It’s that time of year again! And once again, it’s been a year we’re glad to see the back of. The pandemic didn’t seem to put a dent in the custom scene, though: for every larger workshop experiencing a slowdown, there seemed to be an amateur builder taking up the tools.
This list is a purely data-driven exposé of the most popular bikes of 2021. It’s calculated via our website stats, with a focus on page views and social engagement—which went through the roof this year.
There were some big surprises for us when crunching numbers for this list, and a couple of bikes are very different in style to our usual big hits. Two electric machines made the cut; we average around one EV bike profile a month these days, so interest is obviously rising there.
Enjoy the selection, let us know if you’re surprised too, and happy holidays.
10. CT Newman’s turbo Harley It’s been a good year for Harley-Davidson on Bike EXIF, with no less than three bikes in our annual Top 10. The first is Christian Newman’s scratch-built turbocharged chopper: it’s far from our usual fare, but readers lapped it up.
During the day Newman is a mechanical engineer, and he poured all his skills into this machine. Power comes from a 1939 Flathead motor, but it’s been modified almost beyond recognition.
The most visible mod is the pair of Garrett GT1241 turbos, plumbed in with a multitude of hand-made stainless steel pipes. Newman crafted the single loop hardtail frame and springer front end out of stainless steel too, but called in help from Sosa Metalworks for the bodywork.
The Harley was one of the stars of this year’s Born Free show in California. Given that it was a hit for our readers too, maybe we should feature more builds like this in the future? [More]
9. S&S Death Tracker If anyone knows how to build a high performance V-twin, it’s S&S. The company is at the forefront of the Harley aftermarket scene, and the first port of call for many owners wanting to give their hog a bit more get-up-and-go.
‘Death Tracker’ started as a dilapidated 1996 Sportster 883 lying under a tarp. It’s now powered by a 100ci (1600cc) monster of an engine, the S&S SB100. The nickel-plated frame is hooked up to Öhlins suspension, running the same geometry as Indian’s racing flat track bikes, and there’s an adjustable swingarm to help get the power to the ground.
If you’re in the US, keep an eye out for this stunning machine on the show circuit next year, including Daytona and Sturgis. Otherwise, you’ll have to make do with the mighty fine build story and photoset here.
8. Hazan Velocette Most customs offer quick visual hits, but a handful bear close and sustained inspection. This is one of those bikes you could easily spend an hour poring over if you saw it in the metal—and not surprisingly, it comes from the preternaturally talented Max Hazan.
Virtually every part is custom-made, aside from the pair of restored post-war Velocette MAC motors. The 349 cc air-cooled singles are linked together via an arrangement of belts and pulleys, which also happen to drive an Eaton TVS R410 supercharger.
The level of engineering sophistication is off the scale, from the suspension to intricacies such as the way the crank breathing system feels oil into the custom frame.
“I like to come up with new ideas on each project,” Max told us at the time. “They usually have something unique… but this bike was wild from front to back.” Indeed—and our readers went wild for it too. [More]
7. DAB Concept-E It’s very tricky to design an electric bike with strong performance and good looks, but Simon Dabadie and the crew at DAB Motors have succeeded. The Basque workshop wowed our readers with the ‘Concept-E,’ which is a template for future production runs.
It’s a lightweight urban commuter with a 10kW motor and a 51V Li-ion battery. The riding position resembles supermoto ergonomics for maximum maneuverability around tight city streets, and the components are distinctly high end—coming from brands such as Öhlins, Beringer, Pirelli, Excel and Rizoma.
The level of detailing is worthy of a factory production bike, and the styling is right on the mark for us. We’re hoping this particular custom makes it into full production, and if it does, we reckon it’ll be a hit. [More]
6. Purpose Built Moto Honda CBX1000 It wasn’t a surprise to find this machine in the Top 10: muscle bikes are always popular. And there’s a lot of love for Honda’s late-70s CBX1000 out there: a CBX build made it onto last year’s list too.
Purpose Built Moto did an incredible job of dragging this one into the 21st century. The 1981-spec CBX was torn down and thoroughly overhauled before being upgraded with Suzuki Hayabusa forks, plus an Aprilia RSV4 swingarm to accommodate modern wheels and tires.
The mighty six-pot engine has been treated to a bank of new Keihin FCR carbs and six new mufflers on a shortened exhaust system, and now measures a solid hundred horsepower at the rear wheel on the dyno. A new subframe and tail unit help reduce the weight, which has dropped down to a whisker over 500 pounds. [More]
5. BMW C400X by NMoto Scooters, mopeds and compact retro oddities often do well on Bike EXIF. They’re not the bikes that most of our readers aspire to, but everyone has a soft spot for a pocket rocket.
The C400X is a mid-size scoot with somewhat polarizing styling, like many of its ilk. But the Miami-based company NMoto has developed a stunning body kit that harks back to the golden age of Art Deco.
The carbon fiber bodywork incorporates the traditional BMW ‘kidney grille’ and since it’s so light, top speed is an invigorating 90 mph (144 kph). The lean angle is respectable too at 35 degrees, which should make u-turns on tight city streets a breeze.
