What is a custom bike?

A custom bike is a motorcycle that differs from serial production models through smaller or major changes or modifications. In practice, these can often range from simple aesthetic amendments to DIY frames, modified fuel tanks, converted swing arms (for wider back tyres, for instance) or a special finish to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle.

Custom bikes come in a variety of different types. The more well-known ones include (Swedish) choppers, cruisers, bobbers, café racers, streetfighters, rat and theme bikes, board and dirt trackers. We could probably be here listing them all day long.


Most streetfighters are powerful series models that have been almost entirely stripped of their fairing. They are sometimes also referred to as “naked bikes” and have a fantastically aggressive look and sound about them.

Café racers

Café racers are everyday series bikes that have been converted into seriously snazzy sports or racing cycles. They date back to the 1960s, when greasers used to meet up in the big cities like London (here: in front of the legendary Ace Café) to hold street races. They sure did a good job of terrorising the streets, but they also laid the foundations for today’s endurance events.

Rat bikes

The history of the rat bike is perhaps as old as the motorcycle itself. The term “rat” was first used in a biking context in the US. Most American migrant workers and farmhands had to travel long distances. They were always broke and loved nothing more than getting their mitts on an old Harley, no matter how many times it had already been patched together with old parts. They would pack up all their worldly possessions and move from one farm to the next on their rats. With these bikes, the bottom line is still the same today as it always has been: they’re pure driving machines. In most cases, they’re virtually clapped-out, and certainly aren’t cleaned or maintained. Rats are mainly matt black and come in rusty and rustier. Repairs are generally temporary solutions – some kind of conversion or another – and are, in most cases, completely nuts. Some rat bikes have “grown” over many decades. Newer models are given an extra bit of help to achieve that well-worn look. In addition to EVERDAY RAT BIKES that have barely been modified and look relatively unspectacular, there are also stripped NAKED RAT BIKES, DECORATED RAT BIKES adorned with all types of trash, military-style SURVIVAL RAT BIKES and ultra-modified (and ultra-pricey) HARD-CORE RAT BIKES.


Choppers originated in California around 1948. A chopper is a cycle that’s been stripped of everything its owner considered superfluous – such as the pillion seat, fenders and/or other accessories. The term is derived from the verb “to chop”. Variety is what makes choppers so wicked. There are soft choppers, Swedish choppers, factory custom choppers, custom choppers and hard-core choppers (that have been modified to the max).

Swedish choppers

A Swedish chopper is one cool creation that’s been specifically and radically modified with a puristic mind-set. These mean machines are purposefully built without any attachments – so there are no headlights, speedometers or front wheel brakes. Cable and shaft lines are hidden from sight (mainly inside the handlebars), emphasising the appearance of the parts that can’t be stripped off without making it impossible to ride the bike.

Soft choppers

Soft choppers are choppers that primarily came from Japan during the 80s. The builders used typical chopper attachments (classic parts such as raised handlebars, front-mounted foot rests, chrome parts and sissy bars) on standard everyday motorcycles to make them more interesting to consumers and look more like the American bikes.


“Cruiser” is a term that’s been bandied about since the 90s to describe a motorcycle with design features reminiscent of US series models from Harley-Davidson, Indian and Henderson. The main traits worth mentioning are a long wheelbase, wide tyres, high-volume engines and/or wide handlebars.


The term “bobber” refers to the little bob on the lower end of the front wheel fender on old Indian and Harley-Davidson models. In addition to engine tuning, one of the first modifications that a Harley enthusiast made in the 40s and 50s to make his bike lighter and faster was to mount the original front wheel fender rearwards over the back wheel. The original back wheel fender was removed and the front wheel remained exposed. Bikes modified in this way ended up with a bob at the rear, which is how they got their name. The term “bob job” is commonly used to refer to the process of turning a motorcycle into a bobber.

Board track racers

Board track racing was a type of motorsport popular in the US back in the early and late 20s. The races were often held on motodromes – oval race courses with surfaces composed of wooden planks. The racing bikes may have come cheap, but they didn’t half need a lot of maintenance.

Theme bikes

As an artistic interpretation, a theme bike is a custom bike based on a particular or special theme. For instance, you’ll come across theme bikes decorated with chequered plate that are emulating their inner fire engine. Theme bikes are very often simply built to order for large companies or famous faces from the film, sporting or music industries, as they can very quickly end up costing a pretty penny or two.