Custom Honda VTX | Project X

A bike built on trust

Only a few lucky people get to build their careers around pursuing their passion. John Vaughan-Chaldy (aka Baron) is one of the lucky ones. What started as a sideline to his business quickly blossomed into a full-time job, prompting him to sell the Yamaha dealership where he began creating his custom cruisers. He left with a catalog of seven key parts he felt were strong enough to support an independent accessory company (he now has more than 350 accessories) while he developed custom products and built six to 10 custom bikes a year for clients. After three years, his parts business began to require so much time that Baron only built customs for himself. Only occasionally would someone walk in with an idea so unique he couldn't refuse the opportunity to build the bike. Now he stands on the cusp of launching Baron Custom Cycles to begin building custom bikes for other people again. (Watch www.baroncustomcycles.com for more information.) His goal is to build eye-popping customs that are fun to ride-not trailer queens.

So what does a custom bike builder who's created a solid reputation on tricking out a single line of motorcycles-Yamaha's Star line, to be exact-do to give himself a new challenge? Expand to other motor- cycle brands, of course.

The custom VTX Baron created for J&P; Cycles owner John Parham follows in the steps of Baron's customs featured in Motorcycle Cruiser (at least nine times). Although the bike's look and style place it plainly in the lineage of Baron's bikes, it also highlights two directions in which he has begun to take his customs. First, the bike is, well, a Honda VTX. No Yamaha badge anywhere in sight. That's right, Baron doesn't just lay his hands on Stars anymore. Second, he has begun to approach customizing motorcycles not just as a means of showcasing his own creativity and talent. Instead, he's building customs to inspire cruiser riders to consider what they could do to their bikes. Consequently, he's trying to keep the budget on his projects in the realm of what real people can spend, not the cubic dollars some builders drop on their bikes.

The real story behind Project X is the timeframe into which its development was squeezed. When Parham contacted Baron during the third week of November to see if he could turn around the VTX in time for the Indianapolis industry show in February, Baron already had six bikes in various stages of customization-all destined for Indy. When the VTX (which had been modified the previous year for the J&P; Cycles catalog) arrived at Baron Custom Accessories, the bike was completely torn down three hours after being uncrated.

Parham and Baron decided Project X would have a long, elegant, but still aggressive look. The cornerstone of the project would be Baron's Phat Daddy-style fenders. While the Phat Daddy fenders were available for multiple bikes, none existed for the VTX. Three days of focused labor later a one-off set of fenders was ready to be shipped off to create molds. Why molds? This bike was being built by an accessory company for a parts distributor. Do you really think they'd pass up an opportunity to create cool new products from their collaboration? Also, remember Baron's philosophy about building customs that real people-not pros-could emulate? In the end, Baron had a set of fenders ready for the painter within two weeks.

Still, fenders do not a custom motorcycle make. Since this bike was destined to grace the J&P; Cycles catalog cover, Parham wanted a selection of parts he sells to be included in the project. So Baron had to blend a series of new Kryakyn parts with existing items from the Baron's line and new ideas that were just waiting to be born. You can't just bolt stuff on willy-nilly if you want a complete package, and many hours were spent comparing groups of Kryakyn parts for their overall look. In the end, more than 50 Baron and J&P; Cycles parts took up residence on the VTX.

A prime example of the blending of Baron's, J&P;'s and Kryakyn's components takes place on the handlebar. Baron's Xtreme Bar is a 1.5-inch diameter, slightly radiused drag bar. He hid the stock switch gear with chromed covers that snuggle up to a set of Kryakyn grips. To complement the grips, he fashioned a set of bullet-shaped grip ends to complete the stretched look. This combination enhances the VTX's beefy front end. The bullet bar end also ties into the shape of the mini tach mounted to the speedometer bucket. The stock speedo slips into a cool Baron's mount that allows the instruments to be raised and lowered to any desired height below the bar. Resting below the instruments are a set of triple tree covers to keep the chrome going. The triple clamps grip a pair of chromed forks, winding up with a chromed wheel. A set of "golf club" mirrors grace the controls, and a Tradewinds headlight helps illuminate the rider's view from the saddle.

The engine compartment received a combination of dress-up and performance items. A set of Kryakyn motor mount accents grace an otherwise bland, black part of the frame. A matching set of Kryakyn spark-plug covers links the cylinder heads to the mounts. Behind the plug covers, blue LEDs give the top end a subtle glow. A set of Spider Lights tucked away in various nooks and crannies spreads the glow to other key points on the motorcycle. Filling the V on the right side is a Baron's Big Air Kit. The spent combustibles travel out through a prototype "side-by-side shotgun" exhaust capped with a set of Family Jewels Double Trouble muffler tips (exclusively available at J&P; Cycles later this year).

While dressing up Project X's brake system, Baron briefly considered installing braided stainless lines, but since the Honda's linked brakes use a bazillion lines, he elected to cover the stockers with carbon-fiber-style hose covers, a cost-effective move that adds a darker tone to the front end while helping the rear lines disappear.

Calling attention to the right sections of the bike was a challenge for Baron. As he put it, "This bike was designed to help sell J&P;'s parts." So, while making the bike look bodacious, he didn't want to mask the hardware his client wanted to showcase. His choice of colors and paint scheme was a primary means of keeping the focus on the hardware. When looking at a bike with an intricate paint job, everyone spends most of their initial viewing time inspecting the paint before noting how it relates to the rest of the custom. Baron feels these "paint heavy" bikes obscure the parts. His goal was the opposite.

