• Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought’ Idea a Load of Rubbish?

  • Do You Have A Workshop? Or the skills, or the tools, or the time to build your own custom bike?
  • Allen Millyard He does have the skills and builds some incredible bikes. but he's the exception rather than the rule
  • Russell Mitchell of Exile Cycles He's built a business in L.A. building bikes for people to buy.
  • Deus Ex Machina in Australia They build incredible one-off bikes and sell them. They couldn't survive if they were just building bikes for themselves.

There are many reasons to buy a custom bike rather than build it yourself

There is an argument that says only a custom bike that has been built by yourself and not bought from a dedicated custom shop is a true custom bike. But that argument criticises anyone who hasn’t the skills, time or space to build a custom bike. It also criticises many businesses that have been built up through either supplying off-the-shelf parts or complete bikes to customers who want to pay rather than getting their hands dirty.

Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought’ Idea a Load of Rubbish?

Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought' Idea a Load of Rubbish?
- image 1004997
Do You Have A Workshop?
Or the skills, or the tools, or the time to build your own custom bike?

Custom bike and car building has grown massively in popularity over the past twenty years, with hundreds of builders appearing around the world, producing all manner of custom machines, both good, bad and ugly. No matter your personal opinion or aesthetic, it can’t be denied that the overall standard, artistic vision and engineering ability is unbelievable.

But there is one trend that is slightly worrying and totally pompous that has emerged in the custom bike-building world. This is the idea that a custom bike only has validity if you have built it yourself; to buy one ready-made is cheating and you are a fraud.

This argument is missing the point in so many ways.

Why Wouldn’t You Build Your Own Custom Bike?

Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought' Idea a Load of Rubbish?
- image 1004996
Allen Millyard
He does have the skills and builds some incredible bikes. but he’s the exception rather than the rule

First of all, let’s look at the obvious. Not everyone who loves custom motorcycles has the ability to build one. They might, at a push, be able to bolt a few different parts to their existing motorcycle but that is hardly ‘customising’ in the sense we are talking about here. To take a motorcycle and significantly alter its appearance and perhaps even its purpose is to require a specific set of skills that only a few possess.

Even restoring a motorcycle back to pristine condition is way beyond the skills of many. More than that, it is also beyond the interest of many; lots of people simply want to ride and not get their hands dirty.

Then there is the question of space to undertake a build, not to mention the equipment needed to do that. How many motorcyclists have a space to store a motorcycle, let alone a workshop in which to carry out the work?

Then, there is the question of time. How many of us have thousands of spare hours to spend on fabrication or building, even had we the skills?

How about the thought that, were they able to put something together, it might be so utterly dangerous and unrideable as to be a menace not only to themselves but to other road users as well?

Take any one of those factors - skill, space, time, safety - and put a cross beside it and the idea of building your own motorcycle becomes difficult to say the least. But are we to deny those who love custom motorcycles the opportunity to own one just because they haven’t built it themselves?

By Buying a Custom Bike, You’re Supporting an Industry

Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought' Idea a Load of Rubbish?
- image 1004994
Russell Mitchell of Exile Cycles
He’s built a business in L.A. building bikes for people to buy.

Now, let’s look at the small businesses you will be supporting by taking your vision to them and paying them to build it for you? Or buying one they have built, hoping that someone will buy it. None of these businesses survive by building motorcycles for themselves. That’s not actually a business; that’s a hobby. Take away all the builders and all the custom parts suppliers and a large part of the custom scene fades away. That’s a lot of engineering and artistic skill lost.

If we are to limit custom bike acceptance to those that have been built by their owners, then the scene is all the poorer for it. Surely those who are fully invested in the scene want to see more of their kind of bikes on the road? Why wouldn’t you want to? Don’t they bring an individuality to the idea of personal mobility, an escape from the run-of-the-mill? Why does buying your custom bike mean any less than building it yourself? Someone has built it, somewhere. Just because it wasn’t you, does that matter?

Custom Bikes; Is The Whole ‘Built, Not Bought' Idea a Load of Rubbish?
- image 1004998
Deus Ex Machina in Australia
They build incredible one-off bikes and sell them. They couldn’t survive if they were just building bikes for themselves.

Would we criticise someone for having their dream home built for them, or buying a house that has been designed and built without your input? Of course not, so why does it make a difference when talking about motorcycles?

One thing that sets motorcyclists out from other road users is the sense of community; it doesn’t matter what you ride, as long as you ride. If someone is happier buying their custom bike rather than building it, then who are we to judge?

I’m not alone in seeing the flaws in the ‘built, not bought’ argument. I came across this article by Nathaniel Salzman, talking from the coal-face as a custom builder himself, and he actually says everything I’ve been trying to say, just much better!

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
About the author
What do you think?
Show Comments
Motorcycle Finder: