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How To Build A

Custom Chopper
Vol. 1
© 2004-2005 Brian Maroevich, Avalanche Holdings, LLC

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The Untied States Of America, by:
Brian Maroevich
Avalanche Holdings, LLC
P.O. Box 484
Kentfield, CA 94914

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How to Build a Chopper Vol. 1

Introduction..................................................................... 5

1. The components piece by piece .................................. 5

Forks ........................................................................... 5
Hardware..................................................................... 9
Plumbing ................................................................... 11
Brakes ....................................................................... 12
Wheels....................................................................... 15
Tires .......................................................................... 16
The Powertrain.......................................................... 17
Drivetrain .................................................................. 21
The Electrical System ............................................... 23

2. An Assembly............................................................. 30
Appendix 1 - A checklist .......................................... 40

From Bare Frame to Road Going


One way or another, we now have an unpainted steel (or

Cromoly) frame. From here we need to add wheels, some
kind of motive force, gearing, brakes, electrics, lights,
forks, gas tank, handlebars, fenders and a seat. We will
need to build up the bike, then take is to pieces again,
carefully paint the frame and metalwork and then
reassemble it so it works. This is what we are now going to

First of all I will look at the components, and then run

through an assembly.

1. The components piece by piece


This is something to think about early on. For me, there are
forks on the market that are beautiful, and there are forks
that do the job. It’s a matter of taste, like everything else to
do with choppers. Each of the main types of forks available

on the market should, theoretically, have triple trees to fit
your frame. You need to consider various things before
purchasing anything, and your best bet is to discuss your
frame and intended set-up (in particular the wheel sizes)
with the company you’re buying your forks from. It’s often
necessary to buy forks that are specially suited for the
larger rakes of 33º and more. Most motorbike forks are
designed for a more upright rake, and just won’t work
properly when laid back because the stresses are so
different. You don’t want to see forks flexing in the wrong
direction (at right angles to the shock motion) – it means
they aren’t working.

There are three main types of fork used in choppers -

girders, springers and hydraulic forks.


So named for the classic girder cross-pieces that the springs

attach to, these are now fairly rare. They have four girders
in a box shape set around the neck tube. Girders were the
fork of choice on the British bikes of the pre-war years
from which many original choppers were derived, and
some riders still find this choice of fork gives a more
authentic look. Some manufacturers argue they handle
bigger rakes (over 38º) better than any of the hydraulic


These are the forks with one or two large coil springs on
display at the neck end. At the wheel end is a little shock
arrangement based around a visible ‘hinge’ attached to the
bike, the neck via the struts and the springs. Like girders,
some riders and builders consider these forks more fitting
to the chopper look.


These are the most common type, and are seen on almost
all modern factory motorbikes. Hydraulic forks contain the
shock and spring in a single closed unit - you can’t see the
spring. Particular care must be taken to get a hydraulic
shock made for the job, as mentioned above. For example,
hydraulic shocks are available as ‘inverted’ shocks, where
the lower part slides into the top part, rather than the other
way around as in the standard, non-inverted case. This is
designed to help manage the unusual strain the shocks take
when placed at extreme angles. Imagine how a shock
poorly designed for the job might spend much of its time
scraping up against the inside walls, leading to a leaden
ride (and a loss of mechanical efficiency). Many hydraulic
forks are designed for the job, however, and do it very well.

Getting the right forks

You’ll need different length forks to match the set up of

your machine. The best way of getting suitable forks is to

know what job you need them to do. To do this, measure
the space the forks will need to fit in - you will need to
know what wheels and tires you’re going to use. Ideally, fit
the rear tire, and block the frame up to ride height. You’ll
then have something that looks like the figure below. The
measurements you’ll need to discuss when buying or
ordering forks are the rake angle, the two neck tube heights
as shown, the radius of the wheel and tire, and the radius of
the inside of the neck stem. Then just specify and wait.


This section on the nuts and bolts could fit anywhere, so

I’ve put it here. Below is a capscrew (it has a bearing
surface for biting into a washer. If it didn’t, it would be a

These little parts are important. Use capscrews of a good

quality, and nuts with a fine thread that are self locking.
When we say good quality, we’re referring to grade 5 and 8
bolts. These should have a manufacturers mark (a symbol
or initials) and have three lines (grade 5) or six lines (grade
8) radiating outward on the head. Those without the marks
are likely to be hardware bolts, and not up to the job. The
reason some bolts are better than others are that they can
stand up to more abuse. This is measured by their snapping

point (ultimate tensile strength, UTS) and the point at
which they begin deforming and acting in a plastic rather
than elastic way (this is the yield point). The table shows
how this varies.

