20 July 2018
The act of customising a Harley-Davidson is nearly as old as the Motor Company itself. Right from the outset, owners of Harley-Davidson® motorcycles were lifting tools and (mostly) home-made accessories to personalise their Harley®. To start with, it was mostly coaxing more power from the engines of the time and removing or cutting down chassis components to transform honest, reliable two-wheeled transport into race-winning machinery. Even the founders of Harley-Davidson were involved in fettling engines and chassis, these “Cut Downs”, as they were named then, were used by many to compete in time trials, record-breaking feats and many other public events, all of which helped make Harley-Davidson the global recognised name it is.
In no time at all, Harley-Davidson motorcycles were in world-wide demand. As sales at home and abroad grew, so did customisation, with owners modifying their machines for personal reasons. Luggage carrying systems, weather-cheating systems and different chassis components were being sourced or made to suit. Of course, personal interpretation also started to grow; more and more owners wanted their own slant on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle to make them as individual as the owner and stand out even more than standard Harley does.
Race replicas also started to appear on the street because Harley owners’ were keen to emulate racing greats and their machinery. The term ‘Bob-Job’ was used to describe owners’ bikes with this homebrewed slimmed-down stance.
Customisation really came to town after WWII. Surplus military Harley-Davidson bikes were the choice of many to be given new styling by having much of their ancillary parts removed, as per race machinery, lowered seating and, what was left was of the donor Harley-Davidson, either custom painted, chromed or both. This common practice led to the term “Bobber” – a style that influenced Harley-Davidson to later create ready-to-buy Bobber-style motorcycles.
In the late sixties, customisation of Harley-Davidson motorcycles hit a new high with the appearance of ‘choppers’. If ever there was a way to completely show a Harley owner’s interpretation of design and style by way of his motorcycle, then choppers were – and still are – the way to go. Choppers typically do not use the standard Harley-Davidson frame but instead have a custom-built version to incorporate different chassis dimensions and running gear, e.g. stretched ‘long forks’, raked steering head angles, ornate fuel tanks, radical wheel styles, seats, handlebars, controls and, of course, paint work.
Customisation today is huge. Bobbers, choppers, retro-bobbers and many more styles are becoming the norm. And, of course, Harley-Davidson rules; custom competitions and shows featuring modified Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a massive following. One such competition is Harley-Davidson’s own annual Battle of the Kings, where Harley-Davidson dealerships compete against each other to build a custom motorcycle from a list of nominated models, and all within strict rules and set budget.
Harley motorcycles have become the custom donor motorcycle of choice by many leading custom shops specialising in the art of customisation. Having recognised people’s desire to customise their bikes early on, Harley-Davidson itself has built a massive range of easily available custom accessories as part of its Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Parts & Accessories.
In homage to the wonderful world of customised Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their varied styles and splendour, at the recent Harley-Davidson 115th Anniversary (EU) held in Prague, Harley amassed a large and varied selection of custom Harleys that have featured in specialist custom magazines and competitions. To say this exhibition drew crowds throughout the event would be an understatement. Check out the images of just some of these creations, but be warned: nothing inspires more than a Harley-Davidson… other than a customised Harley-Davidson.