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Editor’s Choice: An Alternative Top 10 for 2020

Editor's Choice: An Alternative Top 10 for 2020
This time each year, we gather our web and social media stats and pick the ten most popular custom motorcycles of the year. Once we’ve got that out of our system, I have the daunting task of throwing the stats out the window—and picking my personal favorites.

It was an especially tough gig this year, with a global pandemic doing little to slow down the enthusiasm and creativity of the custom scene’s best builders. My ‘short list’ started with 40 bikes, and took weeks to whittle down. And in that time, a couple of late entries upset the apple cart too.

As is tradition, any bikes that feature on our first Top 10 are automatically eliminated from this list. This time around, those were WiMoto’s eye-popping Honda CBX1000, and Scott Kolb’s masterful BMW racer, both of which scored high for me.

Yard Built Yamaha XSR900 by Bottpower
This year’s list is eclectic, loaded with traditional craftsmanship and new-school tech in equal measures, and with competing quantities of aluminum and carbon fiber. Just like last year, performance has been a big drawcard. And as an added surprise, kit builds are on the rise; at least three of the below bikes were built without hacking the donor bike underneath.

Here are my ten favorite custom motorcycles of 2020, listed alphabetically by builder name… because having to rank them would be torture.

Ducati Hypermotard 796 race bike by Analog Motorcycles
Ducati Hypermotard by Analog Motorcycles From the first entry on this year’s list, it’s immediately clear that we have a thing for quirky race bikes. And this track-ready 2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796 is about as good as they come.

Tony Prust built it to compete in the ARHMA’s ‘Battle of the Twins 2’ class, and in true Analog fashion he left no stone unturned.

Ducati Hypermotard 796 race bike by Analog Motorcycles
For starters, this 796 is now an 840, with a revised intake and exhaust, a quickshifter and a DynoJet Power Commander to tune it. The suspension, wheels and brakes are all from a Hypermotard 1100S, and feature Race Tech suspension internals, and an adjustable rear linkage from Ducabike.

Ducati Hypermotard 796 race bike by Analog Motorcycles
Tony also went after the Ducati’s bodywork, swapping many of the panels for carbon fiber parts, and fabricating an aluminum tailpiece and side covers. This Hypermotard has everything from new controls to a full complement of titanium bolts, and even a cable management system from Tony’s main sponsor, WireCare.

It now weighs 33 pounds less than stock, and makes 12 hp more. It’s also drop dead gorgeous, and a no-brainer for our Top 10. [More]

Custom BMW R18 cruiser motorcycle by Blechmann
BMW R18 by Blechmann BMW farmed their new R18 cruiser out to custom builders before it even hit showrooms. The enigmatic Austrian builder Bernhard Naumann (A.K.A. Blechmann) was on the list—and his interpretation of the mammoth boxer is downright otherworldly.

In true Blechmann style, this R18 features heaps of hand-formed aluminum and a somewhat organic, almost alien visage. The more angles you look at Blechmann’s R18 from, the more you realize just how intricate it is—and how well it flows.

Custom BMW R18 cruiser motorcycle by Blechmann
Note how the fairing reaches over the cockpit, and how the whole design tapers down to the sporty tail unit. Up front is a split headlight housing that echoes the kidney grills on BMW cars. And on the sides are finned sections with BMW roundels, which hide stealthy turn signals.

Custom BMW R18 cruiser motorcycle by Blechmann
Much of the original bike still remains under the hand-made parts, with a classic BMW paint job keeping things on brand. The whole effect works so well, Blechmann’s even made the R18’s worst feature—its standard fishtail exhausts—look good. All that’s missing is a pair of hard cases, and this would be the perfect neo-futuristic bagger. [More]

Yard Built Yamaha XSR900 by Bottpower
Yamaha XR9 by Bottpower This ferocious Yamaha XSR900 landed in our inboxes late in the year—but the moment it did, we knew it belonged on this list. David Sánchez and the highly capable Bottpower crew built it for Yamaha’s Yard Built program, where the mandate is to customize a bike without chopping up the donor. They took it a step further: the ‘XR9’ is now available as a kit for the XSR900, MT-09 and Tracer 9.

If you’ve been following Bottpower for a while, you’ll spot shades of their BOTT XR1R Pikes Peak race bike, which is where they got their inspiration. The idea was to build an oversized, race-bred motard, and make it street legal.

Yard Built Yamaha XSR900 by Bottpower
The design is aggressive and muscular, with all of the visual mass directed forward. The kit includes a full complement of bolt-on carbon fiber bodywork, designed to fit over the Yamaha’s frame and stock fuel cell.

