Modified mayhem! Find the best base bike for your custom motorbike with MCN

The Royal Enfield Continental GT in action
The Royal Enfield Continental GT in action

Custom bikes are more fashionable than ever – and we don’t mean old school, V-twin cruisers. Today a personalised ‘Bobber’, individual ‘scrambler’, uniquely accessorised ‘retro roadster’ or even a ‘brat’ style hot rod/cruiser is where it’s at if you want to stand out from the crowd. And the best bit is it’s now easier than ever to do it yourself.

Thanks to the huge variety of custom-ready new bikes being offered by the leading manufacturers (many of which are also available used to save money), their accompanying enormous ranges of accessories and custom parts and the extent many of those manufacturers go to by commissioning machines and custom competitions for those models to inspire buyers, there’s now little excuse not to build a mild custom of your own.

So what sort of custom-ready bikes and parts are available?

Far more than you might think. The first thing you need to do is identify the type of bike you like and what you’d like to create – our guide here will help. Then you need to suss out what sort of parts are available and what sort of skills are required.

Some manufacturers, such as Harley, Triumph and BMW, now have huge ranges of custom parts for their machines while Triumph in particular have a brilliant online configurator which lets you see the parts fitted to the bike before you buy.

Of course, there are often lots of aftermarket goodies available, too, which we haven’t room to go into here, but this should give you some ideas and a good start. Here’s our pick of the most customisable new bikes around right now… the rest is up to you!

Best customisable new bikes

2018-on Triumph Bonneville Bobber

Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black

Spec: 1200cc / 76bhp / 237.5kg / 690mm seat height
Price: £8500 (used) – £11,650 (new)

Britain’s Triumph stand out in the retro scene both for the quality and breadth of their Bonneville family (currently numbering 10, from Street Twin to Scrambler 1200) and their impressive range of bolt-on accessories (seats, pipes, billet and more) all temptingly perused via their effective online configurator.

The US-style Bobber, blacked out and basic, is probably its best custom base while Triumph’s ‘Bobber Build-Off‘ dealer custom competition (winner pictured below) shows how far customisation (in some cases with a bit of skilled help) can go. The base bike’s an easy, willing and stylish performer. With some added gloss it’s a crowd-stopper.

Triumph Bobber Build Off competition winner

Buying advice

Only out a year (other Bonnies date back to 2000) but popular so plenty around. Triumph quality and reliability is excellent, the detuned Bobber is understressed and cosmetics are plain. Most used examples already have accessories fitted.

2017-on BMW R nineT Pure

BMW R nineT Pure

Spec: 1170cc / 110bhp / 219kg / 805mm seat height
Price: £7500 (used) – £10,215 (new)

BMW got in early on the retro-roadster fashion, launching the old R1200R-based R nineT as limited edition homage to BMW’s 90-year boxer history in 2013. It proved so popular it spawned a whole family. The more basic and affordable Pure arrived in 2017, has all the original’s credible performance and quality and is a great base for customisation.

Different wheel, seat, pipe etc options are available from new and BMW now also offer a big range of ‘Option 719’ cosmetic bolt-ons. There are plenty of aftermarket parts available from the likes of Wunderlich and Moorespeed, too, while the boxer style is hugely ‘on-trend’ in the custom world.

Custom BMW R nineT range

Buying advice

The Pure came out in 2017 but the original R nineT dates back to 2013 so plenty are available. Quality and reliability is good, accessorising is popular and there’s plenty of inspiration to be had from custom shop specials both in the UK, Germany and beyond.

2015-on Ducati Scrambler Icon

Ducati Scrambler Icon

Spec: 803cc / 72.4bhp / 186kg / 790mm seat height
Price: £6800 (used) – £8295 (new)

Italian legends Ducati also made a major move into the fashionable, easily-customised, novice-friendly retro-roadster market when it launched its Scrambler family of easy but fun 800cc V-twins in 2015. There are four different variants, all updated with new clocks/switchgear and other mods this year.

The Icon is the base, most affordable version, Ducati, like Triumph, have a decent range of practical and cosmetic accessories and a natty online configurator to help you choose and Ducati also run a ‘Custom Rumble’ competition designed to inspire owners to customise their bikes with one of the finalists pictured here.

