A Fifteen-Year-Old's Custom Honda VLX

Coming of age

custom VLX
Who wouldn't want a red hot custom VLX like this from Santa?Dean Groover

This article was originally published in the December 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Do you remember being 15 years old? Certainly no other transition in our adult lives compares to the crossroads of puberty. When you’re 15, you’re on a rickety suspension bridge linking a field of daisies to an amorphous black hole. But tucked amidst the pimples and perplexity is one gleaming chalice rewarded the adolescent—the coveted driver’s license. Bill Collier thought he’d throw his son the keys to a motorcycle, too.

It really wasn't that surprising that son Justin would collect his first motorcycle five months before his 16th birthday. His childhood routine was most boys' fantasies. He and his younger brother, Bryce, have been riding bikes since they were 3-years-old (a Honda V-50 with custom training wheels) and racing NHRA Junior dragsters since age 8. Then there were the scooters, quads and mini racebikes hanging around the backyard.

And Justin didn’t have a mother prone to fret. Pam Collier even let her pubescent son borrow her personal mount on occasion. At that time Pam was riding a Harley-Davidson Sportster, which she traded in for the stunning Honda Magna we featured in the August 2000 issue. (She’s since sold the Magna and is between bikes.)

custom VLX
Too young to drive, but old enough to build a killer custom, Justin Collier on his custom VLX.Dean Groover

Not only was Justin at home behind the controls of such serious toys, but also he was experienced in design and fabrication. By the time he and his father decided to customize Justin's Shadow VLX, the 15-year-old had already won awards in the NHRA for the engineering and visual design of his cars.

Fashion Plate

The VLX wasn’t purchased with radical customizing in mind, however. It received new paint, pipes and a jet kit and was happily ridden off into the sunset…at least for a while. When Bill decided to open Classic Cruisers Inc., a metric cruiser shop in Orlando, Florida, he suddenly needed a fashion plate for the Highway Hawk accessories he intended to sell. Bill and Pam’s Harleys simply wouldn’t do, so the little VLX was thrown onto the drawing board, and Justin was handed the pencil.

Up until that point, Bill had been a Harley man of some passion. He remembers riding with his buddies one day (many of whom rode Japanese cruisers) and they stopped by a local Harley shop in search of a part. “We walked in and my buddy asked for an acorn nut for his Honda. They said they didn’t sell parts for Jap bikes and turned us away. Having been a business owner I was standing there thinking this guy just lost a sale…and for no reason. Harley is only a small part of business for distributors like Drag Specialties, Tucker Rocky and Biker’s Choice. And this guy could have just as easily looked up the part in one of those catalogs and ordered the acorn nut.”

Cobra Fatty Upsweep pipes
The airbox looks trick on the VLX, but there’s nothing inside to hide. Separate K&N filters were used instead for increased air flow. The Cobra Fatty Upsweep pipes give the 600 Shadow a definite hard edge.Dean Groover

From Tiny Acorn Nuts…

Newton may have been hit on the head with an apple, but for Bill it was that acorn nut. “One day I came home and just said, ‘I want to open a bike store for metric cruisers.’” Three months later Classic Cruisers, Inc. was in business.

Amazingly the VLX custom project took less than six weeks to complete and the majority of the modifications were easily implemented. The bike was unveiled at Florida’s Biketoberfest in 1998 and Highway Hawk’s bolt-on baubles included the handlebar, mirrors, grips, headlight visor, driver and passenger pegs, horn cover, rear axle cover, oil gauge and swingarm caps, as well as covers for the radiator, air cleaner and regulator. The front and rear fender blanks were also from Highway Hawk, although they were cut and customized by the Colliers. “The most difficult thing was fitting the rear tailsection,” says Bill. “It’s a one-piece unit with molded, non-removable side panels. Justin cut them out and adapted inserts from Honda fenders.” This way just the fender sections could be removed for battery and other access instead of the entire tail section. All the bodywork is from Highway Hawk including the fuel tank, which master automotive fabricator Timmy Takash stretched. Takash also replaced the side fills with a single aircraft-style gas cap system.

