It’s always the hardest article to write, but also the most fascinating to research. Our annual roundup of the most popular customs on Bike EXIF reveals the dominant trends in the scene as well as the builders who have their fingers on the pulse.
This year, outside of the top two builds, the competition was tighter than ever before. Some builds that dominated site traffic barely registered a blip on social media; other bikes that went haywire in our social channels simply didn’t translate to solid web traffic.
As always, this Top 10 is driven by data alone, rather than the personal preferences of our writers. It’s based on page views, comments, incoming links, and shares on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. If there are dead heats, we weight the rankings according to long a bike has been ‘live’ on the site.
Everyone will draw their own conclusions from the Top 10, but a few things stood out for us. Firstly, the generic ‘café racer’ category is well and truly dead. Many of the most popular bikes combine elements of different genres.
The offroad vibe is on the rise, whether it’s hints of classic Dakar styling or a trend towards rebuilding enduro/dual sport machines. And classic racing in general, from flat track to endurance to MX, is having an increasing influence on builders. Functional styling (with a twist) and authenticity is increasingly appreciated.
Read on, and you’ll see the ten bikes that revved our readers’ engines the most over the past year. Some you may have expected to see, but others may be a surprise.
10. Yamaha XSR155 by K-Speed How many workshops finish over 50 builds a year? Hardly any. The number that can keep the quality high is even smaller—probably on the fingers of one hand.
K-Speed is the most visible of those high-volume builders, and despite the relentless pace in this Bangkok workshop, the output is fascinating.
Several K-Speed bikes were in the running for this year’s Top Ten, but the winner is this chunky XSR155, which edged out the Honda Monkeys to claim its spot. It was a commission from Yamaha Thailand to boost the launch of the smallest XSR, and confirmed one of the biggest trends we’ve seen over the past 12 months: smaller bikes are hot property.
This build follows a relatively standard formula—new subframe, seat, exhaust, bars, wheels and accessories—but the K-Speed secret sauce lifts it to a new level. Shop owner ‘Eak’ knows how to whip up the ingredients into a tasty recipe, and our readers were hungry for more, with over 16,000 giving their approval on Instagram alone. [More]
9. Scrambler Ducati by Slayer House Nattapat Janyapanich is a pro motorcycle designer who has works for manufacturers in Southeast Asia. He builds customs in his spare time as Slayer House, and this Ducati caught the imagination of our readers.
Long and low, it hits the sweet spot visually—but there’s an equal amount of trickery on the mechanical front. The forks are from a Ducati 999R, with an Öhlins monoshock to match, and the single-sided swingarm is from a Monster 796.
Nattapat also raided the Ducati parts bin for the tank, which is the simpler (and more appealing) Scrambler Sixty2 item, but built the rear end and its bodywork himself. Other upgrades include OZ Racing wheels, BMW S1000RR brake components and clip-on bars.
It’s a deceptively clever rather than flashy build from a guy who knows what he is doing, and even has an autoclave to make his own carbon fiber parts. [More]
8. Brad Peterson’s Yamaha TZ750 flat track racer The TZ750 is one of the most fearsome race bikes of all time: Kenny Roberts hit 145 mph on one, and it was so fast that it was banned after a single major race outing.
That was enough to cement its legendary status, and also enough to spur Brad Peterson into commissioning this very classy replica. The frame is an accurate copy of an original Champion frame, and it cradles a 1977 TZ 750D Scott Guthrie Racing engine.
Builder Jeff Palhegyi’s handiwork is everywhere—from the frame recreation to the expansion chambers.The engine has also been retuned to make it tractable on the street, with the help of Lectron carburetors, but even so, it’s still a handful.
“When the revs hit about 7,000, it lights the back tire up violently—and at the same time lifts the front wheel, pulling hard all the way to 11,000,” says Brad.
Magnificent stuff in an increasingly sanitized world—and we need more of this. [More]
7. Indian Scout Bobber drag bike by Workhorse Speedshop The Sultans Of Sprint drag series in Europe always throws up some amazing builds. Despite strict regulations designed to keep costs and horsepower under control, builders on the continent keep coming up with jaw-dropping machines that assault the eyes as well as the senses.
Our favorite this year was this Scout from the Belgian builder Brice Hennebert, a man who marches to his own tune. Looking like a V-twin that has crashed into a jet engine, ‘Appaloosa’ gets extra juice from a nitrous system—and despite the massive fairing, weighs a whopping 42 kilos less than a stock Scout Bobber.
The aluminum body alone took Brice seven weeks to build, and takes inspiration from 1920s trains, 1940s Formula One cars, and the F-86 Sabre fighter. The tank looks stock but has been narrowed by 10 centimeters, and there’s a custom swingarm to increase the wheelbase and help get the power down.
There’s custom CNC machined parts everywhere, the suspension is Öhlins all round, and Akrapovič built a one-off exhaust system too.
Even with Randy Mamola as pilot, the Scout couldn’t quite win the drag race championship—but it took home the ‘Best Style’ award, wowing racegoers as well as our readers. [More]
6. Suzuki DR-Z400 by Federal Moto There’s a lot of love out there for the evergreen, bulletproof DR-Z, and Federal Moto felt the full force of the neurotransmitters when they released ‘Big Suzie’ on these pages.
The Chicago shop completed the build for a local client, who wanted a stylish urban wheelie machine that could also handle the occasional rough stuff. So Mike Müller and his crew whipped up a new bolt-on subframe, installed an SR500 tank, and a Honda VFR400 radiator.
New fenders keep the muck at bay and the cockpit has been upgraded with Renthal bars, Biltwell grips, Motogadget electrics, and MSR controls. A killer paint job and smart grey powder on the frame makes the humble DR-Z look a million dollars. [More]
5. BMX motorized bicycle by Down & Out The English builder Shaun Walker has been immersed in the custom scene for over 20 years now, and is best-known to our readers for his ballsy, fat-tired retro roadsters.