Ducati 'Custom Rumble' finalist bike

Buying advice

The Scrambler has been a huge success for Ducati and it’s not hard to see why: style, affordability, charisma – and customising potential. Novice appeal means you should watch for dings and neglect but otherwise it’s solid.

2015-on Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883

Spec: 883cc / 51bhp / 251kg / 735mm seat height
Price: £4500 (used) – £8895 (new) 

We couldn’t do any round-up of customisable bikes without including Harley and the US giant’s entry-level, novice-friendly 883 Iron is not only their most affordable but its basic, pared-down ‘bobber’ style means its also the most ripe for owner customisation. What’s more, for decades H-D have been the recognised market-leader when it comes to accessories and custom goodies, there are masses of aftermarket goodies available, too.

It’s also easy to work on, Harley themselves sponsor customising competitions to inspire owners (recent winner shown here) and your Harley dealer will certainly be able to help with any custom queries. In fact, if you’re an 883 Iron owner, it’d almost be a crime NOT to customise it.

A recent Harley-Davidson custom competition winner

Buying advice

Harleys look solid – and they are. Quality is good, mechanicals are simple and residuals generally are high. There should be no mechanical concerns if buying used but cosmetics and likely accessories should be assessed.

2014-on Indian Scout

Indian Scout

Spec: 1133cc / 100bhp / 246kg / 673mm seat height
Price: £9500 (used) – £11,699 (new)

Relaunched US legend Indian (the brand was bought and revived by Polaris in 2013) can’t yet match rival Harley’s heritage, accessories range or dealer network, but its bikes are right up there and its growing and developing fast. The Scout is its Harley Sportster rival in being novice-friendly-small and easy to ride, but its liquid-cooled V-twin out-guns it with 100bhp, even if it hasn’t quite the same authenticity.

It’s also can’t yet quite match the Harley for custom options but a sponsored ‘Project Scout’ UK custom competition (winner pictured) showed some of the possibilities and Indian’s accessory range is growing fast.

Indian Scout custom competition winner

Buying advice

Indians of all types are beautifully engineered with impressive quality. The entry-level Scout, especially the cheaper ‘Sixty’ variant, is more basic but still good. Reliability is excellent but again check of novice-style damage and owner accessories.

2016-on Yamaha XSR900

Yamaha XSR900 with RD250LC-inspired paint scheme

Spec: 847cc / 115bhp / 191kg / 815mm seat height
Price: £5600 (used) – £8999 (new) 

The major Japanese manufacturers are traditionally not known for encouraging Harley-style customisation of their bikes – but this is starting to change. Yamaha has led the way over the last decade with its ‘Yard Built’ inspirational custom builds and its increasing number of retro bikes, led by the XSR900, are decent platforms for further customisation. Introduced in 2016 as a semi-retro restyle of its lively MT-09 three-cylinder roadster, it’s not just a great, sporty all-rounder, it looks good, too – something further enhanced by new retro paintjobs for 2020.

And although the choice of further custom accessories pales compared to Harley or Triumph, a reasonable number are out there while some dealer have built specials based on it inspired by Yamaha’s RD350LC. What’s more, Yamaha’s ‘Yard Built’ specials, including this latest XSR by Germany’s JvB Moto, provides plenty of further inspiration and JvB are developing a kit so you can build your own. 

A custom Yamaha XSR900

Buying advice

Popularity ensures that plenty of XSRs are out there – including those with replica LC paintjobs and other goodies. There’s nothing major to watch for and mechanicals are good so bargains can be had.

2017-on Honda CMX500 Rebel

Honda CMX500 Rebel

Spec: 471cc / 44bhp / 190kg / 690mm seat height
Price: £4200 (used) – £5599 (new) 

Japanese institution Honda may be the last manufacturer anyone would expect to produce customisable bikes but things are a-changing, as proven both by its involvement in recent custom competitions and displays (most noticeably with its CB1000R at Wheels and Waves) and by the promotion of its entry-level custom, the Rebel 500, as a custom worthy bike with this example (pictured) restyled by tattoo legend Dan Gold.

