:: Introduction
:: Frame Preparation
:: Frame Detailing
:: Molding and Paint
:: Rocker Clutch Assem.
:: Shifter Assem.
:: Kickstand Assem.
:: Transmission Assem.
:: Rear Brake Assem.
:: Oil Tank Assem.
:: Floorboards
:: Rear Wheel/Fender
:: Front Forks

More To Come

:: Forward Control Plans


The Project Bike

The Project Starts

There are as many reasons for building a bike as there are people on the face of the planet. A custom-built bike is an individual artistic expression, whether it’s put together with old used parts or the latest and greatest bolt-on parts or parts that you fabricate with your own hands.

While there are some self-righteous folks out there who look down on people who ‘bolt together’ a bike from over the counter parts I’m not that much of a fanatic and believe that any bike assembled and or fabricated in any manner is a ‘built’ bike and in my opinion still a ‘custom’ bike.

Cliff Vaughs, one of the first noted bike builders from the early sixties was once quoted as saying that:

“A Chopper is the final romantic expression left in this country. The cycle is the one thing you can build from nothing, just a basket case, and make into something very beautiful, and really put yourself into it.”

No truer words have ever been spoken.



This little article will be about putting together a bike much like 90% of other people do and that’s by starting out with a stock or manufactured frame. In this case we’re going to be using a Paughco S139B Big Twin rigid frame with a 40-degree rake in the neck. This is a popular frame used as a foundation by many custom builders and at most bike shows you’ll see scores of rides using this particular frame. The nice thing about this frame is that it has no ‘up or out’ stretch so it makes for a well-proportioned ride no matter what ‘style’ it ends up being.

Speaking of ‘styles’, I’ve never held to the idea that bikes have to fall into various categories or classifications and when I hear people on discussion boards talking about various ‘styles’ of bikes my eyes start to glaze over. My personal opinion is that bikes shouldn’t be fashion statements but starting around 2012 the Yuppies, Hipsters and Fashionistas began to adopt bikes as part of their ‘lifestyle fashion ensemble’. If you’re in that brigade you probably won’t learn anything from reading any further.

On the other hand, most of the material in this article will be about what I call the ‘behind the scenes’ type of stuff that’s dirty, boring and knuckle busting, but necessary to do. It’s seldom shown in build videos or TV shows so it might be interesting reading.


Article Formats

The outline for this series of articles is loosely based upon the Harley factory parts manuals and what they considered to be 'assemblies' or associated parts and sub-components and that's the format we'll use for most of the various sections.

We'll start each section of the series with installation descriptions of the simplest assemblies and then add the more complex components in order over time as the actual build progresses.

We anticipate that this material will eventually be quite lengthy so we've set it up as a stand-alone section of the CBH website so it's easier to navigate.



Parts for the project will consist of stuff I’ve scrounged at swap meets, parts from old rides, stuff left over from prior projects, new stuff, things friends have given me and some handmade bits and pieces.

Many people, myself included, feel like the glory years for the Harley-Davidson motorcycle were between 1936 and 1984. After 84 with the introduction of the Evo motor the Big Twin became just another typical road bike with nothing much to differentiate it from the imports.

For most serious chopper builders, the late model bikes are not good source material and if you want to do your own wrenching using the early model parts, components, motors and transmissions is the way to go. Not only will you save money but you’ll have a ride you can build without too many specialized tools.

As we go forward with this build-up keep in mind that we’ll be using pre-84 parts, some factory original and others will be aftermarket reproductions or replacements.

With respect to buying parts I personally think that swap meets are the best source since you can see and feel what you’re buying. I hate to buy anything I can’t personally inspect, even new parts.

The down side to swap meet shopping is more likely than not the guy selling the parts has no idea what make and model of bike the parts came from or how they were used in the past. Every now and then however you’ll run into guys who are basically professional swap meet sellers and also extremely knowledgeable about the stuff they peddle. It’s amazing what some of these guys know and a lot of them will back their parts if you have a problem.

