Hand-Shiftin’ Hooligan on Harley-Davidson Sportster

"...I just think hand shifting a motorcycle is one of the coolest-looking things you can do.”

CHARLIE CAME from Kansas and lobbed into Australia complete with a fair degree of metalworking skill. It was the old story: Yank meets Oz girl, falls in lurve and follows her back to Oz.

“Mary didn’t like Kansas,” Charlie explained. “It’s flat and dry, a lot like Ayers Rock, only without the rock, so it was an easy decision to move to Oz.”

He wasted no time buying a Harley, a second-hand Sporty from Action Motorcycles in Sydney.

“I started customising it, buying the occasional bolt-on pretty bit from MCA. I was staying in regular phone contact with a mate back in Kansas—his name is Kelly—we talk bikes. It was just after I bought the teardrop aircleaner cover that Kelly said: ‘Man, if you bolt on just one more bolt-on part, you’ll lose your bike in the carpark amongst all the other bolt-on Sporties!’ That was enough for me—I went out to the garage and started raking the frame.”

Charlie already had a set of 6-inch-over legs. He made a wooden jig to hold the bike upright, set it at the correct height and placed the front wheel with just enough attitude. Without further ado, he ripped and tore into the frame in the time-honoured manner—the neck was cut most of the way through then heated, the bike was pushed downwards and when it all looked well, Charlie stitched up the incision with his faithful oxy welding torch.

“I was happy with the way it panned out,” said Charlie. “It rides real nice and looks right.”

As mentioned, that’s about where the bike stood when Ozbike first spied it—pipes and rake and a bog stock paint job. But seeing how Charlie lives just around the corner from the author’s workshop, we get a week-by-week, blow-by-blow description of Charlie’s customising as he whizzes past with yet another custom fitment.

“Oh look—there goes Charlie and he’s polished the fork sliders and made up a custom alloy fork brace—swe-e-e-e-et!”

“Oh wow—there he goes again and he’s fitted the sexy red metalflake LePera seat from Wasko’s Bobber Trumpy project—ni-i-i-i-ce!”

“Hey look—now he’s fitted white wall tyres—Ugh! Ah well, somebody other than Charlie is bound to like ’em.”

Then one Sunday Charlie dropped around to the workshop and ratted through the brass fittings bin.

“I need something that fits over this,” he implored, offering up what looked suspiciously like a very short Sportster clutch cable. “This’ll do it,” he shouted as he dashed off holding aloft a small bong cone, probably the last earthly possession of a long-dead, drug-dealer.

A few hours later, Charlie returned to show off his latest handiwork—a hand-shiftin’, suicide clutchin’, stock paint job Sporty.

“I know it’s not really a performance improvement,” he admits, “and I definitely know it doesn’t make it any easier to ride, but I just think hand shifting a motorcycle is one of the coolest-looking things you can do.”

And so it goes on. When we promised to rack up a few shots and scribble some words, Charlie would say: “I’ve just got to fit the new this or polish another that,” so the foot came down and the pics were taken. Two days later, the bike looked nothing like what you see here as he’s changed it again.

And that leaves the big question: Fer Chrissakes, Charlie—when are you going to put some custom paint on it?

“One day,” came the reply. “One day, or maybe I might leave it like that…”

Harley-Davidson Sportster

words & pics by Kelly Ashton

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