There are some cool machines in this joint. What brought me to Dave is a shared love of archaic high-performance; a casual glance will show you that the future flat tracker on the stand at the right is not so different from the choppers on the other stands. Coincidence? I don't think so.
It was a omen of things to come when the chin fairing caught on the ramp and was ripped off.
Once firmly attached to the work stand, you and I both know that the beach bars were the first thing to go.
Without even stopping to take a breath, Dave had whipped the old bars off and cut the wiring harness. Apparently, on the new, simpler Sportster, handlebar switches are not an option.
However, urethane riser bushings are fantastic, so along with their chrome washers, Dave secured them in place with zip-ties.
The next thing to go were the exhaust pipes, along their bulky stock bracket, which is good, as the chain sometimes rubbed on it at proper tension.
The plain-jane aftermarket exhaust (chosen purely to clear the forward controls) was replaced by this cool handmade pipe, originally for a Big Twin project. It would need to be shortened through the midsection, and given a mount off the rear of the frame, but it was cool and very doable.
With the new high pipe in place, the old forward controls stuck out like a sore thumb, so they were jettisoned.
They were replaced with these cool Misumi Engineering mid controls (imported by Todd's Cycle). Bolting right to the primary and cam covers, they are way cleaner than the ones previously on the bike, and have a trick "turnbuckle" adjuster that allows for serious adjustment without having to remove any parts.
On the Primary side, the mounting points are the three missing bolts seen here.
The mounting points are three machined receivers with studs to hold the primary on one side, a 12mm hex facing in the middle, and a receiver for the Allen bolt that mounts the control bracket.
Be sure to use the washers provided in the kit between the receiver and the primary, as the spacing is super tight.
Here's the peg and shifter mount attached. Next, we hooked up the shifter.
Since the shifter peg has threads machined into it, you have to start the countersunk linkage bolt into it while fitting up the linkage.
To get the spacing correct, you have to set the tranny side of the linkage to the farthest back spline before it would hit the case.
We set it on the front bolt and cranked on it to be sure it cleared. After a couple tries we got this.
Although easy to adjust on the fly, we needed to set it like we did. The adjustment range was from reasonably low to ridiculously high.
Any more forward and it would only get higher. As you can see, we replaced the billet shifter with the (also included) rubber one.
Once set to the proper height, we simply tightened the lock bolts on the adjuster and we were good to go.
Once we found the happy spot, we applied loctite to all the threads and tightened them down.
The completed assembly.
Since we're both products of the MTV generation, we couldn't be bothered to move over to the right side controls yet, instead taking a detour to replace the handlebars. Here is the new, stock 883 bar next to the about-to-be-trashed beach bar.
Using a set of Todd's Cycle Knuckle Risers to replace the 1200 Custom high risers previously in place, the polished bars found their new home.
Our next new "sore thumb" was the bigass gas tank. Looking out of place on what was becoming a sleek machine, it had to go. Sure, I'd be losing about 2/3rds of my range, but if I needed to go that far, that's what the bagger is for...
A take-off old peanut tank was located to mock up the eventual replacement, and it was perfect, right down to the orange and white lettering.
Our progress thus far.
Applying the hand controls came next. First we slid on the (existing) Performance Machine contour perch, then a set of Super Sixties Glitter Grips and checked the spacing before tightening anything.
In the end, a thing of beauty.
For no particular reason, we went back to foot controls at this point. A similar setup to the left side, the right side uses the same machined sleeve system, only unlike the left side, comes with nothing. You see, it's assumed that you're upgrading from stock, not replacing a set of pitted and chrome-peeling aftermarket controls, so no master cylinder or lever. Swap meet, here I come.
The three rear holes of the cam cover are used on the right.
We'd be applying loctite in this photo if we had any left. It's almost certainly a good idea to use some of the higher strength locker fluid on the studs that go from the case to the receiver sleeve.
Here are the receivers mounted on the bike: shortest on bottom, longest on top.
After mounting up the bracket and peg, we're stuck until we get the rest of the stock parts.
At this point we took a step back and looked again, only to find that a different tank had snuck on to see what it would look like with a little more bling.
Back to the hand controls, the PM Contour master cylinder was slid on...
...but we quickly found that the short Super Sixties grip was too short for the generic throttle sleeve. A quick trip to the bandsaw and sander solved the problem.
A few minutes later and we were just a brake bleeding away from a completed bar control set up.
With the bars complete, and the seat returning to its place, our new sore thumb was the super-shiny chrome air cleaner. Not willing to lose the Arlen Ness Big Sucker's awesome high-flowing abilities, we settled for merely removing the chrome cover.
It's always a good idea to show a little appreciation to your host.
I began to see the reasoning behind ditching all the handlebar switches as we stripped the now-useless horn and rear signals, and further cleaned up the lines of the bike.
