By Stacy McCleary
Photos by Danell McCleary
I’m writing this article on how I go about building a custom bike. I’m not saying this is the only way to build a bike, it is just the way I do it. First off you have to decide what style you want and what the final look is you’re after.
This bike I’m building is going to be my version of a 70’s style chopper. I’ve always wanted to build a bike with a king and queen seat, tall sissy bar and a narrow Springer front end. My friend, Mondo at Denver’s Choppers, hooked me up with a 4” over Springer. Now that I’m in my senior years, I want this chopper to be more compact and easy riding for Danell and me.
I started this build because I had a 1967 Gen Shovel and 4-speed in the shop. For me, I start all my builds with an engine. I use Panheads and early Shovelhead motors in my builds. In my style of bikes I use vintage H-D parts and a lot of handmade parts.
First thing I do is get the frame, as this is the backbone of what you want the bike to look like. The frame I’m using is an old aftermarket straight leg rigid. It needed a lot of repair and welding, but in the end it will look great and be what I wanted.
After I get the look of the frame where I want it, I bolt the engine and transmission in the frame. I’m running a 2” open primary from BDL. You always have to keep in mind what you want the bike to look like. I chose a small peanut gas tank and round oil tank for this build. I picked this because I had them in my shed and it matches what I want for the look I’m after. I enjoy going in my shed looking at all the cool bike treasures I’ve acquired over the years. I use these old parts on all the bikes I build.
Now that you have the engine and transmission in the frame, gas tank and oil tank mounted and front end on it, it’s time to decide on handlebars. This one item is very important, as it can change the whole look of the bike. For this build I bent up some 1” round stock and made some rabbit ear pull backs like back in the day.
One thing I forgot to mention in the beginning was the style and size of the wheels. I’m using the traditional 16” X 21” combo. The rear rim is 16” X 3.5” aluminum, and I laced it up to an original Harley hub and juice brake. The front rim is 21” X 1.5” aluminum and laced to a spool hub.
Now that the bike is pretty much mocked up, you still have to mount a rear fender. I was able to modify a fender out of the shed to fit the bike and sissy bar. The sissy bar I’m using was from the 70’s. It was given to me by a friend, when I told him what I was building. I had to modify it to fit my frame and fender.
Before I mount my rear fender, I have the engine and transmission mounted and put the chain on and adjusted to where I want the rim and tire to be in the frame. Now I can mount my fender and keep it tight and even around the tire.
At this point it’s time to build the exhaust. This too is a very important part of the build. I built a traditional upsweep exhaust and decided to scrap that idea, when my wife’s leg was probably going to get a little hot! That set of pipes is hanging on the garage wall and will be ready for another bike in the future. I built a small set of pipes that we are both happy with!
During the build you might have to change things a little, even if it costs you some money and time. You have to remember the way the bike looks mocked up, is the way it will look all painted and chromed. During mock up is the time to change things around before final assembly. The more time you spend mocking up and making sure everything fits just right, the better off you’ll be at final assembly.
The bike is now pretty much together, you’ll need to decide on what you’re going to do with your wiring. Decide where everything is going and drill holes in the frame so all the wiring will be hidden.
Now comes the time to tear down and do your painting, powder coating and chrome work. If you did a good job during the mock up, it will be a fun and rewarding time during final assembly.
There’s a lot of things I didn’t mention in this article, like the building of the engine. For me the engine is the heart of the bike and the most important. I take great care in the way I want my engine to look and perform. There’s nothing better than to be riding the bike you built and listening to that 50+ year old motor.
Ride Safe & God Bless
(Stay tuned for Part Two!)