Regardless of how you acquire the parts you still need some basic knowledge about the various bikes you’ll want parts from. There is no need buying parts from an old drum brake foot clutch bike if you’re going to be building something using disc brakes and a foot shifter for a simple example.

Beware of buying cheap parts just because they’re a bargain. In the long run you’ll regret doing so everyday that you ride the bike. It’s a far better idea to buy high quality used parts, even if they’re well used and look like crap so long as they’re serviceable. You can upgrade later as funds permit. In fact, there is very little you can do to a bike that can’t be changed in the future.

Most of the riders I know have had their ride or rides for well over ten years and in many cases well over 40-years and these bikes go through numerous design and mechanical changes over time while the basics remain the same. Kind of like having your favorite chair reupholstered.


Building a bike of any kind without factory Shop and Parts manuals on hand is just plain crazy, especially since most can be downloaded for free from the web. I refer to the Parts manuals all the time and find that in many respects they are more helpful than the service manuals. Almost anything you can imagine can be found at the Carl Salter site (carlsalter.com).

Build Sequence

There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘build sequence’ unless you’re on T.V. and shooting from a script or are wealthy and already have the vast majority of your parts on hand and that’s a rare thing. For most of us the ‘sequence’ is dictated by what parts we have at any given point in time.

When I built my first bike, I was flat broke but I had enough cash to buy an old swingarm ex-police bike frame. Over the course of two months I managed to scrape up enough bread to build a hardtail for it. A month later a little more bread could be coughed up to buy a broken WLA springer which I extended using Ford Radius rods I already had on hand. It was another six-months or so before I could afford some beat up rims but I kept working on the ‘tire-less’ bike one part at a time and so it went for about two years before I had a running ride.  So, I guess what I’m saying is to do whatever work you can when you have a part available even if the sequence seems disorganized.

I have a kind of half-assed approach to most projects that you could call a ‘sequence’ but to me it’s just a ‘routine’ and really doesn’t have anything to do with organization. I usually start with getting the frame prepped and then scrounge up a rear wheel and tire, even if it’s a Junker just so I have something to mount during the other work that follows. I guess you could say that I start at the back and work towards the front. Next comes the rear fender then the oil tank followed by the tranny and remote oil filter if I’m using one.

I always run chain final drives so a sprocket comes next and a brake rotor if I happen to have one on hand. I know that the tranny and motor mounts are aligned, which we’ll talk about later so I can center the rear wheel and fit the rear fender and build a sissy bar if I feel like it at this stage of the work. With the exception of the chain guard and rear brake caliper that kind of finishes up the back half. I typically skip the motor, saving that till last but I do like to get the kick stand, front forks and front wheel installed next. With the addition of some spare bars you’ll now have a roller and can actually start to design the bike.


The Design

Before starting it’s also a good idea to have some rough idea as to what you envision the bike looking like once it’s finished. Notice I said ‘rough’ because your design idea will probably evolve over time as you start building the thing. Sometimes the parts will dictate large portions of the design and sometimes you’ll have almost total control. A simple change in gas tank for instance can sometimes completely change the look of the entire project and lead you in a different direction than you thought you wanted to go. Stay flexible.

A long-Haul bike is a way different beast than a Bar-Hopper so try to define your objectives for building the bike in the first place with respect to functionality.

To be honest when I started this project, I had no design concept in mind. I’ve had the frame sitting in storage for over five years and then one day I just decided to see what I could make. We’ll see later what we end up with. It may be something like I usually build or something completely different.

Ed Roth taught me over fifty years ago that you can’t really ‘see’ what a project looks like while you’re working on it up close and personal. You have to step back, 10 or even 20- feet away and walk all around the bike looking at it from different angles and perspectives.