UTS (psi) Yield (psi)

Grade 2 (hardware) 47,000 57,000
Grade 5 120, 000 92,000
Grade 8 150,000 130,000

Don’t use a grade 2 on a chopper. Obviously, if you buy

chrome plated bolts, you won’t see the marks, so use a
good trustworthy supplier who can tell you what grade they
are. ‘Allen’ brand bolts that use a socket headed cap are
usually considered to be between grade 5 and 8, and
sometimes better than a grade 8. But this depends very
much on the manufacturer, so again use someone good. A
stainless steel bolt, unless bought from a specialist supplier
who says otherwise, is likely to be less good than a grade 2
bolt and certainly not suitable for a bike.

The nut is also important. Use self locking nuts, and

obviously the finer the thread combination of nut and bolt,
the more metal in contact and the safer the bolt (up to a
point - any good quality combination will be safe enough).
Self locking nuts do not shake loose from the vibration of
the ride, and do not need to be tightened really hard, so
don’t run the risk of damaging the material sandwiched

between the bolt an nut. Self locking nuts come in all
shapes and sizes and the plastic collared type (nylon
collared) are fine for most jobs. Because they are made
from nylon, they aren’t very good for any bits that get very
hot (like round the exhaust), so here you can use an all steel
lock nut.


Whilst we’re on the subject of the extra bits and pieces we

should discuss the pipes that carry liquid - oil lines, brake
lines and fuel lines.

Brake lines that connect the master cylinder to the calipers

handle large pressures of nearly 1000 pounds per square
inch. For this reason it’s necessary to buy something that is
built for the job. The piping will have a metal braided cover
around some other material. This inner material affects the
braking feel; Teflon doesn’t expand so you don’t feel any
‘sponginess’ in the braking. Other specifically designed
types that don’t feature Teflon work fine, however. Hoses
come in three sizes – (from the smallest to largest) dash 2,
dash 3 and dash 4. The number refers approximately to the
number of sixteenths of an inch that make up their
diameter. Dash 3, roughly 3/16 inch, is the most commonly
used size.

Given the vibrations that any motorbike causes, any loose

exposed metal like the hoses will, if left unchecked, rub
away paintwork and finally damage the surrounding metal.

This can be avoided by using steel clamps to keep the lines
from rubbing, and also by casing the metal in a plastic
sheath. Plastic also insulates electrically, protecting against
electrical shorts.


Some early choppers were built without a front brake (and

some still are). It’s worth mentioning that the argument that
a front brake is unnecessary given how the weight sits over
the back wheel is not a good one. Firstly, when something
moving quickly tries to stop quickly, the weight shifts
forward. Secondly, locking the rear wheel is not usually the
most controlled way of bringing a bike to a halt. So you’ll
be better off with brakes fore and aft.

When planning the braking set-up, it’s important to

remember what the brakes have to put up with. Stopping
something moving involves converting all that kinetic
(movement) energy into some other form of energy. It
something moving hits a wall the kinetic energy is usually
converted into noise, heat and moving bricks. In a
controlled braking maneuver it is converted into heat as the
friction of pad against metal drags the bike to a standstill.
Usually this is a lot of energy that is absorbed as heat,
which explains the special heat proof characteristics of
brake pads.

The brake system consists of:

- Master Cylinder and Levers

- Brake Calipers
- Brake Pads
- Rotor
- Brake Fluid

The easiest way to think about the brakes is as a system like

this because each part needs to match. For example a single
caliper with a four piston design will work with a 5/8 inch
bore on the master cylinder, whereas dual calipers of four
piston design will need a ¾ inch bore on the master. The
simplest thing is to buy them all together with advice from
the manufacturer.

Calipers come with two, four or six pistons, and also in

different sizes. Smaller calipers, for example, are often
paired up on Springer forks, and this means fitting one
caliper on each side of the wheel, with a pair of rotors.
Hydraulic forks comfortably take a larger caliper, and only
need the one, just like the rear wheel.

Apart from the caliper and the levers, the most noticeable
part of the braking system is the rotor. There are more
different designs of rotors than there are designs of wheel,
and matching the two is a matter of personal judgment and
style. The material is usually iron or stainless steel. The
hardness of stainless steel means that you need to use a
specially designed pad of sintered iron to get a decent grip
on the rotor. Kevlar pads work best with iron rotors, but not

on stainless. Again, by thinking of the brake as a system,
you can get all the right parts together.

The brake fluid should always be the more expensive DOT

5 silicon based fluid rather than the DOT 3 or 4 that’s fit
for four wheels. Being silicone based, DOT 5 doesn’t
interact with water like the other glycol-based types, nor
does it damage paintwork. It’s a good choice for a chopper.

