Performance Times

    10 of the Best Ways to Customize Your Motorcycle

    by Matt VandenHeuvel / May 14, 2024

    customizing Harley with exhaust system

    For some, simply owning a motorcycle is a dream come true. But there comes a point in almost every motorcycle enthusiast’s life where they find themselves thinking about modifications, customization, or simply changing something to fit them better. If you’ve found yourself at that point, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re looking to add a few aesthetic improvements or enhance the performance and control of your bike, we’ve got insights and tips on how you can get the most out of your motorcycle. In this guide, we’ll share the ins and outs of motorcycle customization and highlight some of the best upgrades to get you started on this journey.

    Why Customize Your Motorcycle?

    There are countless reasons why motorcycle enthusiasts love customizing their bikes. Motorcycle customization is a way to make your bike uniquely your own, either in performance, aesthetics, or both. Whether you want to give your motorcycle a unique paint job, a more comfortable seat, or enhance the engine power, the ability to do so is at your fingertips.

    Enthusiasts who modify and customize their bikes have an expansive and tight-knit community. There are hundreds of events held across the country each year where riders showcase their beloved customized bikes and share what they’ve learned with one another. You don’t have to modify your motorcycle in order to be part of these events and communities, but doing so gives you more opportunities to connect with others who share the same passion for motorcycles.

    Types of Motorcycle Customizations

    The best thing about customizing your motorcycle is that there are so many options to choose from. The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your creativity, budget, and technical expertise. Here are some of the most common types of modifications you can get for your motorcycle.

    Aesthetic Customizations

    Some riders customize their motorcycles purely for aesthetic reasons. Whether it's a unique paint job, custom graphics, or chrome accents, these modifications can enhance the visual appeal of your bike and make it stand out from the crowd without altering its performance.

    Here are some popular aesthetic motorcycle customizations.

    • Paint, Powder Coating, & Vinyl Wraps: Custom paint jobs, designs, and colors are an easy way to personalize your motorcycle's appearance. Applying vinyl wraps with various designs or patterns can also add personality to your bike.
    • Custom Bodywork: Modifying fenders, fairings, tanks, and other body parts can give your bike a unique look.
    • Chrome and Matte Finishes: Swapping out stock parts for chrome or matte-finished replacements can dramatically change the look of your bike.
    • Custom Lighting: Installing LED lights, neon accents, or custom light setups can improve both visibility and aesthetics.

    Performance Enhancements

    Customization offers opportunities for performance tuning and experimentation. With performance enhancements, you can fine-tune your bike to suit your riding style, whether it's for track racing, off-roading, or cruising.

    Here are some common upgrades to improve your motorcycle’s performance.

    • Exhaust Systems: Upgrading exhaust pipes and mufflers can give your bike a better sound, performance, and appearance.
    • Air Intake and Filters: Installing high-flow air filters and intake systems helps improve airflow and engine performance.
    • Engine Tuning: Adjusting fuel injection, ignition timing, and other engine parameters provides increased power and efficiency.
    • Suspension Upgrades: Installing aftermarket shocks, forks, or suspension components can provide better handling and comfort.
    • Wheel and Tire Upgrades: Installing custom wheels and tires can give your motorcycle better traction and handling.
    • Performance Electronics: Adding fuel controllers, performance ECUs, or traction control systems can boost both performance and safety.

    You might like: Harley-Davidson Stage 1, 2, 3, 4: Performance, Cost, & Alternatives

    Comfort and Convenience Modifications

    Customizing a motorcycle can also make it more comfortable to ride, especially for long distances. Custom seats, handlebars, and windshields can improve ergonomics and reduce fatigue.

    Here are some popular motorcycle modifications that enhance comfort and convenience.

    • Seats and Saddlebags: Upgrading seats for better comfort during long rides and adding saddlebags for additional storage.
    • Handlebars and Controls: Installing custom handlebars, grips, and controls for improved ergonomics and control.
    • Windshields and Fairings: Adding windshields or fairings for wind protection and aerodynamics.
    • Auxiliary Equipment: Installing GPS systems, radios and speakers, communication devices, or entertainment systems for added convenience.

    10 Best Customizations for Your Bike

    Need some advice on where to get started with motorcycle upgrades? Here are some popular customizations that many riders consider crucial. Keep your budget and preferences in mind when choosing an upgrade for your bike.

    1. Exhaust System Upgrade

    Upgrading the exhaust system can enhance your motorcycle's performance by optimizing exhaust gas flow. Aftermarket exhaust systems are designed with larger diameter pipes, smoother bends, and high-flow mufflers, allowing for better scavenging of exhaust gasses and reduced backpressure. Improved exhaust systems provide increased horsepower and torque, especially at higher RPM ranges. 

    In addition to a performance boost, many riders opt for an exhaust system upgrade to get a more aggressive and distinctive exhaust note out of their bike. Aftermarket exhausts usually produce a deeper, throatier sound compared to stock systems, which can be extremely satisfying. 

    Learn more: Slip-On Exhaust Vs. Full-System: Which Is Right For You?

    2. Performance Air Intake

    Upgrading the air intake system allows for increased airflow to the engine, resulting in improved combustion efficiency and increased horsepower and torque. Aftermarket air intake kits typically feature larger, less restrictive air filters and intake tubes compared to stock components, allowing for a greater volume of air to enter the engine.

