TUFF Sportster 48 from Harley Heaven

"...you can pass anything on the road other than a servo."

I BOUGHT my first road bike in 2005 when I was in the Army as a Specialist Communications Operator, essentially a radio operator. It was a 1973 Harley-Davidson Sportster rigid and I’ve still got it now. It’s really the only road bike I’ve had until I bought this new one, although I’ve had the odd dirt bike.

I don’t know what it is about Sporties, it was just the first bike that I liked, they’re a reasonable price for what they are. They’re still very light — the Fat Boy’s a heavy, wide bike — and a more nimble than a lot of the others in the Harley-Davidson range. They’re a good power to weight as well… I just like them.

One of the guys at my old workplace had a Sportster 48 and I liked the tank, the fact there isn’t a lot of chrome and aluminium to clean, the whole line of the bike, the styling really. I knew from looking around that there’s lots you can get to make them look the way you want them to look.

At the moment I’m an aircraft sheet metal worker working within pretty fine tolerances, and through that I’ve met some of the guys at the Classic Jets Fighter Museum at Parafield Airport, who let us do the photos in there. Thanks, guys.

I got the bike brand new. From front to rear, I got smoked indicator lenses, Rough Craft headlight grille, Harley-Davidson drag bars, knurled Harley-Davidson grips, and Joker Machine speedo relocation and bar clamps. All the indicator lights, oil light, high beam, and all that sort of stuff are now on top of the bar clamps. There’s a DK Customs tank lift and coil relocation.

I originally had a Harley-Davidson Badlands seat on it but I kept slipping off the back: Jason from Skinners Custom Seats turned this one around in 48 hours from the minute I phoned him to talk about it to picking it up. It’s a great seat and at a great price too.

There’s lowered rear suspension, little covers and things like that from Roland Sands, Short Shot Vance & Hines pipes, custom plates, Joker Machine pegs front and rear, Screamin’ Eagle flat top pistons, Screamin’ Eagle performance heads, Screamin’ Eagle performance cams, Screamin’ Eagle computer, and custom air cleaner from Rough Craft. No eBay discount solutions.

The majority of the work was done by Harley Heaven in Adelaide. I pretty much walked in and said, “I want a brand new 48; don’t care what colour it is because I’m going to custom paint it; these are all the bits and pieces I want on it; off you go.” He would’ve loved me walking in through the door. They did the lot really.

The air cleaner that’s on at the moment, unfortunately, as much as I love it… they had a lot of problems dyno’ing it and at the moment it’s got 94.6 horsepower. I’d like to hit the 100, that was always my aim. If I could hit the 100 I’d be happy, but I doubt I’ll get all of that out of an air cleaner.

Pete from Pete’s Killer Paints in Truro did all the custom paint and airbrushing. Being ex-military and very patriotic, I always wanted some kind of military themed bike. For a while I was talking about a desert coloured bike with silhouettes of soldiers and flags and things like that, but it got too hard picking out what silhouettes I wanted on the tank and the guards, and blending the tanks and the guards all together, so I just came up with this.

I’ve always liked orange, from when I had Valiant Chargers when I was younger, and Harley-Davidson’s racing colour is generally orange, so I got Pete to do House of Kolor Tangello as the base and then he airbrushed the Aussie flag on the tank and custom made a Harley-Davidson 48 logo for the side. It’s turned out really nice.

A friend of mine got a helmet done by him a while back. His airbrushing skill is phenomenal. He’s a sign-writer by trade, not a painter, and I assume they’d know about airbrushing, but he’s taken it to the next level. He does a lot of custom bikes and custom cars and I know he’s painted whole planes in Chameleon paint.

It’s good to ride with plenty of power even with two people on. It handles really well whether you’re going for a long cruise or just a short ride down to the beach or something. The only drawback to the bike is the size of the tank; it’s a pain in the arse. I get a maximum of 110 km out of a tank — you can pass anything on the road other than a servo. Lots of people have said, “Why don’t you change it?” I like the tank. If you don’t like the tank, why buy a Sportster? If you change that you’ve got to change the whole style of the bike.

I haven’t really got any other plans in mind. I spent a lot of time prior to buying it sorting out what I wanted. This bike, in my head, probably existed for two years prior to buying it, but I lost my job and couldn’t buy it and then got a new job, got settled in and said, ‘This is what I want.’

I was lucky in the respect that I could afford to buy a brand new bike as the basis for what I wanted to build and changing the things I wanted changed. I’ve got the ’73 Sporty at home and just wasn’t too sure where to start from, while this had a clear start point. I knew what I wanted to achieve.

It’s pretty much the way I want. I’ll probably take it round a few Show and Shines and try to win a few trophies, and then at some point I will take it down the drags and run it. There’s no point in doing all this work and not enjoying it to its potential.

Photos by Chris Randells; words by Dale

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