Get Your Hands Dirty

I think there is a romanticized idea that some people have of building a motorcycle.  If you haven't done it before then it is easy to get caught up in this idea that you will spend your time fabricating a masterpiece that no one has ever dreamt up before.  Laying down the wildest paint and polishing chrome that will blind anyone who looks directly at it.  It's easy to watch shows or videos of folks whipping together a motorcycle in a week and then taking it on an epic cross country road trip or winning first place in some prestigious bike show.  That's just not how it works.  Even worse if you are like me, and NOT a professional by any stretch of the imagination, then that vision will be even further from the truth. 

..more grinding then a high school dance

The reality is that putting a motorcycle together can be a long process.  How long, of course, depends on a lot of things.  Your knowledge going into it, the condition of the motorcycle you're starting with, and of course how much of a "build" you are planning on doing.  Endless hours of fixing things you weren't planning on touching, fighting stubborn bolts, searching for parts and more grinding than a high school dance.  These are just a few of the things you are likely to run in to and spend a great deal of time on.  But if you have an interest in picking up an old motorcycle and customizing it then I think it's always worth a go. 

chrome that will blind anyone who looks directly at it

The word 'build' is tossed around a lot but I think it can mean many things in the case of a hobbyist.  I don't think that it has to mean that you are a master fabricator who is making every piece from raw steel.  Nor do I think that many people do that whether they are professional builders or not.  For some people, a build does involve some fabrication.  For some, it is about buying new parts and for others, it's about finding old parts at swap meets and piecing them together.  I have seen great results with all these methods.  I believe that motorcycles are about an individual's sense of freedom and their own expression.  Judging someone because they aren't doing it the way you think it should be done doesn't make sense to me. more about the journey then the destination. 

I did a variety of fabricating on Lindz's vlx.  I fabricated all of the tabs, handlebars, battery box, sissy bar and I rolled the fenders from sheet metal.  Although I was happy enough with the results, it was far from a professional job.  The rear fender I made ended up getting some damage during a ride so it has since been replaced with a manufactured fender.  The point is for me to try something new.  Although I was proud of how my fender turned out, I wouldn't say that it was good enough to charge money for.  Luckily I didn't make it for that purpose.  Lindz needed a fender and I thought what the hell?  Let's try it out and see how it goes.  For me, a motorcycle build is more about the journey than the destination. 

...I will learn new things, I will make mistakes, and I will ask for help.

During this xs650 build, I will learn new things, I will make mistakes, and I will ask for help.  In the end, that's what this bike will represent.  It will be a blend of things I did on my own, things I learned along the way, mistakes I made and help from friends.  I am the first person to admit that I am not a mechanic!  Picking up an old motorcycle that I have never heard run probably isn't the most ideal starting point for me.  However, I have tools, a manual and friends that know more then I do.  

I guess my point is, if you have a long-standing dream of picking up an old bike and getting your hands dirty, then go do it!  Luckily there are loads of complete and basket case motorcycles out there just waiting for someone to come along and give them new life.  You aren't going to hurt anything by trying!  If you come to something you don't understand then look for assistance.  There is a world of resources out there for you.

Author: Perth County Moto - Jeff O'Neill @perthmotojeff


  • Lucas

    Great post Jeff. I’d love to hear about some of the resources you mentioned at the end of this post. Maybe some of your faves? Getting started on choosing a bike to rebuild seems like a momentous hurdle. Love to hear where you start, or even Fab-Jerry. Keep it up brother.

  • Jeff

    Thanks Alan! I appreciate the support

  • Alan Thwaits

    Another great post. Thanks!

    I like your philosophy and your approach. It’s gritty and elegant, all at the same time. And I really like the phrase “more grinding than a high school dance.” That’s just brilliant!

    I look forward to your next post.


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