You have a design finalised and you either own or know what donor bike you plan to buy.
You are clear on the gaps between the bike you have and the design you’ve created, the changes you need to make, and you’ve planned out the steps needed to make those changes a reality.
But it may still be unclear as to the best order in which to go about the each of those changes.
Because every builder has a unique skillset and a different scope of work, no two builds are alike. Therefore, there is no perfect order to do the work. Even so, there are general guidelines to follow, which will save you a lot of time and money down the road. Stick to the following points to avoid some common pitfalls many novice builders face:
- Establish a baseline for your bike (clean and inspect systems) so you know what is good and what is bad. If your bike is already a well-running daily rider this won’t really be necessary, but on newly purchased bikes it's important to identify any major problems early (as it is pointless to do custom work to a bike that will never make it on the road).
- Troubleshoot and fix any identified problems on systems or parts of the bike that are being kept. This is to ensure that you have the best running bike as possible before pulling it to pieces. If there are problems that you are unable to fix at this stage, make sure you have quantified and understood them enough to ensure they are repairable at a late point.
- Buy any parts at this early stage that you are confident you will need (and will fit) particularly parts that may take a long time to come (such as shipped from overseas or specialty parts). You could do this earlier when you buy your bike, but you run a risk of having a bunch of unused parts if your bike ends up being unworkable and you sell it.
- Once you have a bike that is free of problems (or any remaining problems are well understood), this is a good time to review any project plans (or create one if you haven’t as yet) to determine what impact any unexpected problems you have found will have on time and cost.
- Remove all unwanted parts or systems that are being changed, back to the point of a rolling frame with engine. Leave everything you are keeping on the bike. While often the temptation at this point is to pull the bike completely apart, with the frame, wheels, suspension and engine all in pieces on the floor, keeping these in makes taking measurements and checking clearances during any fabrication work much easier.
- With the bike stripped of all unnecessary equipment, fit any parts that are a straight bolt on or switchover, such as mufflers, handlebars, lighting, pegs. If you already have new suspension parts like shocks and wheels, swap them over also at this stage if they bolt on, otherwise leave the old part on as a reference.
- This stage is also a great time to review your planned design against the actual bike itself, particularly if you never had the physical bike to plan your design off. Assess where any yet to be fitted parts might mount, what tabs or brackets will be needed. What will be involved in making frame or suspension changes if those are desired? Will that new tank need different mount points, are planned seat height and peg positions going to be comfortable? Is there room for a battery in its new location as well as other electrical components?
- Fabricate any parts you need, such as trays, brackets, seat pans, fenders and tanks. Order (and fit) any remaining parts that may have required measurements to be taken on the bike or other parts to be fitted or fabricated first. In some cases, welding may only be able to be partially completed on parts or the frame, as a fully dissembled frame might be required to get full access.
- The above point may become an iterative process of fit parts, fabricate, compare against design, fit parts, stand back look, fit further parts. The outcome is a point where you have the ‘look’ of the bike complete and all parts on the bike as needed. This is mock-up complete.
- If you are making changes to your wiring loom, or building a new one, now is the time to do it. That way, if you need to make alterations to electrical trays, weld on retaining tabs or change where parts mount, this can be done before any final paint.
- If the changes you have made are mainly cosmetic or only minor fabrication (i.e. no major changes to frame, engine or suspension), you could now proceed to any final paint and polish and reassemble the bike. Once this is complete, conduct any final checks and test rides and you’re done.
- However, if you have made some major changes to systems such as brakes, suspension, or altered the geometry of the bike through frame changes or similar or major bodywork changes, it is wise to do some level of testing prior to starting final paint and polish. Best case is that you have a running bike you can take for a quick ride. As a minimum you should ensure any new parts can all be taken off and put back on such that one part does not block access to fastening on another or one part damages another.
- If you do test ride, look for things such as parts rubbing, leaking components, fouling issues or anything that could be a major issue 100 miles down the road when the bike is out of the serious ride.
- Correct or re-work any issues that you find from the test ride.
- When you are happy the bike is mechanically fine and the looks are on point, it's time to strip the bike down for final paint and polish.
- At this point undertake rebuilds of any systems such as engine, brakes or suspension, if this have not been done already.
- If you have made any frame changes, complete any outstanding welding.
- With everything painted or polished (or in its final form that will be used on the bike) final assembly begins. If you are using brand new fastener sets, it’s time to break those out. Very carefully assemble the bike, use scuff protection on critical parts like frame tubes (wrap in tape, cardboard or foam).
- After final assembly, go over the bike slowly, carefully, and thoroughly to ensure all fluids are in, nuts and bolts are tight, and more.
- Re-test ride to ensure everything still behaves as before, correct any issues you come across.
The remainder of this book will look at the above activities in more detail and give you a better understanding of what further factors to consider and what sort of work you can be expect to need to undertake to do a lot of common changes.