My top eight reference books for motorcycle customizers (plus 3 bonus titles!)


Books for planning a custom motorcycle build

If you’re looking for the ultimate custom motorcycle builder’s reference books, here are my favorites.

These are useful at various stages of your custom motorcycle build, so check out the list and see which ones meet your needs right now.

If you need a higher level view of building a project bike, check out Can I build a custom motorcycle?

If you like what you see here, you can download a PDF version of this article for your own reference. Look for the download form at the bottom of the page!

Fitting and Machining – Ron Culley

Fitting and Machining book

Definitely the most used reference book in the workshop.  

I bought mine for shop classes we took when I was studying mechanical engineering in the early 1990s. It is written and published in Australia, and its intended audience is metalworking students.

It explains concepts clearly, with drawings on virtually every page.

I love this book. Covers both hand and machine tools and associated metalworking processes.

Large format, hardcover, 640 pages.  Its a massive tome and the learnings inside are a bargain at the asking price.

Incredibly this is one of the few books you can’t find on Amazon.  It is definitely available new through a few Australian retailers (such as here, here, here and a detailed index is here).  

You might find one used via eBay from an Australian seller.

Highly recommended if you are starting out in metalworking for your motorcycle.

No ISBN is printed on mine.

Panel Beating and Body Repairing – Donald Wait

Panel Beating & Body Repairing book
Another piece of Australian trade-training gold, and out-of-print as far as I can tell. Recommended in various online locations, so I bought this copy used on eBay.

Full of useful explanations of hand tools and processes to repair and shape panels (from the days where this was a highly regarded skill). If you haven’t got access to a mentor to teach you these skills, you can pick up the basics from a book like this.

You’ll have to scour the Australian eBay site to locate a copy.  Mine, pictured here, is the sixth edition, which I believe is the last. The ISBN is 0 7254  0407 8 if you’re hunting it down.

Sheet Metal Handbook – Ron Fournier

Sheet Metal Handbook by Ron Fournier
This one you can find on Amazon, and I really like the explanations of marking out, templates, and the use of basic hand tools to learn the fundamental skills.  

Ron Fournier was a legend in the metalshaping community and passed in 2017.  If you live anywhere near Mt Clemens, Michigan, don’t bother buying this book.  His cousin Jeff still operates his family business Fournier Enterprises and runs courses for aspiring metalshapers.

Welding Manual – Haynes Techbook

Haynes Welding Manual book
I can’t remember where or why I bought this book, but it is extremely well written, explains concepts clearly, and I found I referred to it constantly while I was teaching myself to weld.  
Again, if you can go to a school to learn how to weld, then don’t buy this book.  Otherwise, check it out. Available from Amazon.

Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design – Tony Foale

Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design book

Tony Foale is (in my opinion) a legend in the field of chassis design. He seems to have been working on making bikes handle since before most of us were born.

There are lots of free articles on his website and these prompted me to buy his book many years ago.

HOWEVER! Be warned! This book is very heavy on engineering math. Its an incredibly interesting read, but its better if you understand the math.

On top of that, its quite expensive (link to Amazon), but, I would consider it essential if you are interested in building your own frame.  

Mine is the 2002 edition, the one shown on Tony’s website is the later edition.

Motorcycle Tuning – Chassis – John Robinson

Motorcycle Tuning - Chassis book
This is a great book for the racers, as the focus really is making motorcycles go fast around corners.  

If you have a racebike, or are building one, I’d recommend you add it to your collection. You can get it on Amazon.

Motorcycle Fuel Systems Techbook – John Robinson

Fuel Systems Techbook
Having found the Haynes Welding Manual so good, I felt comfortable buying their Fuel Systems Techbook, and I’m glad I did.

Super detailed explanations of the components and their functions in motorcycle fuel systems.  If you are fiddling with carburettors on your motorcycle, then its worth a look.  

Again, if you can find a school to teach you this material, then skip the book.  

Otherwise, a very useful reference, especially if you are working on a bunch of different bikes and need to learn about different fuel systems.  Available from Amazon.

Motorcycle Electrical Techbook – Tony Tranter

The tagline says “Motorcycle electrical systems made easy“. That might be optimistic!

This one is pretty heavy on detail and technical explanations.  It also covers early model electrical systems AND a lot of later-model systems (which may be of no interest to the average customiser who is chopping up an older bike).  

Since the target audience is motorcycle technicians it probably hits the mark.

I would definitely consider it an asset to my shop library, but my engineering training included a couple of years of electrical/electronics so I found it a great refresher.  Without some high school maths/physics/chemistry (at least), the descriptions might be tough to follow.

I’d still consider it an essential reference, since any custom bike will require some electrical modification. Heaps of condensed info for a relatively small outlay.

Get it here on Amazon.

Other useful additions:

Based on my experience with the Haynes Techbooks listed above, I would have no hesitation in recommending the rest of the series.  

If you bought these, you would have a solid set of reference material to help your custom motorcycle project.

Motorcycle Basics Techbook – John Haynes

All common engine, chassis and electrical systems fully explained and illustrated. Topics covered include engine cycles and layouts, carburettors and fuel injection, ignition systems, clutches, gearbox, engine lubrication and cooling, wheels, tires, braking systems, suspension, steering, handling, design and electrical systems.

Get it here on Amazon.

Motorcycle Workshop Practice Manual – John Haynes

Essential information on how to use tools, fabricate components from metal and plastic, and tackle common motorcycle repairs.

Get it here on Amazon.

Motorcycle Maintenance Techbook – John Haynes

  • Aimed at the DIY mechanic and students embarking on courses in motorcycle engineering
  • Service tasks are described in detail and illustrated with over 900 color photographs
  • Information on how to build up a toolkit and keep service records

Get it here on Amazon.

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About the author 

Matt McLeod

I teach people how to build custom motorcycles by helping them build skills and confidence with my coaching, articles and training videos.
I provide better technical information for custom motorcycle builders. And I shorten the learning curve getting you there.

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