Motorcycles have always been dramatic. They are not for everybody and never will be. This is a product that people can take to an extreme as a means of self-expression.” – Willie G. Davidson

We all have different styles, tastes, and goals. From childhood, we are drawn to two wheels; choosing a bike in a Christmas catalogue, learning to ride without stabilisers and maybe even assembling our own with building blocks, Lego or Meccano. It’s ingrained in us from a young age. But each of us has our own preferences, and when it comes to bikes, Harley® is the ultimate form of self-expression.

Harley® has a long history of customisation, which is shaped from WW2 when the Motor Company® was the first to adapt their bikes to meet the needs of the armed forces. Now, it’s what sets the brand apart from the rest and equally makes Harley-Davidson® riders different to any others. From the seat to the wheels, exhaust or windshield, the custom style potentials are limitless.

Customisation in the Harley-Davidson® family is actively encouraged and rarely deemed as unnecessary or tasteless. Since the first custom bikes almost 80 years ago, modification is considered a form of expression; whether that’s of freedom, individuality, or personality, this sense of self-expression is teamed with taking ownership of your bike.

Inevitably not everyone will like your modifications, but the purpose isn’t appealing to the masses. A recent example is a unique Shaw Harley-Davidson® custom build, The “Gobstopper” Softail Night Train®. This collaboration with Grayson Perry was shared on social media last week to highly vocal and mixed reactions.

Responsible for the paintwork, Mandy – a custom painter and airbrush artist at Image Design Custom in Surrey - defended the bike and its production:

“People will love this or hate it, but it would be great if people would appreciate the amount of hard work and effort we put in to create it. I reckon Grayson’s design reflects him as an artist perfectly- and as long as he’s happy that’s what it’s all about 😊”

On Harley-Davidson UK & Ireland’s Facebook, visitors referred to customisation as an often exaggerated process, and always a talking point:

“Not what I’d take as a personal bike. But this is a showbike. I always feel that with showbikes there’s more freedom for the strange and creative.” - @sportsterlife

“I love the fact that this bike has achieved what every bike builder wants and that is get opinions.” - Mark Battistini

Regardless of whether it’s for you, every customised bike undergoes a creative process, bridging gaps between generations of Harley® riders and crafting a personal link between a bike and its owner.

Each year, this process is highlighted in our annual Battle of the Kings custom competition, with Custom Kings from across the Harley-Davidson® dealer network going to head to head to steal the crown. This year’s international winner is due to be announced at EICMA next month.

Away from the competition, our Custom Kings are working all-year round on creating unique machines to suit the personal tastes of individual customers. Keep an eye on our news section here for a showcase of custom Harleys over the next few months.