Three Ways to Clean Up Your Motorcycle

A little something for every customizer

The ape hangers you took off your Schwinn bicycle and installed on your 1966 Honda SuperHawk let you pretend you're Peter Fonda. Still, it isn't the same as riding the infamous "Captain America" chopper, like Fonda did in Easy Rider.

"Captain America" remains the quintessential vision of a custom motorcycle, with its long girder forks and patriotic paint job. This stylized chopper instantly became the impetus for many owners to modify their stock machines and head out on the highway.

In reality, a custom machine is a collection of ideas, whether mild or wild, at first dreamed about, then ultimately implemented. Some of these changes are purely aesthetic, while others improve the machine's performance.

Saxon Motorcycles Ltd. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, builds custom machines to a customer’s specifications. Owner Phil Bunton and fabricator Mark Blundell have been building custom machines long enough to come up with some tricks of the trade. Knowing what will work—and what won’t—is their business.

We asked Bunton and Blundell to share some of their hard-won knowledge. Whether it's increasing the useful capacity of a fuel tank, concealing rear fender wiring, or putting the final touch on a brake fluid reservoir, there's something here for every customizer.

Relocating a petcock

Relocating a Petcock

Once tilted on the modified frame, this tank left a lot of fuel unstable. The steps to moving the fuel cock can be found in the series of photos below.Photography by Greg Williams

Petcock Position: Going the Extra Mile
The problem: As a result of having modified the geometry of a frame, the gas tank sits at an angle. However radical this may look, it ultimately limits the useful capacity of the tank. Whether it be a King Sportster tank, a peanut tank or a stock tank, the location of the gas tap prevents the use of the last half pint of gas in the tank. The solution is to move the petcock.

Don't jump into this project, unless you really need the entire capacity of the tank. It requires welding (Welding Tips can be found HERE.)and repainting your tank, or at least a touch-up. To allow ultimate gas consumption, the fuel tap should be moved all the way to the rear, and preferably on the left of the tank, so that the gas flows to the petcock when the machine is idling on its sidestand.

Relocating a petcock, use hole saw to mark new location

Relocating a Petcock

1) Mark the new location, using a hole saw just larger than the threaded receptacle to remove it.Photography by Greg Williams

After removing the tank from the bike and before going any further, be sure you have thoroughly purged your gas tank of all gasoline vapors. Using a vacuum or an air compressor, encourage the gas to evaporate. You don’t want any fumes left in the tank, because the next step involves sparks and flame. Vapor is more explosively flammable than liquid gasoline, so be absolutely sure nothing is left. This may require days of air circulation.

Unscrew the tap from its original location. Consider the length of the petcock when determining where to place the tap for maximum efficiency. You need enough room to be able to thread the tap (with any filter) back into the tank. As an alternative to a filter in the petcock, consider an in-line filter. You may also want to use an aftermarket petcock, such as one of the pretty Pingel items.

Relocating a petcock-Pull the fuel petcock out

Relocating a Petcock

2) Pull the sawed part outPhotography by Greg Williams

Carefully note the location of engine parts. Don't assume the tap will fit until you have carefully confirmed it. With the tank back on the bike, find the best location for the tap. This is the most important part of the procedure; unwanted holes in gas tanks can cause problems.

Now, mark the new tap location so that it’s easy to see. Draw a circle with a white marker approximately the size of a dime. Double-check that everything will fit. Where Blundell had initially laid out the tap on this Sportster tank would have interfered with the head. Much better to find out now than later.

Relocating the petcock-tack the old hole

Relocating a Petcock

3) Tack the old holePhotography by Greg Williams

When using the original petcock, Blundell finds it easiest to remove and reuse the original threaded bung for the fuel tap and seal the resulting hole. The threaded bung will be used to remount the fuel tap, so Blundell carefully uses a hole saw kit to avoid unnecessary damage to the threaded insert. If you’re using a different petcock, such as a Pingel aftermarket item, you will need to be sure you have an appropriate threaded receptacle.

After removal of the threaded bung, the edges of the hole must be ground to accept a flat steel cover disc. Cut this disc from light gauge steel using tin snips. Make it bigger than the hole, but smaller than the ground area. Grind the disc nice and round and hammer it flat. The final seal around the disc will be solder, so grind the area clean for the solder to achieve maximum penetration and fully seal the hole. If you have the facilities, spot-weld the disc where you want it prior to soldering. Do not weld or solder until all traces of gasoline have been removed from the tank.

Relocating a Petcock-weld the cover for the old hole

Relocating a Petcock

4) Weld the cover for the old hole.Photography by Greg Williams

Next use a lathe or a grinder to clean up the rough metal on the outside of the old thread. The size of the hole you’re about to drill in the tank should allow the threaded bung to sit flush on the surrounding metal without falling through.