All brake fluids, being liquid, are incompressible. This

means that there should be no sponginess in properly set up
brakes. Air, being quite easily compressible, is what causes
this softness, and needs to be got rid of. Bear in mind that
air rises, so if the bleeding valve on the caliper is on the
bottom, you will need to take it off to bleed it (unless you

use one of the kits that pump fluid in at this bleeding point).
There are various ways to make bleeding easier (one of
which is get someone else to do it). There are kits on the
market that pump fluid in at the bleeding point and pumps
that work the fluid through the system.
Always use the best quality fastenings (grade 8 – see
above) on the brake parts because they will be subject to
massive strain. Usually suitable components are provided
with the brakes, of course.


A lot of energy and time goes into choosing these parts.

Wheels come in two types, billet and wire.

Billet wheels look like they were made from solid pieces of
metal with various designs seemingly carved into them.
They range from just three very large spokes upwards, and
come in many patterns. There are forged from a lump of
aluminum or cast in aluminum.

Wire wheels are the more traditional alternative. Crossed

wire spokes can be very strong, though some of those
designed to be used with much less powerful machines can
cause problems. As always, try to match parts
appropriately. Wire wheels are available in 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 21 inch diameters, in widths from 2 to 9 inches and
have 40, 80, 120, 240 spokes. They come in various
designs and in various gauges of wire. Buy the hubs and
wheels to match, usually at the same time.


First of all, remember to buy motorcycle tires, which have a

rounder profile than automobile tires. Sizing written on
tires is pretty straightforward, with all the necessary
information printed on the side. An imaginary tire may
have this written on it: 160/40 V 17 90V. The first figure,
160 is the width of the tire measured in millimeters,
measured near the rim (it gets fatter than this near the
middle). The next figure explains the profile of the tire,
being the ratio of the sidewall to the diameter. In this case
the sidewall only measures 40% of the width of the tire,
which is a very low profile.

Tires are rated for speed using internationally standardized

letters starting at N through to Z, though not in strict order.
S is the lowest you’ll find for a motorcycle, and the order
goes like this:

Speed Rating Mph

S 112
T 118
U 124
H 130
V 149
Z 149
W 168
Y 186

Then there are combinations of letters for various
manufacturers that don’t quite fit this convention, but they
publish the data in any case.

The 17 written on the tire wall simply means that the tire
fits a 17 inch wheel.

The final part of our example reads 90V, and is the load
index. The V part refers to the speed at which the load
index was measured (149 mph), and the load index needs to
be looked up – in this case 90 equates to a 600kg load. If
you had front and back tires rated like this, then you’d be
happy with a 1200kg load, which is about 2650 lbs! Again
this data is published and your best bet (if you’re
interested) is to look the load index up on a chart.

The Powertrain

Finally we come to the stuff that makes it all go, the

powertrain. The diagram below shows, approximately, how
the parts fit together. It consists of a v twin engine, a
primary drive, the transmission and a belt or chain driven
final drive.

We’ll deal with the engine and the drive train separately.


All choppers carry a v twin engine, so called because of the

way the two cylinders form the shape of a letter ‘V’ (see
above), rather than being set out in a straight line. This
arrangement takes up less space and offers power. These v-
twins don’t fire their cylinders with the same gap between
each one, rather the two fire very close together, which is
where the distinctive noise comes from. It’s more of a ‘ba-
bum….ba-bum’ that you hear as each fires one after the
other than a ‘bum.. bum.. bum.. bum’ that you might hear
from a twin firing it’s pair of cylinders at the same interval
between each..

A little engine history

The Harley Davidson engine development is Knucklehead

(1936), Panhead (1948), Shovelhead (1966). Each is named
after the look of their cylinder head covers, which are
shaped like a clenched fist, a pan, and the back of a coal
shovel respectively. Though originals of these are still
around, they have various defects related to the age of their
design. However, versions of all of these are available in
new engines from the after market (non-Harley), that offer
modern performance and the older styling.

The other HD engines are the Evolution, the Revolution,

and the current 88 cubic inch Twin Cam 88 (TC88). The
TC88 comes in two different versions, an A (otherwise
called a non-B) version that doesn’t have a counter balance,

and a B version that does. The counter balance stops the
engine vibration being passed directly to the rider.
However the B version, aside from costing a little more,
won’t fit on the frames with a center post like the one
we’ve been describing here. It also must be used with a
matched transmission that is quite different from other

For the official Harley Davidson engines, kits are available

from many suppliers that boost the cubic capacity to 95,
100, 116 and so on.