Inspired by the colors featured in J&P;'s catalogs and Web site, Baron wanted to include blue in the color scheme (remember the Spider Lights?), but he wanted the view from the side to be lighter in hue. So he used silver to complement the parts. To show the fender's curves, Baron used pearl blue with a heavy small-flake content. This links the blue to the silver and helps the light wrap around the bodywork's features.

When looking over the top of the fender, the bike goes flat and everything reflects silver. However, as the edge of the fenders dives in toward the tires, the paint helps accentuate the tires' size, making them look bigger than they are. Baron had the inside edges of the wheels' cut-outs painted the same blue, so when they are viewed in the context of all the wheels' chromed sections the painted portions seem to reflect the bodywork's blue paint. The way the blue paint wraps around the bottom of the tank allows it to be reflected in the chromed bits on the engine's top end. At night, the blue Spider Lights compound this effect.

Baron's goal was a smooth visual flow in which nothing makes the viewer stop and think, "Now why the heck did he do that?" Instead, as the eyes track over the motorcycle, the individual pieces make themselves apparent only as they relate to the whole effect of Project X.

Since most VTX owners simply refer to it as an X, Baron turned to his hobby, collecting cartoon animation cells. He'd just acquired a Speed Racer cell featuring Speed Racer standing next to his Mach 5. Although the logo on the car is an M, it looks a good bit like a stylized X, so Baron took this germ of inspiration to his painter. Now the fender wears an X logo only Speed Racer fans might think was anything other than an X.

Baron turned to pinstriper Roger Bowman for one of the bike's key visual components. J&P; Cycles designed a special 25th-anniversary logo for '04, and not surprisingly, J&P; wanted it to grace the sides of the tank. Unfortunately, the company didn't have any stickers yet. Just two days before the bike was supposed to be loaded into the truck bound for Indy, Baron drove to his painter, picked up the still-fresh tank, took it to Bowman's shop and waited 10 hours as Bowman hand-painted exact copies of the logo on the tank. Baron then took the tank back to the painter, where it was force-dried, sanded and clear-coated.

With such a tight timeframe, Baron says building the VTX came down to trust. He didn't have time to create sets of drawings to show Parham and get feedback about how the finished bike would look. Instead, Parham had to trust Baron to create a bike of the same caliber he'd done before. Baron had to trust that the artists he uses when creating customs could deliver on time. This would be quite a feat when building just one bike, but Project X had six siblings being prepared for the same event.

When Project X arrived at Indy, Baron kept it under a cover until the folks from J&P; Cycles had a chance to see it. He's certain the faith they had in him paid off, since they were in and out of his booth admiring their bike all weekend. We'd be more than happy if this bike belonged to us, too.

The Baron/Hoover Summit
While Baron was well on his way toward building customs enthusiasts could replicate with real-world budgets, he was helped by Kawasaki's former head of U.S. development, John Hoover. Baron's Warrior had a reputation for being one of the nicest-looking competitors in Prostar's Hot Rod Cruiser class. So Hoover, being a rabid dragracing fan, approached Baron to see if he would consider customizing bikes without the Star logo.

Hoover's goal was not just to convince Baron to build some show bikes for him. He also wanted to encourage Baron to add Kawi products to his accessory line. Hoover gave Baron access to Kawasaki's entire big-twin line, which at the time consisted of the Vulcan 1600 and 1500 plus the Mean Streak.

The two repeatedly discussed the importance of price ceilings. Although Baron had enjoyed success with his Bike in a Box program (now called Customizing Kits), Hoover kept insisting that while the multilevel approach to selling the kits was on the right track, Baron needed to cut the costs of his show bikes even closer to the budgets of the average cruising enthusiast.

As a result, Baron set out to create this trio of bikes as inexpensively as possible. Companies often spend more on a show bike's flashy paint scheme than the already pricey chassis and accessory additions. While Baron's Mean Streak kits ain't cheap (ranging from $1026 to $5400), keeping the paint cost of each of these three Kawasakis to $1500 helps the price stay at a relatively reasonable level.

Mean Streak
The project Mean Streak is a fairly straightforward custom. The primary change was the inclusion of a set of Baron's Gangster fenders. Baron wanted to keep the front wheel naked for the dragracing crowd at Prostar events, but Hoover convinced him that even though people buy these higher-performance cruisers, they still want full fenders. On Hoover's recommendation, Baron later added a more dressed-up, fully cloaked front fender. By asking for this simple modification, Hoover was able to help fill a hole in the Kawasaki cruiser line.
Gangster Vulcan 1500
Baron claims this Vulcan 1500 is his favorite creation in recent memory. Perhaps it's the Kong Bar, with its 17-inch rise. Or maybe it's the fenders that are a wider, flatter version of the Road Star Gangster fenders. What are those hanging off the LED brake light/turn signal combo unit? Curb feelers? Then consider the forged, twisted struts. Of course, a real springer seat was required. The most striking feature of the bike just may be the twin dual exhaust system, which places a pipe on either side of the bike, keeping the visuals from becoming right-side heavy. When will this pipe be available? Soon.
A chrome bath and lots of goodies surround this Phat Daddy fender. Note how the paint helps the tires look bigger than they are.
From the teardrop brake light to the stylized seat and all the details in between, Baron made sure the VTX was a custom that could be emulated by enthusiasts, not just professional builders.