Drill the hole, then grind the area. The thread must sit flush on the tank prior to soldering. Remember, clean metal makes the soldering job easier. Even the smallest amount of dirt could ruin a solder job, leaving a leak.

Relocating the petcock - drill new hole and install the receptacle

Relocating a Petcock

5) Drill a new hole and install the receptacle by welding it in place.Photography by Greg Williams

Via the filler-cap hole, remove any debris that has accumulated inside the tank by shaking the tank upside down. This may take some time but is essential.

Take the tank to a radiator repair shop and have them seal the old area with the new disc and the relocated threaded bung. To avoid unnecessary frustration, have the tank pressure tested for leaks while at the radiator shop. Saxon thanks Randy Morten of K-Line Radiator in Calgary for this job.

Relocating a petcock - finished product

Relocating a Petcock

Now you have yourself a finished petcock.Photography by Greg Williams

After this modification has been made, you will either need to paint your tank or touch up the affected area (Find tips for color matching HERE). Thread in your petcock, remount your gas tank, and admire your work.

You will now be able to use (almost) every drop of gas in your tank!

In-line type petcock internal filter

Relocating a Petcock

When relocating a petcock, you must consider the space it requires both below and inside the tank. Try replacing the internal filter with an in-line type.Photography by Greg Williams

Top It Off: Cleaning Up Brake Reservoir Covers
Bunton contends that owners don't have to reacquaint themselves with the warning inscribed on a metal hydraulic brake and/or clutch reservoir every time they get on the bike. Removing the cast-in writing on a metal cover offers a quick dress up and is easy, with little money or time involved.

Polishing a reservoir cover

Polishing Reservoir Covers

This is the same brake reservoir cover before and after the warning language was polished off with a belt sander.Photography by Greg Williams

Start by removing the cover. Place a clean plastic bag over the reservoir to avoid contamination. Using a belt sander and medium-grit paper, sand down the surface of the cover far enough to remove the writing. Continue using finer grades of sandpaper until the surface is perfectly smooth.

Though the polished piece will be an improvement on stock, the final touch is chrome. Send the cover to the chrome plater. Upon return, fill the brake system with fresh fluid, install your custom cover and enjoy the admiring looks it gets.

Polishing and chroming reservoir covers

Polishing Reservoir Covers

Chroming is a nice final touch. The completed part is a major visual improvement over stock.Photography by Greg Williams

Out of Sight: Conceal Rear Fender Wiring
You've got your custom rear fender drilled to accept a tombstone-style tail lamp. But with the fender bolted in place, you start wiring up the light fixture and realize you have no method of holding the wires in place. You certainly don't want to run the subharness on the outside of the fender.

As Bunton points out, “Nothing will stick to the underside of a motorcycle fender to hold those wires in place!”

A little forethought is involved with this tip. Methods of concealing wiring must be decided before everything is painted or plated. You have two options. One is to braze in a copper tube, curved to conform with the inner contour of the fender and with a large inner diameter that you can feed several wires through. This works great. The wires are totally concealed, out of harm’s way, yet still accessible for future changes. The other possibility is to use metal tabs to clip the wires in place, providing even easier access to the subharness.

Wiring Retention Clips

Wiring Retention Clips

Once cut out, the sheet metal clips are welded up inside the fender.Photography by Greg Williams

If you’re taking the clip route, start by using a pair of tin snips to cut strips a half-inch wide by two inches long from a piece of light-gauge steel. The total number of tabs required will depend on how much wiring they must support. One tab every six inches should keep everything in place.

Two bends are required to make the tab function as a “clip.” First, insert a half-inch length of the two-inch tab in a vice. Using a pair of pliers, bend the long end to a 45-degree angle. You should now have a short “kick” at the end of the strip where the tab will be spot-welded to the fender. Bend the long strip in the middle, in the opposite direction of step two, providing a space for the wires to fit between the tab and the fender.

Spot-weld the short ends of the tabs to the inside of your fender, approximately six inches apart. Make sure you install the tab to function as a clip with the open end up. Use rubber grommets in the holes where the wires enter and exit the fender to protect your wires and keep everything neat.

Wiring the retention clips in fender

Wiring Retention Clips

Weld the clips approximately six inches apart.Photography by Greg Williams

These three ideas will turn that SuperHawk with the Schwinn ape hangers into your own "Captain America." Well, at least you can dream! Anyone with a passing familiarity with hand tools should be able to do these jobs. If, however, you don't feel comfortable with any of the procedures involved, don't hesitate to contact your local motorcycle shop.


To customize your ride even further, give your bike some custom color.