After all this carnage, this is the swap meet bait that ended up in the back of my truck.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, the basic profile change of the bike is obvious. The new glaringly obvious change that we didn't get to is the rear fender. The plan is to lose the struts and plastic inner fender and rotate the thing forward to abbreviate the back end further. That would also make the big gap from tire to fenderless obvious.
Perhaps the coolest part about the old PM wheels is that you can't even get the spun aluminum rims any longer, and they're lighter than most billet wheels.
The hlins shocks are a direct bolt-on from Drag Specialties, while the PM Villain Sprocket needed to be turned to accept the skinny 520 chain. As you can see form the grooves on the tire, it still doesn't clear the 160mm rubber completely.
A primary tensioner off of an Evo Big Twin serves to keep the chain from rubbing on the swingarm.
While the velvet-covered seat no longer goes with the rest of the bike, its shape still works, so it'll receive a new cover in the near future.
Overall Rating: ++
Too many customs go together without much thought, or one piece at a time, without any concept of what the finished product will look like. This 1987 Sportster was just such a creation. Since the start of its existence, it's been a custom machine. The 4.5 gallon tank off of an '80s FXLR was its first mod, effectively doubling the little paint shaker's cruising range. That was before I got my hands on it. Even in the years before it became the guinea pig for every ill-conceived magazine install project under the sun, it had been through three carbs, two sets of pipes, and two frontends. Once I started working for motorcycle magazines, the process only accelerated. The irony of all this tinkering is that it really didn't get ridden that much.
With a constant stream of free maintenance-free (at least to me) bikes to ride, it quickly lost some of its charm, but the fact that it wasn't relied on for transportation made it a perfect mod-mule. It was constantly offline with one project after another; the first was a 1200cc kit complete with high-compression heads and big cams. Other things done to it after that on a regular basis, keeping it an almost perpetual state of "being worked-on."
It all culminated in last issue of BIKE-WORKS, with the retirement of its original (well, the original cases, anyhow) four-speed powerplant. Replaced with a late-'90s vintage race motor (complete with brand new five-speed transmission and top-end), it had completely morphed into a Frankenstein monster hodgepodge of pieces that just happened to fit in an XL chassis. This last extreme project was to be its last, giving it a reliable motor and tranny for it to live out its days. It didn't quite work out, though. The problem now was that it looked like the Frankenstein that it was, with a very eclectic mix of the high-performance and silly stuff. Verdict: I still didn't want to ride it.
To bring the bike a completely different direction, and to unify its appearance, we sat down with noted bobber builder Chopper Dave to sketch out a new look for the machine. Ironically, in the end, it's gaining quite a few stock Sportster parts and shedding a good deal of complexity, becoming the stripped-down, aggressive street machine I've always wanted. Due to space and time considerations, the complete transformation won't be covered on these pages; you'll just just a basic look at what can be done when you pay attention to the whole bike instead of one part of it, as had been the case with this bike for most of its life.
In the end, it's again become a bike I want to ride every chance I get. Can you ask for more?
Parts Worth Saving
It should be said that, yes, it would have been easier to have just sold the old girl and built a brand-new rubber-mounted Sportster just the way I liked it, but for two reasons, I didn't: Nostalgia (this is my first street bike), and other than the bars, it was set up exactly right for me.
I'm an aggressive rider, I had a brainstorm years ago that it would be cool if I had a bike that captured the essence of the Sportster road race bikes of the 1990s without actually looking like a race bike. If you remember the '90s, every high-performance Sportster looked like a dirt tracker, and I wanted something different.
I may have whiffed on the style side, but I'm pretty proud of the package I put together on the running gear side of the coin. The oddest thing (at least on a custom Harley) was the 17-inch wheel/tire combo. Used almost exclusively on sport/race bikes, the 17s are sized to wear the finest race tires available...which in slightly used condition can be had for a steal. And let's keep it real: Even worn-out race rubber is more traction than a fresh set of street tires.
The 13.5-inch hlins shocks out back provide a sweet ride as well as raise up the rear a bit, which combined with the smaller diameter front wheel effectively removes some rake and trail from the bike, making the steering super light. The Radial tires (that sport a more peaked profile) help with this as well. While this may not be desirable if you just want to cruise...I don't, and despite the light feel, it's not twitchy at all.
While inverted frontends are usually used on customs to convey a "beefy" look, this one serves a greater purpose. Coupled with the super-strong PM four-piston calipers, the larger sliders have far more rigidity than a conventional fork, so when braking or cornering hard there is little flex. The GCB front end also works very well, conveying a comfortable and controlled ride.
Basically, with the addition of a five-speed motor, there was no reason to buy a new bike (and transfer all of the performance parts over). Sure, it would be rubber-mounted, but it would also weigh an extra 60 pounds.
Chopper Dave's Casting Company
Super Sixties Grips - Priceless
Knuckle Risers (polished) $120
Misumi 3/4 mid controls $795_