Bottpower’s prototype bike also sports tasty upgrades like carbon fiber wheels from Rotobox, Ceracarbon forks, Öhlins bits and an Akrapovič exhaust. Oh, and it’s almost 64 pounds lighter than stock, too. [More]

Custom BMW K1600 B by Custom Works Zon
BMW K1600 B by Custom Works Zon This year started out with a swift kick to the jaw, thanks to the dynamic duo of Yuichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda at Japan’s Custom Works Zon. This wild K-series BMW was the first feature of 2020, instantly turning on the pressure for anyone who dared follow.

Dubbed ‘Stealth Crow,’ Yoshizawa-san describes it as a “luxury racer; the image of a quickly flying crow, like a stealth machine.” It fits the description well, but the crazy part is that the whole thing’s built on BMW’s gigantic, six-cylinder K1600 B tourer. What’s more, everything you see here is plug and play, without any major changes to the donor.

BMW K1600 B by Custom Works Zon

CW Zon first built an aluminum prototype of the K’s new bodywork, then worked with an auto specialist, Studio Allica, to produce the final parts in carbon fiber. And they built a custom reservoir to relocate the fuel to under the seat, too.

Not only does the new body kit radically change the K’s stance and lines, but it’s also been designed to integrate much of the OEM bits—like the original dash and keyless start button. Finishing touches include custom handlebars, a pleated saddle, and a set of double white pin stripes over the exposed carbon weave. [More]

Triumph Bonneville TT special by Hello Engine
Triumph Bonneville TT Special by Hello Engine There’s something about a perfectly executed classic Triumph dirt bike that’s impossible to ignore. And no one builds them quite like Hayden Roberts at Hello Engine.

Hayden built this TT special for sound effects editor Randy Torres, who lives out in Pioneertown, California; perfect desert racing territory. But Randy’s Triumph leans more towards TT racing than full on ‘sledding,’ with much inspiration coming from old photos of the famed Ascot Park speedway.

Triumph Bonneville TT special by Hello Engine
Hayden pieced the Bonneville together from scratch, using parts he either already had in the workshop, or found at swap meets. It features a 1963 frame from an old Ascot race bike, which came with a modified swing arm for a disc brake. The motor’s from a 1970 Bonneville, rebuilt with hop-up mods and a CDI ignition.

Triumph Bonneville TT special by Hello Engine
Other changes include an original set of race bars, rebuilt Girling shocks off a BSA, and a new Bates-style seat from the Hello Engine catalog. The stickers are all period correct, as is the Lucas headlight cover—but there’s a modern Hella light hiding under it.

And that unusual tank paint? It’s off a 67 Bonnie, mounted as-is, just the way Hayden likes it. [More]

BMW art deco motorcycle by Kingston Custom
BMW R100 ‘Good Ghost’ by Kingston Custom This extraordinary BMW custom showcases Dirk Oehlerking’s craftsmanship in the most unapologetic way. But it’s not just the metalwork that’s special—this machine forms part of a trilogy, and the aesthetic evolution through all three builds is something to behold.

Dubbed ‘Good Ghost’ and commission by the Haas Moto Museum, it follows on from Kingston’s White Phantom and Black Phantom BMWs, with the same art deco vibe.

BMW art deco motorcycle by Kingston Custom
Park them all next to each other, and the evolution is clear; White Phantom has both its wheels exposed, Black Phantom has its rear wheel wrapped in bodywork, and Good Ghost is fully enclosed.

The full body fairing’s an aluminum affair, complete with a recessed headlight and a BMW 328 Roadster-inspired grill. The exquisitely upholstered seat flows seamlessly into the custom ‘dashboard,’ while the exhaust gently traces the body right to the tail.

BMW art deco motorcycle by Kingston Custom
There’s even storage for wine, glasses, a tool kit, and a vintage silverware set.

Is it practical? Definitely not. But it doesn’t really matter, either. Kingston’s Good Ghost is a tour de force, and hands down one of the most impressive builds of the year. [More]

Harley-Davidson Softail street tracker by SMCO
Harley-Davidson Softail by Suicide Machine Company Born Free is mostly a chopper show—but brothers Aaron and Shaun Guardado prefer bikes that match their slogan: “Fast Loud Deathproof.” So when SMCO was invited to bring a custom Harley to Born Free, it was only ever going to be a wily street tracker.

Starting with a 107 ci Softail Standard, SMCO knocked off a whopping 160 pounds and added a host of engine and chassis upgrades.

Harley-Davidson Softail street tracker by SMCO
The motor features a bunch of S&S Cycle internals, and breathes through 45 mm Mikuni carb, thanks to a carb-friendly ECU from Speed Merchant. SMCO also installed CeraCarbon forks with Öhlins internals, a Speed Merchant swingarm, a custom Gears Racing shock and featherlight carbon wheels from Blackstone TEK.

