Motorcycle riders have been personalizing their machines from the beginning. Taking a stock bike and improving the looks or performance is one of the pleasures of motorcycling.
For many classic bike owners, winter time is the time to personalize their bikes. During the summer months, the classic owner will have decided to make his/her bike better, either aesthetically or by improving the performance, during the winter time.
Personalization of a motorcycle can be split into two main areas: looks and performance. Making a classic motorcycle look better (in the eye of the owner) is relatively easy, depending on the extent of any changes. However, the owner must consider carefully the implications on the value of a classic—adding $1000s worth of accessories does not necessarily increase the bike’s value by the same amount, and can reduce the value in certain circumstance.
To avoid reducing the value of a classic, the owner should follow one simple rule: only make changes that can be undone easily. For example, an owner may decide on fitting a handmade aluminum fuel tank. In this case, the owner should retain the original tank and save it should a future owner wish to revert the bike to stock condition.
Typical changes to a classic for aesthetic reasons are:
- Color change (also adding pin stripes or decals)
- Conversion to either a bobber or café racer
- Adding chrome
- Powder coating components
- Adding or removing a fairing (including screens)
- Recovering the seat
Changing the performance of a classic can be as simple as fitting a new set of tires or tuning the engine. For the home mechanic, performance changes to a classic are generally limited to:
- Replacing the rear shocks
- Replacing the tires
- Fitting a performance exhaust system
- Fitting up-rated brakes
- Replacing the stock air filter
- Replacing the carburetor/s
- Replacing the camshaft (4-strokes)
In some instances, making changes to a classic motorcycle will have both aesthetic and performance implications. An item that fits into this category is a fairing. Not only will fitting a fairing can change the looks of a motorcycle considerably, but can also improve the performance by improving the aerodynamics.
Conversely, removing a fairing may make the motorcycle look better, but may increase its aerodynamic drag resulting in a slower top speed and increased fuel consumption.
Consult other Owners
Before making any changes to a classic, the owner must carry out some research. Included in this research should be consulting other owners. You are far more likely to get a frank assessment about a particular item from another owner than say a manufacturer. This is particularly true of exhaust systems. Manufacturers tend to make claims of performance gains but rarely, if ever, list any disadvantages—but other owners will be more forthright with their assessment of a system.
Although the majority of aftermarket exhaust systems improve the overall performance of the bike they were designed for, they typically improve the top speed of a motorcycle at the expense of tractability at the lower speed ranges. (Note: This is a common problem often requiring changes to the carburation (re-jetting) to rectify any ‘flat spots’ during acceleration).
Performance changes often have negative implications and it is important for the classic owner to consider these before proceeding. For example, improving the performance of an engine will generally reduce its reliability (dragsters are very fast but may need an engine rebuild after each run).
However, basic performance increases are relatively easy as the manufacturer (to be competitive in the marketplace) was forced to build the bike to a set price. In addition, technological advancements since the bike was produced often give the classic owner access to better products. For example, free-flowing air filters are readily available for most classics and generally improve both power and fuel consumption.
Another simple modification with performance improvement in mind is to fit an up-rated set of shocks. Again the manufacturer was restricted by price on the quality of the shocks fitted to the motorcycle. In addition, the manufacture set the specification of the machine with many different riders in mind and, in general, a set of shocks and springs suitable for a 100 lb. rider will not be suitable for someone weighing twice that amount.