This month’s cover bike (September 2012) is a perfect example of the finely crafted, high-end custom motorcycle that RoadBike used to get tons of mail about. Shoprats and gearheads would always gush about the artistic merit of such bikes, but, overwhelmingly, letter writers complained that while high-end customs are admittedly beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, the majority are nothing more than trailer queens, unattainable to most (due to the sheer cost) and unridable by anyone (unruly geometry). “Stop showing high-dollar bikes!” they implored, and for the most part, we’ve acceded. It’s been awhile since we’ve featured a custom on our cover, so just in time for Sturgis, RoadBike proudly presents a beautiful, finely crafted, one-off custom motorcycle from Low and Mean with a twist — or three. And we don’t mean the Indian Larry signature downtube kind.
First, it’s not some kind of uncontrollable beast. Yes, that’s a V-twin engine, but this is a V Star 950, the smallest “big” twin in Star’s cruiser lineup. So while it’s got the grunt you need to get up to speed — and stay there — it’s quite manageable. Most any motorcyclist could easily handle it, and that speaks not only to the affable engine, but to the reasonable geometry of the bike and its surprisingly comfortable ergonomics.
“The V Star 950 is more of an entry-level big twin, as far as size goes,” said Robert Elliott, retail sales promotion manager for Star Motorcycles. “But we wanted to show that it’s got a lot of the same features that our larger cruisers do: the metal fender, the belt drive, the air-cooled engine, the ability to accommodate larger wheels, et cetera. And a lot of these features appeal to customizers.”
Next, this custom’s not a genuine one-off. True, there’s nothing else exactly like it on the road; the paint job is definitely unique, and many of its components, like the front fender and solo saddlebag, were created exclusively for this particular project. But Chris Hagest and the crew at Low and Mean, who developed this project bike at Star’s behest, aren’t necessarily in the business of building custom motorcycles. Rather, Low and Mean makes all manner of bolt-on accessories, such as chin scoops, fenders, and air cleaners, that fit cruisers from Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Star, specializing in components that allow any metric cruiser rider with a modicum of mechanical aptitude and a decent set of tools to customize his bike himself. You can not only afford this bike — it’s free, actually, but more on that later — but you can replicate it yourself, on your own time and in your own garage: no grinding, cutting, or jury-rigging required.
“People have a lot more options for their V Star now. So it’s a win-win-win situation,” Chris says. What’s that? “Sure, Star contracted me to build a cool custom that [it gets] to give away as a promotion, so that works for [it]. And yeah, I developed parts that I now get to turn around and sell, so it’s great for us. But the person who wins most here is the cruiser rider who can now build a great-looking bike on his own, because all these bolt-on parts are available at a pretty reasonable price.”
Chris started Low and Mean because he was, like many of us, a frustrated cruiser owner. “It stemmed from me getting crappy parts that didn’t fit, and just saying ‘This sucks!’” he laughs. “I was working at Kawasaki as a development test rider” — that’s of Jet-Skis, by the way, not motorcycles; search his name on YouTube and prepare to be impressed — “and I picked up a Mean Streak at an employee sale. I wanted a different front fender and a chin scoop for it, but at that time, all I could get from the aftermarket were pipes. And the stuff I could find didn’t fit right, or was of terrible quality. So I started making my own stuff.” Today, Low and Mean just opened a 6,500-square-foot shop in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Chris has 10 employees. And Star chose him exclusively to not only develop last year’s customized Stryker giveaway, but this V Star as well. Not bad for a guy who can do a somersault on a Jet-Ski.
In addition to Low and Mean, other companies also contributed to this project. There are too many to list, but here are some examples: Ride Wright kicked down the wheels, pulley, and rotors; Platinum Air Ride donated the air suspension (plus remote); those are 13″ Burly bagger bars (made for H-D but LM-modified); Arc provided the stereo system; and the pulley cover and floorboards came straight out of the Star Accessories catalog — although the pulley cover is for a Stryker and the floorboards are for a Roadliner.
“We had less than two months to complete this thing. We were in sixth gear and twistin’!” Chris admits. “It was interactive from start to finish. I set up a live web cam so our customers could sign onto our web site and watch us work on the bike every day. And we documented the whole build on YouTube, because our customers tell us our videos really help when it comes time to do this stuff for themselves.”
And that “for the people” attitude brings us to another reason this custom bike is different than so many others. For now, it’s owned by Star, who’s taking it on the rally circuit this summer (see sidebar). Star and Low and Mean encourage you to visit the Star demo truck, check the bike out in person — and enter to win it! That’s right: until midnight on November 1, Star is accepting entries to the V Star 950 Sweepstakes. Shortly thereafter, one lucky winner will be selected at random to ride off on this beautiful custom. You don’t have to buy anything, you’re not required to sit through a sales pitch, and you don’t even have to take a test ride (although that would be your loss).
If you can’t make it to see the bike in the flesh, er, steel, you can still enter to win the bike in a number of ways: visit StarMotorcycles.com/VStar950Sweepstakes; go to LowAndMean.com and link to the entry form from there; or go old school and hand print your name, address, phone number, and send it to Star Motorcycles Custom 2012 V Star 950 Sweepstakes, 6555 Katella Ave., Cypress, CA 90630. (Note: if you’re going the snail-mail route, we recommend you first go to the Star web site, click on Official Rules, and follow Yamaha’s corporate stipulations to the letter.)
“The goal was to showcase to the customer how far the 950 could go,” Robert said. “And Chris and Low and Mean understood that, as far as bringing this vision to life — they did all this without cutting the bike or modifying the frame; they never even picked up the torch. It’s incredible.” And it could be all yours. RB
Story Jon Langston, Photos by Tom Riles, Brian Clearcy
Story as published in the September issue of RoadBike.