The original HD Evolution (Evo), is still considered a good

motor, displacing 80 horsepower, and is still available from
a Harley Davidson dealer. Besides this, there are lots of
more powerful Evo engines available from other engine
builders, and an Evo style engine is a very popular choice.

When considering the engine to go with there are five main

issues to consider – looks, price, power, engine dimensions,
and matching the transmission and alternator. The first
three are down to the individual, bearing in mind heavier
bikes may need more power, but most of the modern and
modern old-style engines will have sufficient. The engine
dimensions vary, and the frame needs to be suitable. An
Evo is taller than a Shovelhead, for example, and a TC88b
needs a frame without a center post. It’s a decision that you
make when making the frame, although there’s quite a bit
of flexibility. As always, the engine manufacturer or
supplier can advise here.


Here we consider the transmission, clutch, inner primary

and housing. As with almost everything we have discussed
in these pages, the trick is to match appropriately all these
components so they work together. This can be made much
simpler by some forethought and a discussion with the
supplier or manufacturer when you know what you want.
Here I’ll try and give the outline options.

Transmissions come in four, five and six speeds and there

are some that switch the final drive over to the right hand
side of the bike to counter the increasingly large
transmission offsets that wide tires can demand. The four-
speed transmission is the oldest of the bunch and is
therefore often used by builders using older or early-style
engines. Almost every frame can in theory take any of
these four or five speed transmissions – though in some
cases you will need an adaptor to make this possible. These
are on the market and usually are specially designed
modified transmission mounting plates or modified
transmission cases that allow a five speed transmission box
to fit onto a frame designed for a four speed.

The other thing to bear in mind is that in 1994 Harley

Davidson moved to using high contact (HCR) gears in an
effort to improve strength and noise – the HCR gears can’t
be mixed and matched with non HCR.

The primary can be determined once you know the engine-

transmission combination. The primary consists of the

inner and outer covers, the sprockets, the clutch, the chain,
and a starter motor that fits. Whole kits are available for
this if you have a standard combination of newer engines.
Otherwise you need to match components by using the year
and machine that they were designed for as a guide (for
example for softails, 1989-1993), and discussing your
choices. Another thing to watch out for is older clutches
that weren’t really designed for big engines and can’t cope
well with the job. These can be upgraded to heavy duty
clutches (made of Kevlar, for example) at the time of
building. There are also various levels of outer housing,
from leaving the workings exposed, to partially covering, to
complete encasing in shiny metal.

Finally, if you want to use an electronic speedometer, then

the transmission is where it goes. Newer transmissions,
from roughly 1994 onwards, will have a hole on the
transmission to accept the sensor. If you don’t want an
electronic speedo, or you’re running an older transmission,
you need to choose a drive unit that matches your front
wheel and forks set up and in turn match that with the
speedometer. As always, talk to the supplier about it.

The Electrical System

Some people who are perfectly happy with the metal

working parts of the bike get nervous at the electrics,
though they are really fairly straightforward in theory. If
you don’t know what you’re doing, you may want some
professional help. We’ll look at the theory and the practice

The system is made up of the starting system, the charging

system, the ignition system, a circuit breaker, and the
electrically operated accessories.

The starting system is what works when the start switch is

first flicked, and consists of a battery, start switch, solenoid
and the starting motor. The charging system recharges the
battery when the machine is running and is simply the
alternator and a voltage regulator. The ignition system is
obviously the ignition switch and ignition coil, the kill
switch, the electronic control unit and the spark plugs

Finally all the other electrically operated accessories are

connected into this system, such as the lights, horn, turn
signals and various warning lights.

Aside from the components themselves, you’ll need to

fasten them together with wire, which will involve
choosing the right wire, a bit of soldering and some


Wire is measured by Gauge – 0, 2, 4 etc, with the larger

numbers being the smallest diameter wire. The largest size
of wire, 0000 Gauge, has a diameter of about 12mm, and
the measurement of each gauge is arrived at by multiplying
this diameter by 0.890522 to get the next gauge diameter!
It’s thought that the Gauges came about in the eighteenth
century as a way of describing the number of times a
copper rod had to be drawn to make a given wire. So 0
Gauge would have been the original rod of copper, 1 Gauge
would have been drawn once, 2 Gauge twice and so on.