The base bike is a brilliantly accessible introduction to custom bikes being A2 compliant, a doddle to ride and simple mechanically – it’s also been updated slightly for 2019. And although there aren’t masses of accessories available there are worse places to start.

A custom Honda Rebel by tattoo artist Dan Gold

Buying advice

The purpose-built 500 twin is soft and reliable, Honda build quality is typically good and there’s not much that can go wrong. Just keep a look out for novice damage and maintenance neglect.

2008-on Moto Guzzi V7 III

Moto Guzzi V7 III Stone

Spec: 744cc / 51bhp / 213kg / 770mm seat height
Price: £5500 (used) – £8599 (new) 

Guzzi’s cute and friendly retro roadster V7 is effectively the Italian take on Triumph’s Bonneville – but without the recent update. Being air-cooled and with Guzzi’s classic transverse V layout plus shaftdrive and ’70s styling it’s arguably as authentic as ‘retro’ get – and with much of the customising potential that brings.

What’s more, there are at least four different variants ranging from Stornello scrambler to café racer are available and Guzzi themselves have just announced three new ‘Sketchbike’ customising kits for the latest, updated, 2020 V7 III, as shown in the second picture. Guzzi’s V7 has always been a retro roadster with Italian style, now you can make it unique to you.

Custom Moto Guzzi V7

Buying advice

Based around Guzzi’s aging ‘small-block’ 744cc V-twin, the V7, although successively updated, hasn’t the latest tech of Triumph’s Bonnie, but for novices or pleasant Sunday pottering it’s enough. Reliability’s also good, as is build quality.

2019-on Royal Enfield 650 Continental GT

Royal Enfield 650 Continental GT

Spec: 648cc / 47bhp / 202kg / 793mm seat height
Price: £4700 (used) – £5699 (new) 

Introduced in 2019, Royal Enfield’s all-new 650 twin, along with its roadster Interceptor brother, show how far the now Indian-owned company have come – and hint at its big ambitions for the future.

The bike was designed and developed in Enfield’s impressive new, UK technology centre, its sweet-handling chassis is by Harris (who Enfield now own) and although not quite having the Bonneville’s build quality or performance, considering its £2K+ cheaper price that’s no hardship. Better still, as beginning to be encouraged by Enfield themselves via a series of inspiration customs such as the Flat Track Twin (pictured), it’s also beginning to be seen as a very good base bike for further customisation.

Royal Enfield Flat Tracker custom

Buying advice

It’s still early days for Enfield’s new 650, but as the mechanicals were developed by former Triumph employees and it’s a fairly understressed design we see little reason for concern, not that there are many used examples out there yet anyway.

2017-on Kawasaki Z900RS

Kawasaki Z900RS

Spec: 948cc / 109bhp / 215kg / 835mm seat height
Price: £7800 (used) – £10,499 (new) 

Of all the Japanese 1970s-styled retros, Kawasaki’s Z900RS (basically a modern Z900 but with an impressively authentic, 1972 Z1-inspired restyle, right down to its twin dials) is arguably the best due to its genuinely contemporary performance blended with easily-mistakable 1970s looks. Better still, with Kawasaki’s encouragement, it’s also becoming something of a bike ripe for customising.

A variety of custom house-built specials such as this (pictured) from Bito R&D, have been commissioned and publicised, featuring 70s-style exhausts, race suspension and wheels and lots of cosmetic touches, and an increasing amount of bolt-ons are becoming available. Kawasaki themselves, meanwhile, have a faired café racer version plus 2020’s updates see two new retro paintjobs.

A custom Kawasaki Z900RS

Buying advice

The base Z900 mechanicals are bulletproof and Kawasaki quality is now up there with the best. Nor have there been any reliability concerns. Watch out for cosmetic damage though.

What about a custom 125?

While most riders don’t keep a 125cc bike for more than a year, there’s a growing scene for modifying these bikes. A great example is the 1975-2008 Honda CG 125, which is a firm favourite with those who enjoy personalising their machines.

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