Do it yourself AN EXPERT GUIDE
Taking on your first project can be a big step, so experienced customiser Adam Kay of Untitled Motorcycles shares his top tips to getting started
Afew years ago Adam Kay decided it was time for a change, so with the help of friendly mechanic Rex he set about customising his first bike – a BMW R80. Looking back it’s a little crude compared to his latest creations but Midlife Crisis (as it became known) set Adam down the path to being a full-time bike builder. The friendly mechanic is now his business partner and together they run Untitled Motorcycles in London, which has been so successful it’s spawned another workshop in LA and they’ve produced over 50 custom bikes. These are his tips to success when customising a bike.
Choose your model carefully
“Little bikes aren’t always easier to work on, so don’t be afraid of jumping straight in with a big Guzzi or something. BMWS are popular because of the removable subframe. You can even buy aftermarket subframes, seats, mudguards etc and customise a bike over a weekend. That said, steer clear of the K-series BMWS unless you like working on cars.
“You have to be careful with some modern bikes like KTMS and Ducatis as the steel in the trellis frames has been treated, so if you start welding it willy nilly you can make the frame go really brittle.”
Buy a decent runner
“I always say to people when they come to us, get the best bike you can to start. Whatever you do don’t buy a box of bits because you don’t know what you’ve got – you could be missing something that’s impossible to find, or costs a fortune to replace. If it has an MOT when you get it, you can also ride it first.
“Before we start customising bikes we tell people to ride them for a few months beforehand, so that they know what it is they want to change.
“You might also find little mechanical things that need doing too, so you can start learning about how to fix the bike before you cut it up. It’s one thing being able to make it look pretty, but it’s another to know how to make it mechanically sound.”
Set a budget and timeline
“Decide how much you want to spend and map
the build out. It’s so easy to spend a bit of cash here and there without really noticing. But it all adds up and before you know where you are, you’ve spent a fortune that you might not get back.
“When I customised my first bike I would come into the workshop a few days a week and I did it bit by bit over eight months. Ideally you need to take the bike off the road, rather than do one bit, then ride it, then another bit. It saves you time and money in the long run because you might change the bars, then decide you want to change the yoke, so all those new bits have to come off again. The other key part of this is ideally having another bike to get yourself around on, which means you’re not rushing to finish it so you can ride to work on Monday morning.
Take it slowly
“When you get a new bike it’s tempting to rip into it and end up with a jumbled up box of bits. Whenever you take anything apart, photograph every single step. If it’s coming off the bike, bag it up and label the bag. If you’re taking apart a loom, label every single wire. All this stuff might sound a faff and it does slow you down, but that’s no bad thing. In the long run it’s quicker too, as you won’t be working out how to reassemble your crank from a grainy photo in an old Haynes manual.”
Go forwards not backwards
“Sometimes I see people who’ve put drum brakes on a fairly fast modern bike and I think ‘What the hell are you doing?’ – it might look beautiful but you can’t ride it to its full potential. You can buy lovely master cylinders and greatlooking reservoirs these days. Even some mundane ones polished up look nice – we use the master cylinder from an SV650 on a lot of our bikes.
“Also don’t put those tubes on instead of the reservoir. If you work out how much you actually need, it would be two feet long. When the fluid heats up it expands and it will hit the end of that tube and put your brakes on. Lastly – fit good tyres. Firestones may look cool but they’re terrible to ride.”
Give it to an expert
“Sometimes the best policy is knowing when to stop. If you’re unsure about something, stop and take it to a professional. Welding is the other one – anyone can weld, but badly. MIG seems easy as it’s almost like a glue gun but people don’t like the welds, so they grind it back to make it look pretty and there’s nothing left holding it together. Next thing you know, the lovely hoop you’ve welded on snaps off and it (along with your passenger are sat in the road).”