This article was originally published in the June 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.
From a philosophical point of view you could argue that the Honda VTX is the quintessential American motorcycle—if you overlook its birthplace. After all, it’s big, it’s bold and it’s a V-twin. It’s also the perfect fodder for customizers who think along those same lines.
John Fortuna, the owner of Competition Design, a shop that specializes in the design and manufacture of “one-off” custom motorcycle parts, is just that kind of guy. When he decided to build a bike that showcased his shop’s talents and abilities, he sat down and thought long and hard before picking up a wrench. The last thing in the world he wanted to create was another “billet bike.” His custom had to be a rolling calling card as well as a catalog for his shop, and to do that effectively, it had to be a real head-turner. After many long hours and sleepless nights he had a vision of what he wanted to achieve. Nine months later, that vision was a reality.
Fortuna began by stripping the mighty VTX to its bare frame. Once the component parts were removed, the frame was structurally detailed before being shipped to the painter. While the geometry was left untouched, some judicious grinding removed a few unnecessary brackets and unsightly lumps.
Since the stock VTX mill makes enough juice to keep Tropicana in business, it was decided that stock, at least in this case, was trick enough. The only nonstandard part installed under the OEM cases was a Barnett clutch. Externally, the engine received a few minor tweaks. First, John carved up a sweet air filter assembly, and since what flows in must also flow out, a set of Vance & Hines Big Shots were installed. To ensure accurate fuel metering, a Power Commander III was plugged in.
With the simple stuff out of the way, Mr. Fortuna started to get serious. First came the easy pieces (relatively easy anyway). The front turn signals were incorporated into a bar mounted under the triple clamps. New handlebar risers, handlebar clamps and an instrument housing that relocated the stock speedometer and accessory tach to the handlebar were fabricated. Front and rear master cylinder covers were milled out, as were a set of forward controls, a right engine cover and a bunch of little items like front master cylinder clamps and the stylish side mount license plate bracket. All of these parts were designed and fabricated at Fortuna’s own shop.
At this point the tool bits were just starting to warm up, so John decided to turn out a new, one-of-a-kind front master cylinder. While he was at it he re-machined the front calipers to give them a distinctive, fresh look. While John was busy wearing out the cutting tools of his milling machine, he sent a bunch of parts to his buddies at Chromemasters down in Nashville, Tennessee for a swim in their plating tank. The shiny stuff was applied to the fork tubes, triple clamp assembly, radiator covers, swingarm, final drive housing and just about everything else on the bike that wasn’t polished or painted.
By this point lots of owners would have been satisfied. There was plenty of eye candy and some very trick custom parts—all the bike really needed was some assembly work and a stand-out paint job. But before the paint could be mixed, let alone sprayed, Fortuna wanted to add just a few finishing touches. First he whacked a few inches off the front fender, cleaning up the front end considerably. Next the rear fender went for a ride on the band saw where it was chopped and rounded.
Then came the hard part: John didn’t want any rear lights to clutter up the flowing lines he’d created. Sure, he could have hung a set of mini signals in the fender rails. Lots of guys do just that, but Fortuna didn’t want any part of what “lots of guys do.” Besides, he still would have needed to mount his taillight, and trust me, slinging it from the license plate bracket like some dime store chopper wasn’t an option. Instead, John had custom lights manufactured that he flush-mounted in the fender, a neat trick indeed. The fuel tank was next in line for some radical surgery. The stock dash panel was removed and the idiot lights incorporated into the custom speedometer/tachometer mount. The filler neck was then moved forward and the fuel tank edge rolled and filled.
Since there is never much point in reinventing the wheel, John did outsource some of his parts. RC Components supplied a set of rims and rotors, while the rear suspenders—from Progressive Suspension —lowered the bike an inch out back. All the rubber hoses were replaced with stainless steel, as were all the brake lines and throttle cables. Stainless hardware replaced all of the OEM stuff where possible. To further clean up the already sanitary front end, all the wiring was run through the handlebars. Since you need to know where you’ve been before you can get where you’re going, John plucked a pair of mirrors from the Küryakyn catalog.
House of Kolor supplied the marbleizing paint, and Wiz from Arrow Art of Grand Rapids, Michigan laid it on, along with the tribal graphics. It’s a stunning look, but what might not be so obvious is the way the color and graphics were used to disguise the rear lights when they aren’t being used. A very nice touch and one that’s easy to overlook until you see the lights in action.
Fortuna named his custom VTX “Blurred Vision” for two reasons. The first, he says, is because he was so impressed with the power of the VTX—anyone who’s ridden one can certainly relate to that. His second reason is less clear. Fortuna says the VTX blurred his vision because it offered endless possibilities for customization. It was a mind bender. But after looking at literally thousands of custom bikes, I’d have to say that most of them lack the coherency of design evident in this Honda. That’s because the builders tend not to have a clear concept of what they want to accomplish before starting out.
John Fortuna had a tangible idea of what he wanted and the end result is a bike that is visually interesting, exceedingly well built, and best of all, has a distinct theme. Judging by the finished results, I’d have to say that his vision was crystal clear all along.