If you’re starting with a bare frame then scrounge up a rear wheel and tire. Block the frame up on cribbing and run a broom stick down the steering neck pull up a chair, grab a beer and just look at the thing from a distance. It’s during these moments that your mind becomes creative, not when you’re thinking about the details. Absolutely don’t let friends influence your decisions about anything. In a like manner don’t give to much credence to things you read on the discussion boards. There is good sound advice being given on the boards by experienced builders but unfortunately there is also a ton of crap being pushed out there by idiots and sometimes it’s hard to separate the good from the bad.

We’ll be talking about some things in this article that are almost never mentioned in the various chopper books or magazines and never brought up at the discussion boards so hopefully every reader will learn something new.

Paper Work

No matter what state you live in it’s a good idea to start up an accordion file folder and start saving every single receipt for every part you buy no matter how insignificant. Make sure you get a bill of sale for the larger serialized parts like frames, motors and transmissions. If you buy parts from overseas save the NAFTA papers that come with them.

If you’re working with a titled motor or frame and it’s not already in your name get it transferred immediately. Use a title service if necessary. Don’t wait until the bikes finished. Remember that as of 1970 and on up the titles on Harley’s go with the frame and not the motor. Any frame you’re working with (unless older than 69) needs a real VIN number on them and not just a maker’s serial number.

Some DMV’s will ask you to present all receipts for anything costing more than $50 so if you don’t have paperwork on your handlebars, as an extreme example, it might hold up your registration.

Another legal issue you might face is having to temporarily rig up turn signals, a ‘conforming’ taillight, a horn and emission carb, maybe even a ‘muffler’, to get past inspection.

Every state is different and even within a single state DMV offices vary significantly in their ‘enforcement’ of title and registration law so it might pay to ask around shops and find out where the ‘best’ offices are located.

I was sent away from the Carson City DMV twice but on the third trip I happened to hit upon a clerk who looked at the very same paper work that had been previously rejected and he accepted everything without question while muttering something about stupid co-workers under his breath.

If at all possible, try to get ‘antique’ motorcycle tags for your bike. In most states this is possible for anything that’s over twenty-five years old (based on the VIN).

Along with legal and financial paperwork I also save the ‘labels’ that come from the packaging of parts I purchase from retail outlets. These labels usually list the supplier or manufacturers business name, their unique part number and the OEM part number. Sometimes ‘fitment’ info is listed as well. These come in handy when you’re trying to remember what parts you’ve had success with in the past and what parts you’ll never buy again.

Power Plant

A lot of people I know start a project by buying a motor which to my way of thinking is the last thing you want to do but regardless of when you decide to shell out the cash for motive power keep in mind that motors can have long term ramifications that you’ll have to live with and first cost actually ranks pretty low on the score card.

Evo’s are relatively cheap nowadays but if you wrench on your own ride, you’ll find that they require a lot of specialized tools. Evo’s don’t look ‘cool’. No two ways around it. The motor is the central visual element of a bike and while they’re basically just a fundamental mechanical object how they ‘look’ matters when it comes to resale time or show status. Someday, perhaps in the not to distant future, old Shovels will be worth what Knucks are today.

High on the motor score card is ‘how easy’ the motor can be maintained, overhauled, modified and repaired. Almost all builders will tell you that in these respects the old Shovelhead is still king. That’s why you can still buy a ‘new’ Shovel today from several makers and most of the problems that plagued old Shovels have been corrected by after-market part manufacturers. Just something to keep in mind as you’re shopping.

Along with the motor another big ticket item will be the transmission and you’ll read all kinds of stuff about how it’s absolutely imperative that you have a whiz-bang five or six-speed under your butt but the money you save by running a four-speed will go a long way towards buying some rims. Remember, everything can be upgraded down the line.

Do you really need an electric start bike? If you do then you’ll be spending even more money, adding on a significant amount of extra weight and creating a complex electrical system. Give it serious thought.

This article was originally prepared in several different ‘sections’ to be posted as separate articles on the web site so as you read through each section you’ll find some material that is repetitive but I decided to leave them as they are since some readers will no doubt skip some sections. 

For now, we’re just going to concentrate on preparing the frame since that’s the foundation for the project.

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