Hand-Made Harley-Davidson Sportster Glide

“Now I know all the haters out there are going to hate the fact that I built a Sportster to look like a Dyna…” said Chris.

I HAD spent most of my life working on cray fishing boats from the age of 14. Never learnt how to weld, how to be a boilermaker, electrician, although I know the basics from having a go every now and then but never good enough to be at quality or show condition. That does not mean I don’t know what I want and how I want things to look. I am more of an idea’s man. I know what I want, I know what goes well together and I can design on paper.

In the small town where I grew up and live as far back as a kid, I fell in love with Harley-Davidson motorcycles and dreamt that one day I would have one. I even knew I wanted to get one made to suit me. I had a friend whose brother used to weld up Harley chopper frames way back in the 1970s and he even made me a chopper front-end for my dragster so I grew up liking them.

It was not until 2001, I brought my first Harley-Davidson FXDX Dyna Super Sport, and I loved it. But by 2010 I had lost everything due to the financial recession Australia had. I lost my house and the Harley-Davidson. I was left with just enough money to buy a cheap 1984 van and turn it into a campervan — I did that myself because I am good with wood — and set up my son in Melbourne.

I also had enough money to buy a 1987 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883, and although it was a bit crappy and took me a while to get it up and running, it was still a Harley.

Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883
The original 1987 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883

I still had a ball and chain of a $20,000 loan left over from the house but by 2012 I had that paid off and decided to reward myself by customising my old Sportster. Financially, I was able to have the attitude of “no expense spared” because I lived in the campervan paying no rent, no power bills, just a bit of gas and food money was needed.

 My Sportster was the subject of a four-year custom build and that’s including six months of ironing things out. I did not start until I was able to get the Custom Cycle Controls (hidden hand controls) from the States (I was able to get the only black anodised set to come to Australia at the time). They suggested I get a set of Burleigh Bars because they cut them to fit the Custom Cycle Controls. I went for the one-and-a-half-inch Roller Bars. Realising they were for a hydraulic set-up caused a problem —  they had stopped making the slave cylinder for the Sportsters. There were plenty of slave cylinders on the market for dirt bikes and other bikes but I needed one with a 12 to 13 mil piston to match the piston in the master cylinder and one small enough to not be overpowering on the eye. While I was figuring out a way to get past that, I decided to continue regardless. A year and a half later, a friend of mine made one for me out of an air-actuator. I have not yet seen any other Sportsters with a hydraulic clutch system.

I stripped and rebuilt the bike, replacing every part down to the nuts and bolts and a 100 percent rewiring. The only original part is the frame (with the head-stem lock ground off to fit a Wide Glide, hidden-axle-nut front-end).

The engine was worked to 1100 cc with a mild cam, Crane ignition system, and I got the flywheel balanced.

I drew up the design for the the rear fender struts then took it to a laser-cutter who cut the shape out, then to the engineer to bend it into shape, and then that took me a while to file and sandpaper it to be chrome-plated.

The front guard was a wraparound (Klock Works Slicer Tire Hugger) so I was able to cut it into the shape I wanted.

The spacers between the the front forks and the guard, I also drew up and took it to the laser-cutter to cut the shape out and to the engineer to be grounded to the right thickness, then again filed and sanded to be chrome-plated.

After searching a while I found a set of forward controls with the master cylinder at the foot pedal that also had to be modified to be not so far forward. That gave me a bulky naked sprocket cover because I did away with the rear brake master cylinder that used to bolt on the side of it. So again the engineer ground it off and welded up the holes.

I got a chrome sprocket with an extra tooth; the rear sprocket has two teeth less than the original; it makes me have to ride the clutch when taking off in first gear.

Renegade Phantom cut 17 by 3.5 wheels front and back with matching sprocket and rotors.

I decided to go with the Arlen Ness Deep Cut air cleaner and foot and shifter pegs to add another theme that matched the top of the rear shockers.

I wanted twin headlights but not the ones that you see on bikes that are a one piece design. I hunted for a smaller headlight but brought two instead and got a plate made for them to bolt on to rather then drill holes in the lower triple tree.

If ever I was told I could not do it or get whatever part made, just made me more determined to get it done. The air cleaner, for example — the plate that it is bolted to had to be made from scratch so my shin bone would not hit it, along with all the existing hardware like breather bolts and the outer casing, holes drilled to coincide with the holes drilled in the backing plate, holes drilled in the heads, as well as fitting the non-original Mikuni carby.

Now I know all the haters out there are going to hate the fact that I built a Sportster to look like a Dyna instead of some kind of bobber — but it’s my kind of thing…

Photographed by David Stafford: Portland Studios; words by Chris Sheba

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