Ripped Rod: Customized Harley-Davidson V-Rod Motorcycle

A bodybuilder creates a customized Harley-Davidson V-Rod to reflect himself. From the October 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. By Mark Zimmerman.

It all started when Alfonse Moretti began dating a woman who wanted to move from the passenger seat to the controls. Intent on piloting her own bike, she signed up for a few private riding lessons, and Alfonse (yes, he prefers that to the diminutive) decided to tag along. The school-supplied learner bikes looked fun, so Alfonse, a one-time off-road rider who'd been out of the saddle for nearly 20 years, wangled his way on to one for a short spin around the parking lot. Apparently, the fire had been banked, but not extinguished. Before the week was out, Alfonse had scored himself a brand-new Victory V92SC.

The Victory was nice, but a bit too pedestrian for its owner's tastes; consequently, he began to do a little judicious customizing. The bike turned out nicely, but Alfonse, a type A personality if ever there was one, wanted something more than nice. As so often happens, the custom bug had bitten and bitten hard. The itch needed scratching, so he sold the Victory and started looking for a suitable replacement.

The Honda VTX and Kawasaki Vulcan made his short list, but both carried a little too much plastic. He also considered doing a traditional Harley custom, but shelved that idea because he's not really a traditional type of guy, and let's be honest, these days, traditional Harley customs are as common as dirt.

However, there was something about the Harley V-Rod that struck his fancy. It was fast, it had some unique styling cues, and while it was made in Milwaukee, it was somewhat removed from the mainstream, which added to the appeal. Besides, Alfonse, who makes his living as a personal trainer and sometimes competes in (and wins) amateur body building contests, wanted a bike to reflect himself, both in the physical and philosophical sense. The look he had in mind was low, lean and chiseled, without an ounce of flab. Since the stock V-Rod was already bent in that direction, creating the vision meant accentuating what was already there, as opposed to a total redesign.

After deciding on the V-Rod, he added a few caveats. "I wanted it to look like a [custom] V-Rod, not a custom bike using a V-Rod engine, so I needed to keep the four styling elements that made it a V-Rod: the frame [which remained bone stock right down to the factory-applied powdercoating], the headlight, airbox and gauges."

Now that he had a bike and a plan, there was only one small hurdle to clear—how to actually accomplish the build. See, making your living as a personal trainer doesn't equip you with a lot of specialized mechanical skills. Alfonse can't weld or machine, and at the time he owned barely enough tools to assemble a back-yard swing set.

Realizing the job might be compromised by personal and equipment limitations, he was faced with three options. The first was to simply build a catalog custom using over-the-counter bolt-on parts. This idea was dismissed out of hand because, as Alfonse succinctly put it, "Catalogs don't make customs."

Option two was to farm out all the fabrication and simply assemble the bike on his own. This had some appeal but was discarded primarily because it didn't seem like it'd be a very satisfying way to build a bike.

Plan C seemed to make the most sense. First he'd try to find as many parts as he could, both already on the bike and available through the aftermarket, that could be massaged, coerced and manipulated into what he needed with little more than some willpower and a 4-inch grinder. What he absolutely couldn't do at home he'd have done by the best fabricators he could find. This may seem like a long row to hoe, but as Alfonse says, "I'm very resourceful."

He began by disassembling his new V-Rod into two big piles. Parts that might have some future value went in one pile, parts that didn't went directly to eBay. Once the piles were sorted, he got busy replacing the ones that hadn't made the cut.

Feeling solid wheels belong on military ordnance, not motorcycles, he ordered up a set of Performance Machine Wrath rims, an 18 x 8.5 rear with a matching drive pulley and a 21 x 3.5 front. Unfortunately, there was a hitch. PM wasn't yet building Wraths for the V-Rod. It'd be happy to custom-turn a set for Alfonse, but only if he provided the specifications and made them fit, a daunting task, no matter how resourceful you are. Fortunately, PM suggested someone who might be able to help—Cary Faas of Cary Faas Racing.

First, Faas had PM whittle up the rims with the offset adjusted to his measurements. Then came the tricky part—shoehorning the oversized rear wheel and its peripheral bits into the stock and somewhat narrow swingarm. He began by notching the left side of the swingarm to clear the drive pulley and then recessed the right side so the caliper slider wouldn't foul the tire. But that wasn't the end of it. Normally, the lower eyes of the V-Rod's shocks are secured by a nut and bolt. Due to the hub's width, the nuts no longer fit. Faas solved that headache by installing stainless steel Helicoils into the lower mounts and eliminating the nuts.

Because the wide hub relocated the rear pulley, it no longer lined up with the stock countershaft pulley. Faas rectified the situation by turning up an offset countershaft pulley to match the rear pulley's new location.

The front wheel also required a little fiddling before it could be installed. PM had supplied the 21-inch hoop mounted to a stock V-Rod hub machined to accept dual brake rotors. Since the plans called for a single front disc brake mounted on the left, Faas spun up a new right-side hub, which cleaned up the appearance by eliminating the disc mounting points. While his lathe was still warm he also removed the caliper mount from the right-side lower fork leg.