Harley-Davidson Softail street tracker by SMCO
Most of the weight was axed by replacing the Harley’s clunky bodywork with a monocqoue carbon fiber unit, designed by Alex Earle. Aaron and Shaun also fabricated a custom fuel cell and new subframe, and twin titanium exhaust headers that flow into a pair of Austin Racing mufflers.

Along with a laundry list of other upgrades, it’s a rowdy take on Harley’s most basic Softail—and another knockout from the Guardado bros. [More]

Custom Suzuki GT380 by The Motoworks
Suzuki GT380 by The Motoworks The best custom builders are those that can look at a stock motorcycle, and see something completely different. Sean Pelletier started with a standard mid-70s Suzuki GT380 two-stroke, and envisioned a tidy neo-retro cafe racer that looks like nothing else out there.

What’s really interesting is how Sean built this bike. On a mission to eliminate guesswork and streamline the custom build progress, he partnered with industrial designer Jeremy Lacy to map out the entire project in 3D software.

Custom Suzuki GT380 by The Motoworks
The idea was to break the bike down to a series of parts that could be fabricated, then assembled like a giant Meccano set.

The tech used included SolidWorks, the MOTA engine simulation program, and Tony Foale’s suspension modeling software. From there, Sean built everything—from the fuel- and oil-in-frame chassis, to the rear suspension linkages, wheel hubs and exhaust system.

Custom Suzuki GT380 by The Motoworks
He also fabricated a secondary fuel cell, and shaped the bodywork from fiberglass, using CNC-machined molds. With a host of performance add-ons and resplendent in a pearlescent warm white, Sean’s GT380 is the poster child for thinking outside the box. [More]

T 22 Synthesis: A twin-engined Kawasaki drag bike from Thrive
Kawasaki drag bike by Thrive The Indonesian custom scene isn’t short on creativity, but this bonkers twin-engine drag bike takes the cake. It was built by superstar shop Thrive as a prize for a local contest called ‘Wheels of Inspiration.’ Entrants had to submit a story about their dream bike, and the winner would have their personal bike customized by Thrive.

The winner had a Kawasaki Ninja 150RR and a love for Burt Munro. Thrive took inspiration from Bud Hare’s ‘Dubble Trubble’ twin-engined dragster from the 50s, and sent the motor off to master engine builder Yosef Gumilar at Prama Motorworks.

T 22 Synthesis: A twin-engined Kawasaki drag bike from Thrive
What came back was a twin-engined setup with a modded ignition, ported and flowed heads, racing crankshafts, a lightened flywheel and a quick-shifter. Thrive added a pair of Lectron carbs, and a one-off stainless steel exhaust system from local specialists Kawahara.

Everything’s crammed into a handcrafted aluminum chassis, with a custom flip-up monocoque body and a host of pick-‘n-mix parts. Reportedly, this twin-engined creation goes like a “bangin’ short range cruise missile.” [More]

Custom Zero SR/S electric sportbike
Deus x Zero SR/S by Michael ‘Woolie’ Woolaway We’re positive about the future of electric motorcycles, and that positivity is stoked every time a talented custom builder gets their hands on one. This sleek Zero SR/S was Woolie’s first electric build, and his last project as head wrench at Deus ex Machina USA.

Custom Zero SR/S electric sportbike
Aiming to strike a balance between new tech and classic style, Woolie visualized the Zero’s carbon fiber bodywork by first hand-shaping it out of foam.

Then he called in some help: a couple of Lockheed Martin engineers specc’d out the material layout, and Taylor Made Racing shaped the final pieces. The entire thing is just three parts, attached to four points on the bike.

Custom Zero SR/S electric sportbike
Woolie’s SR/S is also sporting a Saddlemen seat pad, and winglets cut from actual F1 parts. It has a full stack of upgrades too, like WSBK-spec Showa suspension, carbon fiber Dymag wheels and J.Juan brakes.

Finished off with a restrained combo of clear-coated carbon and scallop pin-striping, it’s as elegant as it is intriguing. Thanks to builds like this, the future of custom electric motorcycles sure looks bright. [More]

Thunder Chaser: Rough Crafts celebrates its 10th Anniversary with a Softail bobber
EDITOR’S NOTE It’s always painful to cap the list at 10, and so there are a handful of stellar builds that all deserve an honorable mention. Those are Rough Crafts’ 10th anniversary H-D Softail (above), Luuc Muis’ ultra-modern Moto Guzzi V85, Edi Buffon’s charming Gilera, Rick Hannah’s inch-perfect Kawasaki W650 desert sled, and the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 that Bad Winners built for F1 racer Charles Leclerc.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank the builders and photographers that create all of this eye candy, our advertisers and readers, Chris, and our new family at Iron & Air. 2020 has been undeniably tough on everyone—but we’ve made it through, and we’re looking to 2021 with a fresh perspective and a renewed drive.

Happy New Year, and we’ll see you again in a few days.

Custom BMW K1600 B by Custom Works Zon

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