When choosing wire it helps to remember that the

resistance is inversely proportionally to the current, by
physical law. Put more simply, at the same voltage (which
is the situation on a bike, using a battery) we need to
decrease resistance to increase current (amps). This is why
we use fatter wire for higher amperage applications (there
is less resistance to the free flow of electrons), and why
when the distance of the wire run increases, we choose
thicker diameter wire than we had chosen for short runs of
the same current. Heavier wire, like 4 Gauge, would be
used for heavy duty applications on a bike like the big
cables to the battery, and smaller sizes, say 22 Gauge, is
used for the finer applications, like indicator lights. How
the relationship works is shown in the table below – similar
ones are in almost every catalogue.

Distance 10 feet 15 feet 20 feet 25 feet
5A 18 ga 16 ga 14 ga 12 ga
10A 14 ga 12 ga 10 ga 10 ga
15A 12 ga 10 ga 10 ga 8 ga
20A 10 ga 10 ga 8 ga 6 ga
25A 10 ga 8 ga 6 ga 6 ga
30A 10 ga 8 ga 6 ga 4 ga
50A 6 ga 6 ga 4 ga 2 ga
60A 6 ga 4 ga 4 ga 2 ga
80A 6 ga 4 ga 2 ga 2 ga
100A 4 ga 2 ga 2 ga 1 ga
120A 4 ga 2 ga 1 ga 0 ga
160A 2 ga 1 ga 0 ga 00 ga

There are a couple of key quality indicators for wire. First

of all, the higher the numbers of individual strands of metal
that makes up the wire, the better quality the wire, so
always go for higher numbers of strands. Secondly there
are two grades of suitable insulation, known as TXL and
GPT. The TXL is a newer product with better heat and
friction resistance.

The ignition system

The illustration below is a simplified ignition system wiring

diagram. The thick line from battery to solenoid represents
a heavy gauge wire (e.g. Gauge 4). From the battery to the
30A breaker, on to the ignition and terminal 30, then to the
solenoid itself from terminal 87, we would use 12 Gauge

The breaker is nothing more than a fancy fuse - it

disconnects the current by breaking a pair of contacts and
then resets, rather than blow out like a fuse would. Newer
breakers are solid state so don’t really break a pair of

contacts in the way we think of, but they do exactly the
same job. The starter relay is nothing more than a switch
that allows the action of passing current to take place a
little further away from the push buttons and a little nearer
where it is needed.

The Battery

This usually sits in the oil tank below the seat, though
sometimes moves around the bike when space is tight.
Because space is an issue there are various sizes of battery.
If you’ve bought a pre-fabricated oil tank, the decision has
been made for you and you simply need a battery to fit. The
two figures a battery carries are cold cranking amps and
amp hour rating. The first is how much power the battery
generates when cold and being called upon to deliver 7.2
volts for 30 seconds – bigger ratings mean more power and
underpowered batteries may lead to starting problems with
big engines. The second measure is an amount of time that
the battery will provide a given power and voltage.

Because the battery provides the electricity, stores the

electricity and stabilizes the voltage provided by the
alternator, it is important to have a good battery and keep it
maintained. This includes charging it with a smart charger
that alters the charge it delivers as the battery becomes fully
charged, and keeping the battery clean since dirt can
conduct electricity between the poles of the battery and
speed up discharge. Remember that when connecting the

battery, the earth needs to be in contact with unpainted
metal, since paint insulates to some extent.

The Starter

As I mentioned above, the starter needs to be matched with

the primary. They are rated in kilowatts (kW), and with
your engine and primary in mind, you will be able to get
good advice.

The Alternator and the Regulator

The alternator sits within the primary and, like all

alternators, takes some of the vehicle’s motion to generate
electricity. This is done by moving magnets and coils of
wires. The circular alternator we use in a bike has
unmoving coils of wire (the stator) around which a bank of
magnets whirl to make electricity that is then fed via a
regulator. Once the battery is charged and all the electrics
are being powered, spare electricity is just wasted so there’s
no benefit in generating lots of electricity. Depending on
what kind of electrics you have, an alternator and matching
regulator rated at 32amps should be plenty. Like so many
other parts, these bits can be bought in a kit.

The Electrically Operated Accessories

To continue the kit theme, it’s easy to buy the electrical

wiring as a complete harness, color coded and with or
without terminals and with or without switches, displays,

bulbs etc. The diagram below uses some of the factory
colors (yellow, white, orange, green red and tan) to
illustrate how easy a basic circuit can be.

When you buy additional switches remember that you need

something that is rated for the job (measured in amps in

this case), just like the wire and all the other components.
Take care over all the connections you need to make -
soldering and shrink-wrapping two wires that need to be
joined results in a solid, secure wire in a way snapping
them together with quick connectors doesn’t. There seems
little point in saving time here, given how much time you
put into the whole build. And remember, if the wiring is to
be neatly hidden within the frame then the wiring needs to
be figured out before the final build, rather than as a
finishing touch. I suggest thinking about it from the start
(where do I want the switches to end up?) and I will
mention it again at the end of the build sequence below.