Nmoto are planning a run of 100 kits, which are being manufactured by development partner Zillers Garage. And although the looks of the C400X are radically transformed, there’s no impact on functionality. Everything on this high-tech scooter still works as it should.
If you’re in Europe, there’s no problem getting a C400X to use for your build. But if you’re in the US, you’ll need to snap one up on the secondhand market, because BMW only sells the C400GT model now. And judging by the response of readers to our profile of the bike, you won’t be the only person looking. [More]
4. deBolex DB25 I’m sure most folks have a mental list of the bikes they’d buy if they won the lottery. Near the top of my list would be a machine from the English builders Calum Pryce-Tidd and Des Francis, and it looks like I’m not alone.
Most custom builds are flights of fancy—and I don’t mean that in a bad way—but some bikes focus on improving on the original via clever engineering and aesthetic upgrades. That’s the territory that deBolex Engineering occupies, and they nailed it with the DB25.
The name comes from the planned run of 25 limited-production machines, all based on the 147 hp previous generation Ducati Monster 1200. The builds can be tweaked to customer spec, but the core vitals remain the same.
It took 18 months of planning and development to start this run, but that’s simply an indication of the care and skill that deBolex put into their creations. These are not the kind of machines that will pop up on eBay in a couple of years at a bargain basement price.
The donor Ducatis are fitted with over a hundred new components, including carbon fiber bodywork, polymer fuel cells and aluminum subframes. You can spec the suspension according to your wishes (and budget), but goodies like forged aluminum Dymag rims come as standard.
If there was ever a two-wheeled equivalent of a Singer Porsche, this is it. [More]
3. Moto Adonis’ Harley-Davidson Livewire A change of ownership is often the kiss of death for a custom workshop. But the Dutch shop Moto Adonis hardly skipped a beat when founder Daan Borsje handed the keys over to employees Arthur Renkema and Job Leussink.
The client brief for this LiveWire was to build something futuristic and black, and Arthur and Job delivered spectacularly.
The armadillo-like bodywork was crafted with the help of a local auto restoration shop, and despite pursuing his other business interests, Daan found time to help out with the design.
The new aluminum bodywork is mounted onto a new steel subframe, and the instruments and ancilliaries have been repositioned without losing any functionality.
The incendiary performance of the factory LiveWire is unaffected, which makes this one of the fastest customs we’ve every shown: it’ll hit 100 kph in around three seconds, which is superbike territory.
Some of our commenters were perplexed or downright outraged, but social media fans gave the LiveWire a big tick—with over 25,000 likes on Facebook alone. As Oscar Wilde would say, nothing succeeds like excess. [More]
2. ‘HonDeath’ Unlike most bikes on this list, ‘HonDeath’ is resolutely old school: created by an amateur builder, and cobbled together using parts from unlikely sources.
The starting point was a Honda CL350, but the mild-manner parallel twin has been swapped out for a 100 hp tuned two-stroke engine from a Yamaha Banshee ATV.
Builder Andrew Cecere is a Jaguar Land Rover technician from California, and he knows his way around fabrication as well as engine building—thanks to a previous career as an aircraft mechanic.
The engine is a relative of the RD350 mill, but Andrew has uprated it with a ‘stroker’ crank and bigger cylinders, and treated it to CPI Racing drag pipes.
The frame took some modification before accepting the new motor, and the tank is from an older CB350 Super Sport, but the drum brakes are stock. It should make for an interesting ride, and it got Google (and our readers) interested too. [More]
1. Zillers R18 The annual list tends to feature a lot of ‘extreme’ builds, and this year was no exception. Although technical and craft skills tend to get overlooked, builders who push the visual envelope are rewarded. Fortunately this R18 from Moscow-based Zillers Garage scores highly on both points.
Zillers has history with wild BMW builds: their slammed R nineT made it onto the cover of the 2021 Bike EXIF calendar, and was the third most popular bike on the site last year.
Like that bike, this R18 was commissioned by BMW Motorrad Russia and sports air suspension. but it was even more popular. Our Facebook post featuring the bike reached over 680,000 people alone, and was shared over 2,000 times. As the news spread far and wide, the flow of traffic turned into a torrent, and lifted the R18 to the #1 spot.
That’s got to be good for Zillers’ sales of the R18 kit, which are handled by Nmoto. The cost is around $45,000—but who can put a price on owning the popular custom bike in the world?
EDITOR’S NOTE It’s always an enjoyable exercise collating the bikes for the annual Top Ten, until it comes to those that just missed the cut. The lower end of the list was bunched up very tightly this year, and the machines that missed by a whisker included the Sabotage Yamaha DT175, the Kingston BMW R18, Rajputana’s KTM Duke and a personal favorite, the LiveWire by by JvB-moto.
Finally, we’d like to offer thanks to the builders and photographers who inspire us with their work, and to the advertisers who keep the servers ticking over. We’ll touch base again in a few days, when editor Wes will reveal his personal choices for 2021 (and never mind the data).