How to Build a Bobber on a Budget

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In the old days all a person needed to build a killer custom motorcycle was a bike, a set of tools, a little know-how, and a creative vision. But with the rise of the high-dollar, haute moteur Gucci choppers, the true custom bike has gotten out of most riders’ reach, right?

Dead wrong. In this book Jose de Miguel, a custom builder from way back, sets out to prove that those good old days never ended. In the clearest and simplest terms, he shows readers how they can turn odds and...

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How to Build a Bobber on a Budget

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In the old days all a person needed to build a killer custom motorcycle was a bike, a set of tools, a little know-how, and a creative vision. But with the rise of the high-dollar, haute moteur Gucci choppers, the true custom bike has gotten out of most riders’ reach, right?

Dead wrong. In this book Jose de Miguel, a custom builder from way back, sets out to prove that those good old days never ended. In the clearest and simplest terms, he shows readers how they can turn odds and ends found around the shop into one-off motorcycle parts—and make a cheap, run-of-the mill custom build into a drop-dead show stopper. Following de Miguel’s lead, along with his straightforward illustrations, any resourceful owner with rudimentary mechanical skills, a basic tool kit, and—most importantly—a modicum of imagination can build the bobber of his dreams for less than the price of a new bike.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher Review:

"Each chapter explains, in a mentor-like style, how to approach each phase of your budget build in a realistic fashion. You are also given lots of little tips for working in the garage, things to be careful of and finding all those unique items for your ride. This really works out to a cliffs notes of 15 years experience of putting custom bikes on the road. It’s definitely worth reading through prior to your first project. Ever wonder where do all those cool looking knobs on jockey shifters come from? They don’t come from Custom Chrome or the Harley dealership. You’ll have to read the book to find out."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760327852
  • Publisher: Motorbooks
  • Publication date: 2/15/2008
  • Series: Motorbooks Workshop Series
  • Edition description: First
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 386,593
  • Product dimensions: 8.37 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Former professional race car driver Jose de Miguel began building custom motorcycles in his home town of San Juan, Puerto Rico from necessity. In San Juan a rider had to build his own custom bike because there were no custom shops at the time. Today he runs the thriving Caribbean Custom Motorcycle shop in San Juan, but he still relies on the resourcefulness and creativity that made his early builds possible.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Before You Start

Chapter 2: Getting Started

Chapter 3: Sheet Metal

Chapter 4: Engine and Transmission

Chapter 5: Pre-Assembly Mock Up

Chapter 6: Disassembly

Chapter 7: Paint

Chapter 8: Final Assembly

Chapter 9: Ready to Start

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These pages reflect over 15 years experience building bikes. We have lived through many eras and many fads, and I believe if this book had been published three years ago, many of you would not recognize the bikes or would simply refer to them as things of the past. Many of the bikes you will see featured here-what I call my bob/chops-are heavily based in the past. When catalogs were few, parts hard to get, and "custom" meant building it by hand, money was not the main motive for the build. Many, many guys went before us, lit the torch, and worked until the late hours in their garage, tool shed, or shack to create what they believed to be the ultimate piece of coolness: their own bobber or their own chopper.

I am as intrigued by the past as I am by the present, by bikes that have endured time, bikes that are still cool, even if they are 30 or 40 years old. With the opportunity to share with you what I do via this book, I will try to share knowledge that has been passed on to me, or stuff that I've had to wing out on my own. I'll tell you the tips and tricks I have learned along the way, just trying to make life a bit easier. I will also share brilliant examples of other builders' work to demonstrate what this lifestyle and art (and this book) are all about.

This book is about building an inexpensive chopper or bobber. Notice that I don't use the word cheap. It's not about being stingy. It's about being able to recognize what is needed to be able to create something, not exactly because we are saving money, but because it's a lot more satisfying to be able to create something on your own, something with your hands, and to realize the endless possibilities of yourimagination. It's about being able to look around and recognize stuff, parts, or whatever it is that can be of purpose toward your final goal of building a cool bike.