2. An Assembly

When all the parts are assembled, the chopper needs a

complete build-up to make sure everything fits, to make
adjustments and to drill the final fitments and attachment
points, and then it needs taking to pieces again to paint and
finish. This will probably be the only full build-up, but you
will have assembled parts of the bike before. Obviously at
this stage you don’t do the wiring and plumbing, but you
might want to check these parts for size.

Just like in Part I, frame building, there are many different

ways to go about the assembly; here I’ll run through just
one way, but one that seems fairly intuitive to a beginner
builder. Basically I’ll start with the frame, add the forks,
front wheel, engine, transmission etc, the rear wheel, the
metalwork, the seat and the handlebars.

1. The Frame and Forks

With the unpainted but otherwise finished frame, and your

forks of choice, you can begin. You will need a working
surface that is flat and true and perhaps a solid mechanism
for holding the front wheel in place. A chopper workshop
will have an adjustable height bench and with a large wheel
clamp or vice for this purpose. Alternatively you can block
up the frame to ride height and then strap it very securely
blocked up to ride height (measured above the working
surface, not from the floor!). In this second case you’ll be
able to fit the front wheel to the forks hanging out in space.
Make sure the setup is solid, however. They can be home

made and improvised, the main thing being a good true
surface and some way to be sure that the heavy machine
will not fall on you.

The forks, having been specified for the frame as discussed

earlier, are very easy to fit together. You can add
waterproof grease at this stage or in the final assembly. The
triple tree sections above and below the neck need to be put
into place, usually by dropping the upper bearing into the
neck then connecting the lower triple tree, all of which can
then be tightened using the Allen key bolt (or whatever).

With the forks in place the front wheel (with tire on and
inflated) should be put in place. The front rotor or rotors
should already be on the wheel so we can fit the calipers
later. The rotors just bolt into place on the wheel. Once the
wheel and forks are on the frame the bike can be put in
place if you’re using a front wheel vice – it will stand
upright in an approximate riding position. It’s a good idea
to block it up to riding height at this stage. Next is the

2. The Engine

The engine is heavy, so putting it in place is a two man job

(it’s safer this way). Hopefully the engine mounts upon
which it sits (two of the three mounts we described above –
the ones near the base of the frame) will be in exactly the
right place for you now to bolt the engine in place. There
will be a pair of bolts at the front where the downtubes end
and two more behind the engine where the center post

drops. Don’t tighten them right up at this stage. Any
problems can be addressed at this stage (this is the point of
the mock up), but obviously don’t keep weakening the
mounting by drilling and so on. Generally it’s better to get
the right mounting plate and start again. The top support we
will need to mark and drill before bolting. This we’ll do
when we’ve fitted the other large parts to the frame.

3. The Transmission, Primary Drive and Starter.

You will have bought the engine and transmission to match

as discussed, so the transmission simply needs placing and
bolting to the transmission mounts. Hopefully this too will
bolt happily into place. Place the belt (or chain) that will
provide the drive from the transmission to the rear wheel
before adding the inner primary (or you won’t be able to
put it on!). This is the point at which we align the
transmission and the engine, and make sure the offset is
correct to reach the rear wheel drive. (The offset is what
allows the belt to clear the tire of whatever dimension
we’ve chosen. Other options we’ve discussed include using
a transmission with a final drive on the right hand side.
Here we’re considering a left hand side final drive on a
transmission-engine configuration that is only connected
through the primary. On TC88s the whole thing is bolted
together, which means moving everything, engine and
transmission as one.)

Check there is sufficient clearance between the frame and

the transmission to allow the belt to run freely – any
problems can be addressed with shims beneath the

transmission where it attaches to the frame. The exact
offset you need depends on the size of the rear wheel and
the exact transmission, engine and frame combination.
Spacers are usually used between the engine and the inner
primary – they match the shape of the large circle the
engine forms around the moving wheel, and the inner
primary is bolted straight through them into the engine

At this point you will have a roughly oval inner with two
shafts poking thorough, one from the engine and a second
from the transmission. The next thing to do is to somehow
connect the power of the engine with the control offered by
the transmission.

