A motorcycle is cool. You know what’s cooler? A motorcycle you make your own. With a bike like the Honda Rebel, you can build the personalized conveyance of your dreams: a ride that’s brimming with potential, promising so much adventure.
You might think customization sounds difficult, but it doesn’t have to be all blood, sweat, and tears. Both manufacturers and the aftermarket have realized just how much we want to tinker, and they’ve made it easier than ever. Here are a few key places on your motorcycle where customization can begin.
The humble motorcycle seat can be an expression of your personality. A cafe racer’s seat is long and mounted up high, ending in a hump for aerodynamics, letting you tuck down for maximum attack. A bobber’s saddle seat is placed as low as possible, and a flat tracker’s seat is thin and narrow. No matter what seat your bike came with, you can enhance it. With a couple of bolts, you can add diamond or ribbed patterns, contrasting stitching, leather or suede, multiple colors, maybe even another seat for a friend.
The tank is the visual centerpiece of your bike: curved, painted, and smooth, it brings all the components together. Many custom bikes look great even with their stock tanks, and still more look good with vintage tanks from unexpected models. Trackers and bobbers tend to have smaller “peanut” tanks, cafe racers have longer and boxier tanks, and scramblers usually look good with their stockers. You can always build your own, if you have the skills and the patience. The tank holds a volatile, highly combustible liquid right between your legs, so don’t cheap out on this bit or cut corners installing it.
Add street appeal, save weight, change your bike’s character. An exhaust is usually the first thing that’s replaced from the showroom floor, and for good reason: They’re easy to swap out and they (usually) sound rad. Every style has its own. Cafe racer exhausts sweep upward, like on period race bikes, for clearance when rounding corners. Bobber exhausts are short and straight for weight reduction and a sleek, minimalist look. And one of the coolest features of a modern-day scrambler are high-mounted pipes: an arrow-straight line of metal, complete with heat shields for leg-hair preservation, they look off-road ready, especially if you splash through a pothole on the way to Chipotle.
Handlebars and rear sets both define how you interact with your motorcycle: whether you sit forward or lean back, tuck in or stand on the pegs. These can be relatively simple to swap out. But it’s important to align them to your needs, so you can ride your bike in comfort. Who says you can’t put ape hangers on a Rebel?
Make your motorcycle practical without being dorky. Saddlebags are a time-tested affair, but your options include tank bags and those little luggage racks behind the seats, too. To make things easier, motorcycle companies usually offer their own luggage accessories designed just for their models; Honda’s new Rebel is no different. It’s far easier to undo a few bolts and strap in a handsome leather bag than it is to cut, measure, fabricate, and then measure again when one of your bags slips and melts on the exhaust. Ask me how I know.
Easily the most creative and visually striking change you can make on your motorcycle, painting tank and body panels can lead to all kinds of self-expression. It might also be the most expensive, risky, and time-consuming. What if you make a mistake, and the paint isn’t even? What if you overspray, or dust gets in the works? This is best practiced beforehand on scrap metal, with decent equipment, or sent to a painter who knows exactly what you have in mind and has the experience to back it up. But when it’s done, your bike will look like nothing else on the road.
Today, there’s really no shame in hitting the accessories catalog: Manufacturers have never been more in tune with the personalization movement, and most companies offer a smorgasbord of mix-and-match parts — sometimes entire kits — to completely transform your bike. The less ham-fisted hacking you do on your own, the less chance you’ll wind up with an arm full of angle grinder burns (trust me on this) and the more likely you’ll end up with a motorcycle that still functions as a working motorcycle.
So, there you go: several options to turn an off-the-shelf motorcycle into your own, without having to hack and slash. For now, anyway. Once you get hooked, you’ll want to explore further, maybe buy an angle grinder and make the requisite measurements and cuts and really get down to it — but you can start with some simple changes, like these.
Blake Z. Rong is a writer, journalist, and photographer who’s wasted much of his life so far writing about cars and motorcycles. He has contributed to Jalopnik, Road & Track, and Autoweek, among other fine publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.