A Blog On Custom Motorcycle Design

A custom motorcycle is a motorcycle that is highly stylized or which treats aspects such as frame geometry, engine design, or paintwork in an unusual way compared to standard manufacturing. Custom motorcycles are unique or individually produced in a very limited quantity, as opposed to "stock" bikes. This blog is a representation of my view on the wonderful world of custom bike design and the design of motorcycle in general.

Illustration by G Gilger

By publishing the photos of the bikes that influenced me I want to go through 40 years of custom bike design. Reflect on the evolution of these design styles and try to define what by my standards is a good design .


I have some strong philosophy’s on this topic that I would love to share (and which I’m always willing to discuss, as I strongly believe you can never learn too much).


I often wonder (reading motorcycle magazines or at custom bike shows for instance) what it is that makes people like a certain bike. When is it pleasing to the eye? or when just ugly or outrageous? I perceive the art of custombike building as real ART with a benefit; you can ride the hell out of it.


So for me the same rules apply as when I’m consuming (and often criticising) ART. In paintings, sculpture, music, and movies I want to see the manifestation of an emotion, idea or feeling that’s brought to life with craftsmanship, and often for me the devil is in the detail.


I feel strongly about the balance within the overall silhouette of the motorcycle and the composition of parts in and around the frame.

I also believe the stance is an important factor.  A bike that leans back will never look fast standing still. I often wonder if there is (like in art) a golden section/ ratio, that points out rules for the appreciation of beauty in the design of a motorcycle.


Design and beauty.


Beauty (also called prettiness, loveliness or comeliness) is a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning, or satisfaction.

Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, sociology, social psychology, and culture. An "ideal beauty" is an entity which is admired  for perfection or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture.


The experience of "beauty" often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this is a subjective experience, it is often said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”


In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one's own existence. A subject of beauty is anything that resonates with a personal meaning for the beholder.


The Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed many beautiful objects like buildings and furniture (the timeless chaise longue L4) and is famous for his contributions to the modern international style. He centered his design philosophy on systems of harmony and proportion.


Le Corbusier's faith in the mathematical order of the universe was closely bound to the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series, which he described as "Rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another. These rhythms are at the very root of human activities.

They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned”.


To put it bluntly; beauty gives a positive feeling about one’s existence and like Corbusier stated; these mathematical balanced rhythms to the eye (pretty design) will be recognised by many as the feeling for the golden ratio is within us all.


This feeling of well-being can also flow from seeing the balance and harmony within design and engineering like in a good custom motorcycle design


Design and Engineering


In engineering, design is a component of the engineering process. Many overlapping methods and processes can be seen when comparing Product design, Industrial design and Engineering.


The dictionary defines design as: "To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent,"and"To formulate a plan", and it defines engineering as: "The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems."


Both are forms of problem-solving which apply scientific and mathematical principles. Scientists at Xerox made the distinction of design versus engineering at "moving minds" versus "moving atoms".  According to this, one can say that designing is the droodling with the pencil and engineering is hammering the steel. So when is design considered art?


Design and art


Design is often viewed as a more rigorous form of art, or art with a clearly defined purpose. The distinction is usually made when someone other than the artist is defining the purpose. In graphic arts the distinction is often made between fine art and commercial art. In the realm of the arts, design is more relevant to the "applied" arts, such as architecture and industrial design.

In fact today the term design is widely associated to modern industrial product design as initiated by Raymond Loewy (designer of the Coca Cola bottle and the bullet train) and teachings at the Bauhaus and Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm) in Germany during the 20th Century.


Design implies a conscious effort to create something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The distinction between pure and applied arts is not completely clear, but one may consider Jackson Pollock's (often criticized as "splatter") paintings as an example of pure art.


One may assume his art does not convey a message based on the obvious differences between an advertisement poster and the mere possibility of an abstract message of a Jackson Pollock painting.One may speculate that Pollock, when painting, worked more intuitively than would a graphic artist, when consciously designing a poster.


However, Mark Getlein (writer of the book: living with art) suggests the principles of design are "almost instinctive", "built-in", "natural", and part of "our sense of 'rightness'." (golden ratio/section?)

Pollock, as a trained artist, may have utilized design whether conscious or not.


So, is a Custom bike;  art, design and engineering? or just a plain consumer product that you can move around on? I think all that and more, as there is little that can match the thrill of riding a bike that you have designed and built yourself.

Being one with your fantasy, something that reflects your personal vision, style and taste that you can risk your life on.

Can life be any more exiting? 


By the way: I don't believe taste is something static. People often say; "that's not my taste!"

But “The Beholder” can evolve his/ hers taste by getting “knowledge” of more different styles (than for instance the now ruling fashions like the: "Old School", " Baggers"or "High Necks" etc.), technology and ideas. Because I think that (just as with music) the more different styles you are confronted with (and learn to appreciate), the more you will understand and love motorbike design (and music) in general.

Now feast your eyes on all the beautiful, sometimes weird but always interesting bike designs on this blog.


Paul Funk  11-18-2011


Photos by: Michael Lichter, Raiko Hartman, Pete Chiodo, Siwer Ohlsson, Wes Allison, Horst Rösler, Frank Sanders, Kaz, Clink, Jim Gianatsis / FastDates.com Calendars. etc. (If you think your name also should be mentioned here, please contact me)