Working on a cafe racer in the shop

10 Finishing Touches To Make Your Custom Bike Stand Out

We all know that cafe racers are pretty much all custom bikes, but customizing a motorcycle is more than just a mechanical endeavor. It can also be a form of self-expression, of your personality and preferences in two-wheeled form. Some pursue it with the sense of functionality over all, while others might take a more artistic approach. 

With all custom bikes, not just cafe racers, the frame, engine, tank, and all the mechanical bits do have to fit together well, be sturdy,, and the bike still has to pass all road legality rules. Once it’s road legal, though, that’s when the finishing touches truly set a custom bike apart. In this article, we will explore 10 ways that specific finishing touches can elevate your custom bike to a whole new level.

Custom Paint Job

Custom paint on a art bike cafe racer
A Honda “art bike” cafe racer, showing just how weird and wonderful custom paint can get! Image via Flickr

In the category of “Well, duh…” we have the paint that your bike wears as its skin. It could be as simple as a pinstripe along a chromed-out tank, or it could be as wild as your imagination lets you be. To really make an impact, big, bright colors, bold graphics, or even the modern trend of matte paints… all of them work, as long as you get the look you want out of it. 

Personalized Decals & Graphics

Custom decals and graphics on a cafe racer
A Honda CB550 cafe racer build with custom decals on the side. Image via BikeExif

A bit of a follow on from the paint job, you can always add a little extra something to make your bike truly yours. It could be a personal logo or your racing number, printed out as a decal and applied to your bike. It could be that you have an artistic streak in you and want to sign your creation with your name in swooping calligraphy. Strategic placement of these items can make a great bike into a head-turner, an instantly recognizable work of two-wheeled art that everyone knows you made.

Lighting Upgrades

Custom LED turn signal on handlebars
The front turn signal built into the bar end on this cafe racer, a neat idea! Image via ROCR

We’ve all been there when cruising down the road at night and there is a patch of road without street lights. Your little headlight tries its best, but it can only illuminate so much due to its size. This is where LEDs and lighting upgrades can not only keep you safe, but also make a statement. Cafe racers are known for their big headlights, so why not also add in some bright LEDs to illuminate the road better? For the creative ones out there, you could even set the LEDs up in a pattern, have outboard LEDs as turn signals, or have a subtle ground lighting effect under the bike. The possibilities are truly endless.

Custom Seats & Accents

Custom seat for a cafe racer
A classic diamond-stitch leather seat for a Honda CB550 build. Image via BikeExif

The standard seat that the bike you’re modifying might be worn out, or is rather uncomfortable for you. This is where companies like Luimoto seat covers come in, specialist manufacturers that can build a custom seat cover for your ride, or other accents for your bike to your custom specifications (they also do motorcycle tank grips).

What also sets your bike apart is that your custom seat can also be accented in any way you like. Two-tone suede, airflow mesh, diamond-stitched leather if you want that old-school look, and the like elevate “it’s just a seat” to “Wow, that’s an awesome seat, how did you get it?” We all love to chat shop about all the custom bits on a bike, so having the right kind of accents can be a conversation starter!

Tank Grips

Custom tank pad
Nice, thick, padded tank grips for those extended blasts down the motorways. Image via Vonzetti Custom Products

A very subtle but important piece of customization you can do is put tank grips on your bike. Now, before you say “Everyone does that,” consider that these days you can contact any number of custom manufacturers that can make your tank grips. Maybe you have made a Triumph cafe racer and you want to have the Union Jack as your grip, or maybe you have really bony knees and want padding on the outer edge of the grip. 

You can also bundle in tank protectors here as well, so that your jacket’s zip doesn’t scratch up the paint job that you just finished customizing and having applied!

CNC Machined Accessories

CNC machined motorcycle mirror
A CNC machined bar end rearview mirror. Image via HJR Products UK

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining allows for some very intricate and precise designs to be made out of many types of metal, including aluminum and stainless steel. You could have custom brake levers machined, or have footpegs with your name on them, or any of a thousand parts of the bike personalized and customized just for you. There have been examples of custom builders having angle braces with artwork in them to weld into the frame, just to give you an idea of how deep and bottomless the options are here.

Custom Grips & Footpegs

Custom grips on a cafe racer
Custom grips on this cafe racer for better feel and tactile response. Image via Analog Motorcycles

Following on from machining things such as brake levers, you can nowadays get grips custom made for your bike in almost any grip material you like. Patterns, artwork, diamond stitching, high grip rubber, all of that and more is available. 

You can also get footpegs made in almost any style, if you really want to have every last bit of your bike custom and personalized. There are examples of gets with a machine non-slip surface to ones made specifically to look like little branches of bamboo. As with most things custom, if it’s possible, someone will probably be able to make it.

Billet Aluminum Parts & Accessories

CNC machined engine side cover
The lower side engine cover was carved from a single piece of billet aluminum on this beauty. Image via BikeExif

Billet aluminum is a very popular choice for customized accessories as it is extremely robust for its weight, as well as its structural integrity allowing for it to be machined and almost literally carved into pretty much any shape you want. You could have a gas cap made, or an engine cover, or even fork caps to add just a little bit of sophistication and detail to your bike.

It is such a popular material that many custom builders, such as ARCH Motorcycles, use it extensively. The only real downside to it is that the more intricate and complex the design you are going for, the more it is likely going to cost.

“Vintaging” Via Patina Accents

Vintage effect via patina on a cafe racer
Believe it or not, that tank has been intentionally made to look that way, and has a clear coat protecting it. Image via YouTube

This one is a bit more on the artsy side, but sometimes the charm of an old bike isn’t that it’s been chromed out, shiny and new. Sometimes, the sun-aging of the paint, the little areas where someone’s knee has worn through the metal underneath and it has that very lightly rusty color add depth and character to a motorcycle. For that reason, some builders will intentionally and deliberately make things look old via a technique called “Weathering.”

What the technique involves is exposing the painted piece to harsh UV, placing it in a sand blaster chamber and artfully wearing through the paint in some areas, making the paint look shiny in one area and patchy in others. It basically takes the work of decades and reduces it down to days, sometimes even hours. Once you have the look you want, just clear-coat the part and voila, a vintage look without worrying about it actually rusting through!

Custom Engine & Drivetrain Parts

Custom SC Project exhaust on a cafe racer
Despite having prebuilt exhausts, many companies such as Akrapovic or, in this case, SC Project can custom design and manufacture an exhaust just for your bike, and your bike only. Image via SC Project

There are those of us that accept that wrenching is part of the hobby of owning a motorcycle, and then there are those out there that can disassemble a bike to its nuts and bolts and build it back up again inside of two days, with it running perfectly fine afterward. These are the kinds of people that will likely have customized parts of their engines or drivetrain.

It could be as little as having titanium valves made to replace the steel ones. It could be stronger springs to replace worn out ones for said valves. It could be a custom sprocket set to get the exact speed ratio in each gear the builder wants. It could be an aftermarket exhaust or even a custom built titanium/Inconel one.

In Sum

In the world of custom motorcycles, the finishing touches truly are what elevate a bike from ordinary to extraordinary. Each of the 10 suggestions mentioned here offers a unique way to personalize your ride and make a statement on the road, and these are just the first few that popped into our minds! There are hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of ways in which you can make your ride yours

Whether it’s the gleam of a custom paint job, the growl of an aftermarket or custom exhaust, or the feel of handcrafted leather, these finishing touches reflect your personality and passion for riding. Embrace that part of yourself and let it show through your petrol-powered motorway race bike, and start hitting up those cafes one after the other to show it off to other riders!