In most of my builds, catalogs and high-end billet parts are avoided. We try to work with what we have, but when we do use something from a catalog, the reasoning is simple: new is new. For electronics, tires, and other such items, you are always better off with brand-spanking-new, out-of-the-box stuff. I should also add that although you might see a couple billet items on some of these bikes, it's not blasphemy. It's just that they were lying around and were used as needed.

The first rule of this book is that there are no rules. I don't mean that you should go to your local hardware store, tractor supply, auto store, antique store, etc., and buy everything you see, or rip off parts of your wife's kitchen to accomplish your build. No, that won't cut it. But if you see something that catches your eye, and you feel it will fit your bike smoothly, then go ahead and try to make it work. Remember, the key word is smoothly. I personally dislike stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb and is just there because someone wanted to put it there.

Here comes the second big word to live by: purpose. Everything should have a purpose. The bikes you will see here (and we joke about it constantly) won't run if something falls off. Everything is needed, and everything is more or less vital.

Of course, this will all be a challenge-a challenge to yourself and a test of abilities. And just because the book says something doesn't mean it's written in stone. We all have different levels of ability, and to be able to complete any of these projects you need a certain amount of how-to, welding, fabricating, cutting, and mechanical knowledge. It would be difficult to list all the skills involved, but the beauty of these bikes is that there's always someone who enjoys working with them just as much as you do. And who knows, he might have some talents that he is willing to pass on to you. I guess, in short, it's always good to have friends, mentors, and even other reference books to go to. I am self-taught in everything I use today, from the welder to the lathe. I can tell you, that is the hard and long way to do it, but sometimes you are better off. Even professional builders don't know it all, but knowing enough of as much as possible is a good start. There's no shame in calling a friend (yes, I still do) and asking him a couple questions about any certain chore.

Again, the purpose of the book is not being cheap, much less stubborn. If there's something you can't handle, let someone else do it. Riding around on your very first welds is not very safe. Make sure the guy who's doing the job is cool enough to give you pointers, or maybe a lesson. Every day that you learn something new is a worthwhile day.

I work on bikes day in and day out. I have built many bikes, and I've seen many fads fade away. I've dealt with the wide tire/super-big motor craze, and I'm still around doing what I enjoy the most. Another key word: enjoy. Sure, we build bikes to impress others (to impress girls, in my case) or because we believe they are the epitome of cool. But the real main purpose is having something that you built, and you are riding and enjoying.

As a professional bike builder (if you want to call it that), I obviously have as many tools as possible, tools for each and every job, and the knowledge of how to use them. That is a very large investment in order to build your own inexpensive bob/chop. We all know life is easier with the right tools, but don't go running to the store to fill the tool box, buying the hottest welder and plasma cutter, or you will end up with the most expensive inexpensive bike ever. Don't go crazy and try to do everything by yourself, either. Again, there's no shame in having someone do something for your bike (most of us do it). What's the sense of making your own tank if it takes you three years and you have to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment? Well, that's what this book is about-look around, find that old beat-up tank, and get to work. Use your brain. Move to the next problem, cut the tank, fabricate this and that . . . etc.

Pride is fine, but when you work within a timeframe, pride is money. I have friends who finish my gas tanks for me. Sure, I cut them up, shape them, and tack them, but then I put them in a box, send them to another shop, and let them deal with the rest. As a business owner, I am dealing with time. And by the time I am done with the tank, the electric bill, welding supplies, gas, and more time, the tank is one big expense. (And this book is all about keeping expenses down.) If I had all the time in the world, and not 11 bikes waiting to be built, then I might invest the time and money. But if those guys are experts at what they do, and the turnaround is super quick, I give them the job every single time.

I guess what I am trying to say is that there's a thin line between doing it yourself and spending way too much money and time (worse yet, a crappy tank in the trash can). And that's the way it is with every single part of the bike build.
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