For as long as people have owned machines, there has always been a tendency for the owners to make slight modifications and additions so that it works better for them.
Better, best and improved are subjective of course. In the motorcycle world, bikes are no strangers to having components removed or added…some for performance gains and some for aesthetic enhancements…but are they always successful and are the changes substantial enough to warranty the expense.
Yes the age old battle between want and need…and always the spectre of whether it is really worth it. In the racing world the expense can be justified if lap times can be shaved by 100ths/sec or weight is reduced thus improving power to weight ratio, thus leading to improved performance. The collection of modifications, no matter how small can be the difference between being competitive or bringing up the rear…between a podium finish and an also ran…between winning and losing.
However, for road use…these marginal gains may have no real impact apart from inside the rider’s mind. Yes of course there could be short term gains but long term these could be argued as negligible and certainly the overall expense could come under scrutiny.
Motorcycles of old were always decent but not perfect. No machine ever is. However as technology has advanced, so has the quality and performance of all motorcycles and the need to chop, change and modify has become less urgent.
In fact there is a growing army of riders who do not modify their bikes at all apart from minor aesthetic changes. Performance parts are less requested and major upgrades and overhauls are weighed up against value for money and what the real world road riding difference will be.
Sports replica bikes are so good and so fast these days, that anyone feeling the need to modify the bike for road use, should really look to themselves first of all. Before shaving weight off the bike, perhaps riders need only go on a diet. Before buying performance parts, consider if that part will make any difference to the way they are able to ride those bikes…regardless of what any motorcycle journalist might have you believe.
If we look into the cruiser world, then the gap between need and want has certainly narrowed as more of the motorcycles have improved technology, build quality and performance and handling too. The requirement to make big performance changes is less urgent but moreover there might be a greater need to modify for rider comfort. Perhaps a better seat for those tour rides or a change in handlebar height for better posture…mirror for better rear view vision…
Of course the perception that some new motorcycles from manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Indian still lack that certain modern prowess on the road and performance mods and stage upgrades are a must, however there is a growing tendency to hold off on these big changes until a few thousand miles have been munched.
Perhaps the modification is never required or the riders settle for lesser enhancements or slight additions to electrical and lighting instead…or perhaps instead of just chasing power and speed, riders are more likely to consider the overall balance of the bike before spending big in one particular direction.
Modifications don’t always work out for the better and in truth much of this is trial and error until you find the sweet spot. This process can be hard on the wallet but nonetheless can still be enjoyable and fuels further passions and invites discussions across the bar stools and around campfires.
Motorcycle manufacturers have become more inclined to make it difficult for aftermarket parts producers to create products to enhance their bikes or certainly in the performance area. Harley-Davidson made changes to the ECM on the 2021 lineup of bikes making it difficult for existing tuners to work. They have improved their overall product thus negating the need to make changes, but then mainly only recommending their own accessories as suitable for modification purposes with the threat of warranty voiding always a concern.
Perhaps this has been the biggest change in recent years. More riders getting new bikes on finance deals but never really owning the bikes. These deals are also closely tied to warranty deals too, so if any modifications are made that can void the warranty or cause damaged to the motorcycle, then this might also affect its trade in value at the end of the finance deal. If a series of modifications brings minor performance gains but the high risk of losing a warranty and costing more in depreciation, hence why there might be the tendency to avoid such thoughts…certainly until after the warranty period has expired.
Motorcycle modifications will not end anytime soon however the rush to change an stock bike to slow down and the theory that standard bikes are simple lame ducks may not hold water any longer.