Buying a Custom Luxury Motorcycle

  • Arthur Coldwells

Motorcycle owners are incredibly passionate and consider their machine to be an expression and extension of their persona. Be it flamboyant or understated, built for performance, looks, or both, a custom bike can satisfy almost any fancy.

Customization of luxury motorcycles can range from $30,000 to more than $500,000, depending on specification, rarity, and collectibility. Most American customization occurs within the V-twin category. That ubiquitous 45-degree twin-cylinder motor — popularized throughout the last century principally by Harley-Davidson — is the focal point, and then a rolling chassis is added. Three types of bikes usually emerge: the chopper, a raked and stretched high-handlebar bike (the type made famous by Peter Fonda in the 1960s cult-classic movie Easy Rider); the pro street, long, low, lean, and screaming of raw power; and the more recently popularized bagger, a comfortable cruiser with hard bags and a half fairing.

Standard customization takes from one to nine months, and in some cases considerably longer depending on how much individual fabrication is involved.

When embarking on a custom-motorcycle build, it's critical be sure to deal with a reputable builder or manufacturer: someone with a proven track record who can register your motorcycle and back up his work with a warranty and blue-book value.

Following are tips from two respected names in the high-end custom arena to help you navigate the process.

Wendy Atchison, a partner at Ecosse Moto Works in Denver, says, "The process is extremely personal and involves customer contact through phone calls and e-mails." In basic terms, she says, buying an Ecosse is actually a fairly simple five-step process (see below) that typically takes six months from start to delivery.

  1. A down payment of approximately 30 percent is wired to Ecosse.
  2. Once that payment is received, a serial number is assigned.
  3. A client selects his or her individual specifications on a Vehicle Specifications form. This can be a time-consuming step, therefore it's typically filled out by Ecosse for the client based on information obtained through phone conversations and e-mails.
  4. An engineer contacts the client to determine riding preferences, height, and weight, which determine the final specifications, such as suspension position, suspension settings, and foot-control positions.
  5. The client receives a personal access code to their own Ecosse online microsite to track the progress of the build.

After final payment and delivery, there is a post-delivery follow-up to make any final modifications.

"It doesn't take experience or a particular skill set to order a bike from Ecosse. We walk the customer through every stage of the process," says Atchison. "Most customers are naturally very short of time and simply aren't available for an extended process, so we make it the whole thing as simple as possible. Most customers need to see examples of different finishes, options, or color combinations on their bike, and, naturally, we oblige until they're completely satisfied."

Andy Meadors, marketing director at Big Bear Choppers, a Southern California custom manufacturer, says his company's custom bikes range from $30,000 to $50,000, depending on options, which can include wheels, front ends, paint colors, and finish.

Big Bear Choppers' customization is done through local motorcycle dealers, since the company doesn't sell directly to consumers.

Meadors says many dealers command premium prices on custom bikes. "We have little to no control on how and what the dealers are promising and communicating to their customers because all our dealers are independently owned businesses," he noted. "Big Bear Choppers ensures that the deal is fair, as the MSRPs for every one of our bikes are listed on our website to minimize inflating the price on the dealer level."

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