Aside from the two shafts that are showing there is also an
obvious hole up to the top right as you look directly at the
inner primary. This is where the starter will push out. The
starter itself sits on the other side of the inner primary.
Install it, and then lubricate and slide into place the
jackshaft, which is the part that sticks through the inner
primary. Onto this slide the outer coupling, the drive (the
cogwheel) and screw it into place with the supplied long

Now we’re ready to add the primary drive wheel beside the
engine and the clutch beside the transmission. As we have
already discussed the connection will be made by either a
chain or a belt. The only thing to remember is that the big
wheel (main shaft) has a left hand thread, because

otherwise it would come undone when everything is

When you have the wheels in place, adjust the tension in

the belt or chain as recommended in the accompanying
documentation. For example a chain drive might require
5/8 inch play in the chain when the engine is cold. To set
this you just hold a steel rule somewhere near the centre of
the chain and push the chain upwards with your finger.
You’ll be able to measure how much it moves – this is the
play. When the tension is right, you can screw on the outer
if you want – it’s not essential in the mock up, but it looks

At this point, with everything in place and tightened, we

can place the motor mount at the top, and mark the frame
mount for drilling. Don’t drill it until after everything has
been installed though, since you may need to change
things, and it’s not necessary to have the engine fixed at all
three points during the mock up.

3. The Rear Wheel

The goal for the rear wheel is that it sits in the middle of the
frame and runs straight. This is complicated by the rotor on
one side and the pulley (and the belt or chain) on the other.
You would have immediate problems if this combination
didn’t fit in the frame, but this isn’t likely to happen if
you’ve done you’re planning. In fact there should be plenty
of space and the trick is to use spacers to get the positioning
you need.

On the right hand side of the rear wheel we want to put a
spacer next to the rotor to allow clearance for the brake
caliper bracket. You can get the rotor in the right place by
placing a metal rule between the rotor and the tire – it will
be snug against the widest part of the tire at both sides and
then you can slide the rotor up to the metal rule. You can
use a spacer here to get it right before putting the wheel on
the bike. A spacer on this side of the rotor needs to be in
the same pattern as the rotor, so if the rotor has five bolt
holes, the spacer needs five bolt holes and the same internal

Put the wheel in place on the frame, fitting the belt to the
pulley on the left hand side. Here you want the belt to be
close to the outer edge of the tire, whilst clearing it. When
in place on the bike, the axle spacer on the left hand side of
the bike should protrude by, say, an eighth of an inch.

Now what remains on the right is the axle spacer and,

probably a gap. This gap needs to be filled with a spacer.
All these spacers can be home made, but given you need to
purchase metal in reasonably large quantities, you’re
usually better off buying them. The final spacer fits
between the caliper and the axle spacer. The order is,
therefore; wheel, rotor, spacer, caliper, spacer, axle spacer,
frame, nut.

Now the assembly can be tightened, with the belt brought

to operating tightness and the wheel centered. Use a long
rule or straight edge to run down the back of the bike from

the neck, along the center and beyond the wheel. This will
let you see exactly how good your wheel centering has
been. There are also simple alignment tools available,
which are really just appropriately bent pieces of metal. If
you now block the bike up a little further you can roll the
wheel and watch the belt. What is essential here is that the
belt tracks smoothly and centrally on the pulley. If it
doesn’t, it isn’t going to work very well. If you have a
problem it can be with the alignment of the wheel and the
transmission (try altering the spacer configuration, or
checking the transmission is not at an angle), or with the
wheel not being in straight in the frame.

4. The Calipers

Now, if you want, you can fit the front and rear calipers.
They just need bolting on, with extra care being taken to
ensure that the split in the caliper is dead center over the
rotor. This almost always requires some fine tuning, which
is why most calipers come with shims as well as mounting
bolts (that must be good bolts - grade 8, as we discussed

5. The Metalwork

The bike is now looking something, even though we are

missing many of the things that will make it go such as
electrics, and fuel, somewhere to sit, something to steer it
with and any usable human controls. It’s a good idea now
to fit the fuel tank and any other things like fenders that
will attach to the bits we’ve now assembled.

Although we have some kind of attachments in mind for
the gas tank, it’s likely that the final fitting will need some
extra work. This could involve cutting a piece of tubing (or
piping – the difference is less important here than in
building the frame!) so the flat strap that will be bolted onto
the gas tank can be fitted exactly then welded onto the fame
itself. It’s just as easy to have done this early on, of course.
The tank will also need marking out for any other drill
holes on the other attachment point on the frame, usually
on the top engine mount. The tank will be fastened with
some rubber spacers when finally put in place. The fenders
will need to be drilled now, however, because this is the
first time the wheels have been in place. A regular spacing
is needed between the tire and the fender, and this is
achieved by taping something to the tire and resting the
fender on this whilst marking out. Many builders use an old
belt from the belt drive here, since that happens to offer
about half an inch. This is also an opportunity to fabricate
other struts and supports for the fenders, if you want.