Alfonse is quick to thank the guys at PM and Cary Faas for their help. "Cary was particularly helpful. He must have answered a million stupid questions, most of the time during late-night, panicky phone calls."

Once the freshly machined parts were back from a swim in the chrome tank, he wanted a little eye candy, so Alfonse started wrenching. He reassembled and shortened the front forks by 1.5 inches using one of Progressive Suspension's lowering kits, then slid them into a Harley-Davidson factory-chromed triple tree. A shorter-than-stock pair of Skullman shocks were fitted to the tweaked swingarm, lowering it an equal amount.After a pair of Metzeler 880 Marathons, a 240 rear and 3.00 front, were spooned onto the rims, the bike was ready to roll, though not yet ready to stop. With one front binder deleted, Alfonse figured the remaining stoppers would need all the help they could get. Accordingly, a black-anodized six-piston PM caliper was hung on the left fork, while a matching four-piston unit was installed out back. Both calipers squeeze Wrath rotors, and reportedly provide plenty of whoa power, at least at rational speeds.

With the bike rolling, Alfonse focused on the bodywork. The front fender is a West Coast Choppers Mama Jama. At the time WCC didn't offer the fender in a 21 x 5.5-inch version, but using his considerable powers of persuasion, the ones with Ben Franklin's picture on them, he got the company to roll one up for him. As delivered, it wasn't quite right, so Alfonse and his grinder went to work removing tiny bits of metal until the fender's contour perfectly matched the wheel's.

Alfonse wanted the fender/fork junction to have an integrated, factory-installed appearance, so simply hanging the fender from a set of spacers wouldn't cut it. Since he had no practical way to machine what he wanted, he acquired a second set of lower legs and sliced the fender mounts out of them. The amputated mounts were worked until they fit perfectly between the stock mounts and the new fender, which gave him the seamless look he was after. It may seem roundabout, but it turned out just fine.

Breathless Performance supplied the rear fender with an edge-mounted LED taillight, which Alfonse also reworked using his trusty grinder and a bucket of fiberglass until its bend perfectly matched the front fender's. They also supplied the functional ram-air/frame covers, the chrome screens being Alfonse's handiwork, and the side-mounted license plate bracket.

The factory handlebar was way too high, so Alfonse ditched it and had Custom Cycle Controls create a lower-than-stock drag bar. The custom bar contains the switch wiring as well as internal master cylinders for the clutch and front brake. It's a neat job that really cleans up a normally cluttered area. The only problem was that once the bars were lowered, the speedometer housing stuck up like a sore thumb.

Alfonse figured that with a little heating, grinding and reshaping he'd have a complementary speedometer housing to set off his trick handlebars. OK, so the first one broke while he was kneading it, but surely he'd have better luck the second time around. Well then, maybe the third one would do the trick. Just about the time the parts guy suggested ordering the housings by the gross, Alfonse made one that worked, perseverance apparently going hand in hand with resourcefulness. The final control details include a CFR seat and H-D accessory-catalog slotted foot controls.

Eschewing a fancy paint scheme—it wouldn't have been in keeping with the bike's spare look—Alfonse had Adrian Auto Body of Yorktown Heights, New York, apply eight coats of gloss black followed by eight coats of clear to all the bodywork, with the exception of the speedometer housing. Alfonse painted that with a rattle can, just because he could. Believing 110 horsepower was more than enough and wanting to maintain the reliability of the stock engine, Alfonse wisely left the mill's internals alone, though it did receive a full complement of genuine H-D chrome dress-up goodies to give it a little shine and a few bolt-on performance accessories to wake it up a bit.

Carry Faas Racing supplied one of its megaphone exhaust systems, the airbox top was removed and discarded to improve airflow and a K&N; filter was installed. The final touch was downloading a Screamin' Eagle FI program, which remapped the injection system to work with the less-restrictive pipe and air filter.

Two and half months after he'd busted his first knuckle, Alfonse's ripped V-Rod was up and running. From the jump the bike proved to be everything he'd hoped for and then some. Displaying outstanding workmanship and exacting attention to detail, the bike was an instant success on the local show circuit, picking up a best in class and two best of shows in its first three outings.

But more importantly, the bike is a fun to ride, practical custom that shows what can be done by the average Joe (or Alfonse) with a little resourcefulness, some imagination and the right help. When you consider his lack of resources and limited mechanical experience, it makes it doubly impressive. Proving, I suppose, that whether you're building bikes or bodies, when you have the will and desire, the rest is just a matter of hard work.

RESOURCES

Cary Faas Racing
Email: Cfaas37@adelphia.net

Performance Machine Inc.
www.performancemachine.com

Custom Cycle Controls
www.customcyclecontrols.com

Harley-Davidson
www.harley-davidson.com

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Photography by Jeff Hackett