, fat rear tires, and nitrous bottles all part of the standard fare.

Over the next few years, it seems likely that these two trends will converge – designers like Sands and Rooke are showing chopper enthusiasts that customs can be built for performance riding, and that a Harley-style (air-cooled, pushrod V-Twin) powerplant isn’t the only possibility when you’re starting a frame-up build. At the same time, custom sportbikes are getting wilder and wilder, less bolt-on bling and more hand-fabricated hardware. How long will it be until a chromoly-framed custom with a modern Japanese literbike powerplant and superbike-inspired suspension and braking equipment takes a Biker Build-Off win? That day seems closer all the time.

A customized R1 from McCoy Motorsports

Will the style catch on with the mainstream viewers who watch these shows? Drag racing has long been a staple for American performance enthusiasts, and the appearance of drag racing machines has influenced countless customs of both the two- and four-wheeled variety. Combined with the fact that at least one television show featuring next-level sportbike-based customs will debut in the near future, and I think we are well on the way.

But on the way to where? As a motorcycle enthusiast who appreciates beautiful machinery, but loves to ride said machinery just as much, I’d like to think the custom bike world is headed for a day when rideable customs are the norm. Where a bike is judged on rideability and performance, as well as the creativity and fabrication skill of it’s builder, and the top builders in the game are using a wide variety of powerplants – aftermarket Harley-derived motors, V-Twins from Japanese cruisers and Italian sportbikes, and even inline four-cylinder mills from the latest Japanese superbikes. Perhaps this kind of exposure to the fun of riding (rather than just the enjoyment of looking at a bike) will help draw at least some of those who watch the custom-builder TV shows into actually buying a bike, throwing on some gear, and going for a Sunday ride!

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