6. Bars and Seat

The mock up is already largely finished. Adding the

handlebars and seat just make it look more finished.
Potentially there could be some final fitting issues, so you
can do things like check the clearance height, check that the
bars won’t smash into the gas tank if they overshoot the
stops (as they could do if the bike falls over). Think about
where you plan to route the electrics. Admire it. Then take

it to pieces again. Paint it remembering to mask the engine
mounts where a metal to metal contact will be needed and
the other sections where an earth will be needed (see the
section on the electrical system), rebuild it, and ride it!

Appendix 1 - A checklist

Here are the major components broken down in a similar

way to the discussion above. I haven’t listed every nut and
bolt, and clearly each chopper will need some different
components. It’s kind of a starting out list!

Cam Cover
Motor Mount
Skid Plate
Generator & Generator Gasket
Intake Manifold
Choke Lever
Idle adjusting Screw
Air Cleaner
Throttle Cable Support Bracket
Spark Plugs
12v Coil
Accelerator Regulator
Exhaust Pipes
Exhaust Port Gaskets
Pipe Clamps

Transmission Assembly
Chrome side cover

Kick Pedal
Transmission Mount Plate
Primary Chain
Counter Sprocket
Drive Chain
Clutch Release Arm
Inner Primary Cover
Outer Primary Cover
Gasket Set
Throttle Set

The Frame
Mirror and bracket
Gas Tanks
Gas Caps
Gas Tank Mountings
Fuel Valve
Oil Tank
Speedometer and cable
Seat and Pillion Pad
Rear Foot Peg Bracket
Foot Pegs

Front and Rear Wheels and Tires, rim strips, tubes
Front Brakes
Front Brake Cable Clamp
Rear Axel
Oil Line Nipples & Nuts
Stainless Braided Hose (10 feet)
Hose Ends
Rear Brake Linkage
Rear Brake Drum & Sprocket
Wheel Lug Nuts
Rear Chain Guard

12v Battery
Headlight, bulbs, brackets
Stoplight Switch
Side Mount Tail light Assembly

Appendix 2 - Suppliers

The internet sites listed below are mainly on-line stores, though
one or two are included because they have interesting information.

From this list you could gather your parts without leaving your
computer desk. They usually have telephone numbers as well, and
as I’ve said throughout, it is often worth talking to someone to
make sure you are getting the right product for your needs. This is
a particularly useful list if you are miles from a supplier.

All the suppliers listed here are US based, and it doesn’t represent
anywhere near a complete list. I haven’t chosen the listings
because they are necessarily the best – I haven’t used them all, so
the list isn’t a recommendation as such.

This is our favorite place to shop for motorcycle

gear and custom parts: Click Here.

This is the best nuts and bolts video/DVD set on how

to build your own custom chopper: Click Here.

1. Standard HD and Aftermarket parts in general

- The following online shops offer almost

every standard part you could want, and
have online stores:

- With an online shop and offering huge

selection (something of everything on our
list), Choppers Cycle is a dedicated on line

Also offer a good online store and delivery on a
wide range of parts are:

- Tejas Thump Cycles at
- Chopper Customs at
- Steel Thunder Custom Cycles
- Arlen Ness
- Cyril Huze
- Offering parts made for the true custom
chopper Pat Kennedy’s online store . Offers
the frames, forks, metalwork – fenders and
tanks, the necessary offsets and so on for
custom bikes, and top quality wire wheels,
amongst other things.

2. Seats and saddles

- Corbin offer high quality leatherwork,

3. Engines

- You have to buy through a dealer but S&S

have a lot of information on their engines at

4. Belt drives

- A specialist manufacturer Belt drives ltd at also offer brake
and shifter controls and handlebar controls.
These are primarily info pages with no on-
line shop.

5. Headlights

- Everything to do with custom headlights as

head winds

6. Custom Painting

- If you want to explore having certain parts

of the bike illustrated (fenders, gas tanks etc) offer such
a service.

7. Finishing touches

- AL Hatton, AH Quality Patterns – offers

custom built aluminum (and chromed if you
want) filter and coil covers, brake hangers
and so on and can build something to your
own design. Found at Phone: 920-766-
1144, Fax: 920-766-4222

- Aeromach Manufacturing offer finishing
parts like mirrors, brake levers, bullet axle
covers etc in chrome
Phone: 619-258-5443

8. Vintage

- Help with getting hold of older restored

parts can be had from companies like Fat
Dog Vintage Salvage at
© 2004-2005 Brian Maroevich, Avalanche Holdings, LLC
All Rights Reserved.