Honda VTX Turbo - Big Low Bang Budget

Building A VTX Turbo You Can Actually Ride

In today's cruising world, the streets and TV channels are full of custom choppers costing $60K and $80K, with some even topping $100K. The die-hard backyard builder is left with quite a dilemma if his intention is to create a unique metric cruiser that'll command even a smidgeon of attention in this crowded field. Even in rural areas far from biker meccas like Daytona Beach or Hollywood, the streets are literally crawling with tricked-out custom bikes. When I looked into the garage at my bone-stock Honda VTX1800F, I wondered if it would ever look as cool as some of the bikes I had seen on the street (and in the pages of Motorcycle Cruiser). I loved riding the VTX, and it was dead reliable, so I didn't want to do anything to affect that aspect, but I did want to make modifications that'd set it apart from the others.

I spend more time on sportbikes than on cruisers, so the need for more power was at the top of my list; most of my budget went right into the engine. After eyeing some of the various add-on power options, I became attracted to turbochargers. While attending an AMA Prostar dragrace last year, I also noticed that Honda's professional pilot, Kent Stotz, had chosen Velocity Racing for his Honda racebike as well as his own VTX1800. That was enough to convince me to give Barry Henson at Velocity Racing a call.

The Velocity street kit for the VTX features a Garrett T-28 dual ball-bearing turbocharger and a rising-rate fuel pump that, in conjunction with an off-the-shelf Dynojet Power Commander, would ensure a 100 percent streetable bike that could be ridden every day. This system would be set at 8 psi and deliver more than a 60 percent increase in power compared to stock. Since the VTX is sold in so many different versions, Velocity has to hand-fit each bike with the necessary plumbing to make the system look as good as it does. After fabrication is completed, everything is then sent out for chrome plating. As the photos show, the fitment is nothing short of amazing. In fact, the turbo is tucked so nicely into the engine that your legs will hit the tank before they come close to the turbo or the pressurized up-pipe that feeds the new intake plenum. If you're sitting on the seat and looking down at the tank, the entire turbo system is hidden from view. The newly designed exhaust comes with full heat shielding and is included in the turbo package.

The only deviation from stock on the left side of the bike is the billet-aluminum rising-rate fuel pump. Since the bike's thirst for fuel is directly proportional to the level of boost, this device allows the fuel delivery to keep pace. The Dynojet Power Commander further fine-tunes the fuel map, resulting in a bike that really is as good as a stock VTX. The only internal engine modification is the clutch. With this much extra power, we wanted to ensure the Honda clutch would stay locked up, so MTC Engineering was chosen to supply a set of its heavy-duty clutch springs and fiber clutch plates. Other than that, the engine stayed stock (partly because Henson advised that no modifications were required, even on the 20 psi race kit). At a price of $12,000 (which includes installation), the Velocity turbo system isn't cheap, but if you consider the time and expense of an engine build that will yield a lot less power and perhaps less reliability, then it starts to make sense.

The next change was the paint job. It's my feeling that a custom paint job is the most personal and perhaps most difficult of all motorcycle modifications. I've been to Daytona Bike Week countless times and have attended plenty of shows, and the paint is usually what makes or breaks the bike for me. Since I have no artistic ability, my goal was to find a painter I trusted and leave the artistry to him. After looking at numerous artists in my area (Chattanooga, TN), I settled on Liquid Visions in Ringgold, GA. Gary Stroud is the in-house Picasso, and after seeing his work, I decided he'd be able to make my bike stand out. I gave him input about the colors I liked and also told him that the bike was a Honda-and I wanted it to look like one after he finished. To keep the cost reasonable, I disassembled the bike and presented Stroud with the parts I wanted painted, along with photos of a stock VTX as a reference. About five weeks later, Stroud called me to come take a look at the finished product. The paint was wild. It all started with a base coat of House of Kolor Tangerine, followed by careful airbrushing of the "real flames." To maintain the Honda look, Stroud borrowed the tribal flames from the photos I had left behind and augmented them with some metal flakes. Then a VTX logo was sprayed on each side of the tank, and finally, five coats of clear were applied to create depth. After leaving 25 copies of Ben Franklin with Stroud, I was well on my way to a custom bike.

The project was now starting to really look the way I wanted, but naturally, a few more things were on my list. The next goal was to get rid of the black brake lines, so I ordered up a custom Spiegler brake line kit from Honda Direct (hondadirectline.com). The kit maintains the Honda linked brakes but greatly improves the feel and look. This install is not for the fainthearted, though, as it includes 14 separate lines and requires removal of the tank and seat to access the factory parts. I also ordered chrome Kryakyn passenger rear pegs from Honda Direct to upgrade the plain-Jane rubber stockers. And if you want to add other shiny stuff, go no farther than your local dealer. I found a ton of stuff for nearly every VTX spec in the Honda accessory catalog, adding the following chrome bits: master cylinder cover, billet banjo bolt covers, billet oil dipstick, chrome driveshaft cover, swingarm pivot cover and a chrome driveshaft bolt cover. Honda parts have the best fitment and quality of any on the market.

After torquing everything down, I couldn't wait to get the "X" back on the road. Riding the bike this time was in some ways exactly the same; the engine is just as reliable as it was before the turbo, only faster. The dual ball-bearing turbo spools almost instantly and pushes the bike forward with an extra 50 horsepower. The only thing that stops the turbocharged fun is the rev-limiter. Even in top gear the bike will easily bounce the tach off the redline. Unlike many 130-plus-hp custom cruisers, this one starts easily and cruises the interstates as well as crowded city streets without overheating. Velocity does suggest 93-octane fuel just to be safe, but with the relatively low 9.0:1 stock compression ratio, even this is probably overkill. The bike is just as smooth as ever, but now it hits you with the kind of brute torque that a true power cruiser should deliver

Beauty is subjective, of course, but based on the stares my bike gets on the road and at local bike nights, I have to proclaim my mission "accomplished." Even among hard-core traditional bikers, the appeal seems universal. Maybe the chrome hair dryer hanging on the side of the engine is the lure, or perhaps it is the unmistakable whistle of the turbocharger that commands their attention. Or perchance it is the combination of a powerful yet functional Honda cruiser that looks like a bike costing a lot more. It wasn't exactly cheap, but when compared to the aforementioned customs, it seems like a bargain every time I leave one of them behind at a traffic light.

This Velocity Racing- modified Honda is capable of serious power, as demonstrated by Kent Stotz. The four-time AMA Prostar drag-racing champion for the Honda Rider's Club lights up the rear tire at Memphis Motorsports Park.
One of the goals on this project was to have a custom paint job that still let everyone know it was a Honda. So the VTX logo was incorporated into the elaborate "real flame" paint scheme.