    Performance air intake upgrades come in a variety of styles and configurations to suit different motorcycles and riding preferences. Depending on your specific needs and desired performance gains, you can choose from high-flow air filters, velocity stacks, ram air intake systems, or cold air intake kits.

    Performance air intake upgrades are often relatively easy to install, making them a great starter upgrade. Many aftermarket air intake kits come with detailed installation instructions and can be installed with basic hand tools in a short amount of time.

    Shop Air Cleaner Kits from S&S Cycle →

    3. Suspension Upgrades

    Upgrading the suspension can result in better handling characteristics, including improved stability, cornering ability, and responsiveness. Aftermarket suspension components, like adjustable shocks, forks, and steering dampers, allow you to fine-tune your motorcycle's suspension to your exact preferences, which makes for a much more comfortable ride. 

    4. Handlebar Upgrade

    Upgrading the handlebars improves ergonomics by allowing for a more comfortable and natural riding position. Different handlebar styles, like ape hangers, drag bars, or t-bars, offer varying degrees of reach, height, and wrist angles so you can ride more comfortably and for longer. You might also find that a different handlebar style or shape offers improved handling characteristics, especially during cornering, braking, and low-speed maneuvers. 

    When changing out your handlebars, don’t neglect the risers and bushings as well. Many different riser options exist to position the bars better to fit your needs and comfort. Risers can be taller or shorter than stock, raising or lowering the handlebar position, or can also come with a “pull back” that positions the handlebars closer to the rider as well.

    5. Custom Seat

    A custom seat is a great way to make your bike truly yours. You can choose from a wide variety of materials, colors, stitching patterns, and other elements to make a seat that complements your aesthetic. Unlike stock seats, which are designed to accommodate a wide range of riders, custom seats can be tailored to fit your specific body dimensions and riding position, making your ride much more comfortable in the long run.

    6. Engine Tuning

    Engine tuning is a comprehensive customization process aimed at optimizing the performance, power delivery, and efficiency of your motorcycle's engine. One of the primary goals of engine tuning is to increase the power output of your bike. By optimizing fuel delivery and ignition timing, you can maximize combustion efficiency with this upgrade and extract more power from the engine, resulting in improved acceleration and top speed.

    Engine tuning can also improve fuel efficiency by optimizing fuel delivery and air-fuel mixture ratios. By achieving more efficient combustion, you can reduce fuel consumption and extend your motorcycle's range on a full tank of gas. 

    Shop S&S Cycle Performance Kits →

    7. Camshaft Upgrade

    A camshaft upgrade is a significant performance modification that can have a notable impact on the power and torque characteristics of your motorcycle's engine. A performance camshaft can also enhance throttle response by providing more precise control over the intake and exhaust valves, making your motorcycle feel more responsive and lively, particularly during acceleration.

    Depending on the specific camshaft profile, the power delivery characteristics of the motorcycle may change. For example, a camshaft upgrade may shift the power band to higher RPM ranges, providing more top-end power but potentially sacrificing low-end torque. Make sure a camshaft upgrade is compatible with your riding style before leaning into this upgrade.

    Learn more: Choosing The Right Cam For Your Harley-Davidson

    8. Custom Wheels and Tires

    Custom wheels and tires are a popular customization option for motorcycle enthusiasts looking to enhance the appearance, performance, and handling of their bikes. Upgrading to custom wheels and tires can dramatically change the look of your motorcycle, giving it a unique and personalized appearance. Custom wheels are available in a variety of styles, finishes, and sizes, so you can truly get creative with this type of upgrade.

    Custom wheels and tires can also improve your bike’s performance and handling. Lightweight forged wheels, for example, reduce unsprung weight, which can result in better acceleration, braking, and handling characteristics. Upgraded tires with advanced rubber compounds and tread patterns can provide better grip, traction, and stability, especially in wet or challenging road conditions.

    9. Lighting Upgrades

    Upgrading the lighting system can significantly improve visibility for you as the rider and for others on the road. Brighter headlights, LED bulbs, and auxiliary lights can enhance visibility in low-light conditions, increasing your safety and reducing the risk of accidents. LED turn signals, brake lights, and running lights also make your bike more noticeable.

    Lighting upgrades can also enhance the aesthetic appeal of your motorcycle. Custom LED accent lights, underglow kits, and illuminated logos can add a unique and personalized touch to your bike, especially at night. Some jurisdictions have restrictions on the color, brightness, and placement of aftermarket lights, so you should research and adhere to applicable laws before making any lighting modifications.

    10. Big Bore Kits and Other Engine Options

    Many riders complete the above list over a number of years and still find themselves wanting more. While you can get more by selling your motorcycle and starting over, a more cost-effective solution is to build up the engine you already have! A big-bore kit can increase your cubic inches and thus improve your performance by swapping out your stock cylinders and pistons for oversized options. You can also change out the flywheel with a stroker kit to get some more power out of it. 

    The “final stage” for many that reach this point is to completely replace the engine with an aftermarket option, such as our V111, T124, or new MK136. This offers the best of all worlds: You can keep the bike you’ve built to fit yourself, get more horsepower and torque out of it, and get the entire engine covered by a manufacturer's warranty. 

    Rev Up Your Ride

    Whether you're looking to add a touch of personality with custom paintwork and decals or unleash your bike's full potential with performance upgrades, our extensive selection of parts and accessories allows you to turn your vision into reality. Stop by your local S&S Cycle parts dealer or shop our wide selection of parts and kits to make your motorcycle uniquely yours.

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    Tags: How-To / Tech

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