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Frank Gray

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Mark Fiedler sits on his custom-built chopper Monday morning. Fielder invested $20,000 and a year and a half building the motorcycle, but he has run into problems getting a title that doesn’t classify it as rebuilt.

Custom-built, not rebuilt

Motorcyclist runs into red tape trying to title chopper

Mark Fiedler got his first motorcycle, a Kawasaki dirt bike, about 15 years ago, but he’s getting older now and he’s looking for something a little more comfortable – and unique.

So he set out to build his own custom motorcycle.

That, whether you know it or not, is a time-consuming and expensive proposition.

Fiedler, 39, a machinist by trade, bought what he called a straight-up chopper frame from a licensed frame builder in Florida. The frame, he points out, has an MSO number – that stands for manufacturer’s statement of origin.

He picked out the kind of engine he wanted, and the transmission. He had to fabricate some of the body parts himself.

After a year and a half and about $20,000, he had a completed motorcycle with a candy tangerine paint job, all kinds of chrome and lots of custom made pieces.

“Nobody else has that style,” Fiedler said. “It’s unique. I just wanted a cruiser, the kind of thing that would turn heads.”

In a way, despite all the time and money he put into the bike, Fiedler got a bargain of sorts. Big Dog, a motorcycle maker, would charge $25,000 for a bike like his, he said, and some other makers might charge up to $60,000.

“It’s cheaper to build it yourself,” he said.

Then it came time to register and title the vehicle. That involves getting a packet of information from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, having the police come and inspect your paperwork and make sure the serial numbers on the frame, engine and transmission all match the paperwork. Then you mail it all back to the BMV and it assigns the bike a vehicle identification number, which is then riveted to the frame.

Eventually, the owner gets a title to the bike.

Fiedler, though, ran into a problem that he didn’t expect.

Indiana, he says, offers three different types of titles. One is for a junk vehicle. One is for a rebuilt vehicle – think an old car turned into a hot rod, with different parts all around. The other is called a clear title.

Fiedler’s new custom built bike was given a rebuilt title. But his bike isn’t a rebuild, he says. It’s all brand-new.

Ordinarily one might ask, what’s the difference? The bike has a huge engine and a big rear wheel and it runs and will turn heads.

The problem with a rebuilt title, Fiedler says, is that that could make it hard to get financing for the bike (Fiedler says someday he’ll sell it) and it can make it difficult to get insurance.

Other states have specialty built titles but not Indiana.

I spoke to Dennis Rosebrough with the BMV, and he says that if Fiedler can produce receipts for the new parts he bought to build his custom motorcycle, he will be able to get what is called a reconstructed title for the motorcycle. The key is keeping the receipts.

Fiedler says he sent in receipts for all his parts and was charged sales tax for them. But on his trip to the license branch he was told a rebuilt title was all that was available.

Fiedler has copies of his receipts for the frame, engine, transmission and that. He could make one more trip to the license branch and insist on a reconstructed title, but that’s no different from a rebuilt title, he says.

What Indiana needs, he says, is a custom-built title.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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