I’ve always been an admirer of customization but never a participant. A willing custom bike show attendee and armchair judge, but an owner of stock original bikes and equipment, like the ’75 CB400F in my garage that, besides some patina, looks the way it did some 39 years ago. Truth is, besides riding and performing basic maintenance, my motorcycles are lucky to get a bath more than once per year. Finding the wherewithal to customize the damn things, fugetaboutit. Too expensive. Too time consuming. Too … beyond my capacity to get unlazy.
It was during our attendance to and reporting on the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in 2012 – a show rife with meritorious examples of both stock and custom bikes – where my customization gumption was unleashed. Ironically, the source of my inspiration was neither a show entry nor even a motorcycle, but a Felt Vintage Iron 400 Cross bicycle.
Later finding this bike to be no longer available new, and that owners were asking exorbitant prices for used examples, I went looking for something similar. What I discovered were a lot of highly stylized beach cruisers – without gears or suspension and only rear coaster brakes – for a price equal to that of a competent mountain bike.
While custom for custom’s sake is fine by me, I prefer functional customization. Knowing I wanted a boardtrack racer themed bicycle I melded beach cruiser style with Shimano brakes, a 7-speed external gearset and a springer seat and front end. The rest, upside down handlebars, black rims, rust colored-tires, etc., are all cosmetic.
I can’t leave my boardtrack bicycle unescorted for very long without paranoia getting the best of me, but one time that I did, I returned to find a note attached congratulating me on owning such a cool bicycle. Riding around town I’m aware of the obvious gaze of every male passerby as he covets my pedal-powered two-wheeler. I can only imagine what women must endure.
Last year I participated in Bell Helmet’s custom fit program that, through a combination of 3-D imaging, a CAD software program and other top-secret technology, created a helmet custom fit and sized to my individual noggin. The finished product is a different kind of comfortable, but every time I slip it on there’s no mistaking who this helmet was made for – this guy (now’s when you envision me pointing my thumbs at myself).
Unlike the bicycle, whose customness creates value, increasing its resale price, the custom Bell Star Carbon is unusable to other motorcyclists, negating any possibility of a financial return on the investment. Oftentimes, however, the amount of money spent on a custom project will never be realized upon sale of the item. Time to pile on.
Black helmets have a tendency of sucking all the color out of a good photo and the custom Bell Star Carbon only comes in black. So off went the helmet to Chris Wood at Airtrix in Santa Barbara, California.
With no instruction other than providing images of past favorite helmet designs, Wood went to work and a couple months later this gem of a lid arrived. It’s garnered compliments from both fellow moto-journos and the general motorcycle public. If, for some reason a person were to mistake my helmet for theirs and the interior doesn’t alert a foreign head that this helmet is not theirs to wear, my name on the back in big gold flake letters should help cement the understanding.
A half-dozen years or so ago I did have a custom size set of one-piece leathers. What a trackday luxury those were. I swear they made me faster, but probably not, however I know for certain that I was extremely comfortable at the speed I was travelling.
What I’ve gleaned from my few custom dabblings is a better appreciation of the compelling nature of customization. A custom project is never finished and can always be improved, changed, re-envisioned, begun anew, etc. Each time I ride my boardtrack bicycle my mind toys with what to do next.
Now, about that 400F in my garage …