But Shaun has built just about every type of custom in his storied career, and he’s not afraid to try something new. And in this case, it was a big swerve away from his usual fare.
Shaun’s a long-time BMX fan, but could never afford one when he was a kid. This build realizes the dream for him, but adds in a Honda clone motor, a polished raw steel frame, Honda Cub brakes, and … big wheels. This baby has 17 x 5 rims on custom hub spacers, shod with 180/55×17 Pirelli MT60 tires.
Better late than never, as they say. And our Instagram followers felt the same way: over 15,000 people hit the like button. [More]
4. Royal Enfield Himalayan by Fuel The ‘new’ 650 twins get most of the custom love these days, thanks to Royal Enfield’s fantastic support program for bike builders. But it was a humble Himalayan that resonated most with our readers.
It comes from the Spanish outfit Fuel, who are no strangers to these pages. As well as building classy customs, Fuel are famous for organizing the annual Scram Africa expedition—a 4,000 km dirt tour running through North Africa.
Fuel chose the Himalayan as the base for this scrambler because it’s simple, easy to repair and relatively compact. After all, there’s no point in having the best-looking bike in the desert if it turns into a sand anchor.
The styling recalls 80s enduros and Paris Dakar bikes, but Fuel have added some neat functionality too—such as custom switchgear for turning the ABS off if required. Very clever. [More]
3. Harley Fat Bob by Rough Crafts If there were a marathon event for custom bike builders, Winston Yeh would win it. Each year brings a small but delectable selection of new Rough Crafts builds, and we get to see his signature style applied to new platforms while remaining utterly consistent.
This Fat Bob was the second most widely viewed article on the site in 2019, and as soon as we clapped eyes on the shots, we knew it was going to be a hit. Harley customs tend to occupy a niche of their own—especially the larger bikes—but this build also appealed to folks who would never dream of stepping into a Bar and Shield showroom.
‘Mighty Guerrilla’ is a distant relative to the Sportster that launched Yeh’s star into orbit nearly a decade ago—the ‘Iron Guerrilla.’ It’s a murdered-out 2018 Fat Bob 107, rolling on chunky 16-inch rims with five-inch wide tires.
The stance is slightly slammed, the brakes are upgraded, and the bodywork and exhaust system are all-new. It’s edgy and aggressive, from the signature headlight grille backwards. (The heavily modified tank, intriguingly, started life as a Sportster fitment.)
Congratulations Winston on a decade at the top of the game! [More]
2. Ducati MH900e by Onehandmade It’s a brave builder who dares to tackle a machine as iconic as the MH900e. Only two thousand were built, and half the production run sold out in less than an hour.
‘Chun’ Hung of Onehandmade is one of the world’s finest metal shapers, but even he tried to dissuade his client from messing with his MH900e. But when his client insisted, he went all-out. The new aluminum bodywork flows seamlessly, looking elegant yet aggressive.
Mechanical upgrades include higher spec Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes, custom triple clamps and clip-ons, and a stunning titanium exhaust system.
Onehandmade entered the Ducati into the Café Racer category at the AMD World Championship of bike building but, bizarrely, it only placed fourth.
Our readers were quicker than the AMD judges to spot the brilliance of this build though, and an absolute torrent of web traffic and social shares followed. [More]
1. Yamaha MT-07 by Andrew Stagg A surprise hit late in the year, this Yammie from Australian builder Andrew Stagg struck a massive chord with readers—especially our fans on Facebook, who gave it 24,000 thumbs-ups. And this was the most widely read article on the site in the whole year.
Everything on this machine is top-notch, and it looks like the kind of bike you’d see on a manufacturers’ stand at EICMA, as a concept to test public opinion.
Stagg is a one-man band, although he has history in the moto industry: he raced bikes in the 90s, and has worked at Smoked Garage in Brisbane for a couple of years—building mostly bobbers and hardtail conversions. He’s also worked for Holden Special Vehicles, amping up his engineering and fabrication skills still further.
The styling is spot-on, the fit and finish is superb, and it looks like something that Yamaha could build tomorrow. And maybe that’s the source of its appeal: this MT-07 is not an impractical fantasy, but a machine that could happily sit in a showroom.
The stock MT-07 is very much a ‘Marmite’ bike, with styling that polarizes opinion. But Stagg, working with Brisbane shop Black Cycles, has shown it’s possible to give the MT a new set of clothes with wide appeal.
The people have spoken: will Yamaha take the hint? [More]
EDITOR’S NOTE The toughest part of these roundups is seeing the bikes that didn’t quite make it—because a lot of them are personal favorites. The winners are bikes that scored highly across all criteria, smashing not only page views, but also social shares across all major platforms.
There were a few bikes that just missed the cut because they didn’t have the “full hand” for some reason, even if they scored hugely on one or two other criteria.
This year, that included Jake Drummond’s Yamaha MT-07, VTR’s BMW S1000RR and S1000XR pair, Krom Works’ Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, Craig Rodsmith’s front-wheel-drive motorcycle, and JvB-Moto’s Yamaha XSR900.
It’s also worth noting that both Triumph and Honda seem to have some catching up to do, while Yamaha and Royal Enfield are on the rise. As are builders from the Southeast Asia region.
We’ll finish with a note of thanks. Particularly to the builders and photographers who create and capture these fascinating machines—and to the advertisers who keep our servers running and the site free for you to read. Please support these people as they support us.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this year of custom motorcycles, and we’ll be in touch again in a few days, when Wes will publish his Editor’s Choice for 2019—an entirely personal view, free from the constrictions of data and social media.