Highway Hawk custom
Highway Hawk supplied about 80 percent of the goodies on this custom VLX, although the innovative taillight is made by Scooter Lab. If you look closely you’ll see the fiber-optic filament sticking up out of the lens. It picks up light from the bulb and casts it on the Florida tag.Dean Groover

The other part of the bike that "took some doing" was relacing the spoked wheels after Buchanan's built them. The VLX has 64 spokes on the front and 48 on the back…quite a few more than the traditional 40 count found on Harleys. Space Coast Platers in Florida performed all the other chroming. Cobra Engineering made the Fatty Upsweep pipes that give this bike symmetrical appeal and Custom Chrome sells the Magnum rear turn signals, Rick Doss front turn signals and headlamp and Mirage speedo visor. Custom Chrome is also where the Colliers acquired the extra trick Scooter Lab custom rear taillight. If you look closely you'll see the fiber-optic tube that sticks out of the lens cover. Inside the assembly, the tube extends down to the center of the bulb to pick up light and project it onto the license plate. Speedo and throttle cables on the Shadow are a product of Motion Pro, and the front brake line is Goodridge U.S.A. Mustang Motorcycle Products is responsible for the seriously stepped seat. And, getting back to the acorn nut business—all nut covers were purchased from Jardine.

Still Fresh

Bill had intended to refurbish the entire engine once the bike was taken apart, but decided against it once testing showed that even though it had seen 23,000, miles the 600cc twin was in perfect condition. "It might as well have been a brand-new, freshly rebuilt motor," he says. The only changes were the addition of a Factory Pro jet kit, the red plug wires (which were adapted from a Harley-Davidson application) and separate K&N filters. "We put individual air cleaners on it and did away with the actual air box. It still has the shape there, but it's simply for looks." The Colliers report this VLX is pretty darn fast for its size too. "It has no problem keeping up with 1400 and 1500s," reports Bill.

Custom removable panels
The pretty little twin didn’t need much attention. Even though it had 23,000 miles on the odometer at purchase, it tested perfectly. Custom removable panels were incorporated into the tailsection to provide access to the battery and other electrics.Dean Groover

Although the bike’s shape and definition is certainly striking, it’s the paint that stops people in their tracks. Justin had at first envisioned a wild, dynamic paint scheme for the VLX, but since the bike had a job to do, a more subtle option was decided upon. The bright, bright red paint (’82 Toyota Celica GT Red) was purposefully employed to draw a crowd, but since it’s uniform, it didn’t distract from the styling and accessories the Colliers wanted to accentuate. And draw the crowds it does. Most people don’t know it’s Japanese at first sight. In fact, the Colliers have had people argue with them on the point. “It’s the funniest thing,” says Bill, “We’d have these big scruffy-looking biker guys with 10,000 tattoos come up and look all over the bike…but as soon as they found out it was a Honda they’d all go running off.”

But the unveiling of the VLX happened three years ago. Justin Collier is now 18-years-old and working for Timmy Takash as a designer and fabricator while studying to earn his engineering degree. Classic Cruisers is kicking butt building metric cruisers for an enormous clientele. There have been hundreds of bike projects since the day the Colliers handed their 15-year-old son the keys to a stock burgundy Honda, and the success has made the family hunger for more opportunities. Bill plans to unleash a new custom at Biketoberfest 2000 that’s bound to stir things up. He’s taken a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 L, converted it from shaft to belt drive and sunk the works into a Kenny Boyce Pro Street FXR frame. You can bet we’ll keep you posted on that development.

Mustang Motorcycle Products seat
Collier can sit comfortably on his custom with the Mustang Motorcycle Products' stepped seat.Dean Groover

When the Colliers can squeeze some time away from the shop they go out for a ride, Bill on his work-in-progress Kawasaki Nomad and Pam on one of the many custom bikes (often the VLX). “It’s the best therapy,” says Bill. “I couldn’t pay the best psychiatrist in the world to give me what a half-hour of motorcycling does.” But the Colliers could design that doctor one heck of a motorcycle.