Spider Harley-Davidson Sportster

Steve really had his spider sense tingling when he customised his classy XLS 1200 cc Sportster.

I GREW up in a town called Lurgan in Northern Ireland, a place with good people and bad weather. I came to Australia 26 years ago but when I went back to Lurgan for the first time in 12 years, people were still talking about me flying around on my little 50 cc SS Honda. I had made a café racer seat and full faring and painted it in the John Player Special black and gold.

Motorcycles were always part of life. The day my partner went into labor with our second boy I was over the other side of Sydney with my eldest son picking up parts for my Honda XR250. We got to the hospital with just minutes before she give birth. 

We moved up to Brisbane just six weeks after our third boy was born — no family, friends or jobs but no guts, no glory. We were going along very well and loving Brisbane when, after eight years as a service technician with the same company, I applied and was successful in getting a new job. With just three days left before starting my new career, I had a service run up to Kingaroy, and on my home my life changed forever. I woke up very confused with a broken windscreen, a bloody nose and upside down. A lady came up beside the driver’s door and held my hand; she told me I had been in a car accident and not to worry.

It took 90 minutes for the emergency services to cut me from the ute. I was put into a helicopter and flown to Nambour hospital. Seven days after I was placed into an induced coma, I found myself in the ICU ward. My L5 vertebrae had been crushed, sternum split into two halves, lost my spleen, my pancreas was severed, my lung had collapsed, the ulnar nerve was damaged, and I had bruising from the left foot up to my heart. I didn’t know it at the time but the worst was still to come; nonetheless, the care I received from everyone involved with my care has been world-class, and to each and every one of them, I will always be forever grateful.

I have had nine operations to date but depression was more painful than all my physical injuries. When people can’t see your pain, they can’t help; and when you don’t know why you feel the way you do, it’s hard to ask for help.

The two great loves throughout my life, motorcycles and dogs, and the love from my partner Kate and our sons, helped me get to where I am today.

This XLS 1200 cc Sportster is the first Harley-Davidson I ever rode. I had a smile on my face when I got off it and the smile has stayed on my face from that day.

I have given a name to the last three bikes I built; the Harley-Davidson Sportster is called Spider to reflect the theme of the Red Back Spider. Around the time I bought Spider I had just clocked up 26 years in Australia, a year longer than I had spent in Northern Ireland, so I wanted something unique to Australia and a spider that would bite your arse in a dunny was pretty Ozzie.

I had customised four bikes, one after each other, and was forever having trouble finding parts; so over the three or four years of searching various shops I got to know a few people. I had asked Shane from Heavy Duty Motorcycles if he came across a wrecked Harley would he give me a call. Well, he did give me a call, and the Sporty wasn’t a wreck, but was perfect for my next build.

I did all the work on the bike myself at home. The bike was stripped down with only the engine still attached to the frame. The engine was cleaned then sprayed H-D textured black.

All fluids removed so oil lines could be replaced in custom brass and the bolts could be replaced or polished. Brake/spark plug lines recovered in black. Both fenders reshaped into web type shapes. Back light, indicators, horn, mirrors, handgrips fuel cap, and tank badges were replaced. Forward controls fitted; all pegs replaced with the same Zombie badging on pegs, mirrors, fuel cap and trimmings.

Wheels were sand-blasted and hand-painted into a web; white wall tyres fitted. Brake pads, brake rotors replaced and new H-D badging fitted. Front fairing fitted and one-off decals made for the bike. Brass inserts were handcrafted for the air filter, oil gauge and exhaust; exhaust heat wrapped and brass heat shields fitted.

The rear shocks replaced to make the ride better for my back; brown leather tool bags fitted front and side. The engine covers where hand-engraved by myself to reflect the spider theme.

The seat was custom-made with red web on black leather and the Red Back Spider on red leather. I designed the web and spider then brought it to a guy in the local shopping centre to get embroidered. This was an expensive way to make the seat but you will never see another one like it.

When I first painted some parts, the black cured different to the red giving the bike a sense of the web coming through the paint. I had to repaint the fuel tank just black so as not to damage the decals.

Future plans for the bike? I have just started to hand-make brass washers and I’d like to replace the red painted webbing with brass round bar. I would like to replace the front forks with a springer front-end. I find I rethink different things for the bike after every motorcycle show I attend; I get some great feedback from people but Spider will always be a work-in-process.

I would like to thank Shane from Heavy Duty Motorcycles for the bike; and Harry from Harry’s Custom Bikework for all the cool brass parts and his opinions.

Pics by Jo; words by Steve Campbell

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