As the old biker saying goes, there are two types of riders: ones that have gone down and those that are going to go down. Although this isn’t a morbid tale of woe and not meant to scare or discourage anyone this sweet Shovelhead has been down hard—twice. The last get off by Sara Boyle was from a whiteline washout late at night. Those stripes can get mighty slippery under the midnight dew. So, this time Sara’s husband, Kevin, owner of Motorcycle Medic (MM) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, set out to build the ’83 FLH fit for his queen. Kevin tried to modernize the latest build with an Evo motor but Sara said, “If you touch the motor, you’re dead. I want my Shovel!” You have to give it to the lady; she knows what she likes.
Although I could rattle off the spec sheet and customization done on this bike, its history and how it became Sara’s is one of those stories that should be retold. Let’s rewind to 2003; it was Harley’s big 100th Anniversary/Elton John gala as well as the last year for the venerable solid-mount Sportster. A customer dropped off his 20-year-old bagger to Kevin’s shop for repair. After getting a fresh tune-up, the FLH sat in the shop for days, that creeped into weeks, then enjoyed a long, cold winter in Kevin’s shop. During this time the owner was called repeatedly to pick up his bike—no answer, no return call, no nothing.
Sara started to fall in love with the Shovel as the months ticked through a few entire calendars. Everyday Sara would picture herself riding it—with the wind flowing through her long hair. There were a couple of problems and the reason for the daydreaming: Sara is a tiny woman and had never ridden a bike, not even a dirt bike. This couple must be pretty straight up individuals because after 4½ years Kevin finally said, “We don’t babysit people,” and told Sara to stop calling the guy. This bike was largely responsible for MM’s new daily storage fee for abandoned bikes, as this bike accrued quite a hefty bill that went unpaid.
Sara finally told Kevin that she was in love with the neglected bike—the way it looked, how it sat, and that she wanted it as her own. It reminded her of something Elvis would’ve owned; it was vintage, had attitude and stories to tell, and was well ridden. Kevin laughed and said, “Sara, you don’t even know how to ride.” Sara had ridden untold miles on bikes with no passenger seat or pegs, sitting on the fender wrapping her legs around Kevin, so she figured she saw enough miles that she could learn how to ride herself. She took Kevin’s words as a challenge (take note guys) and she immediately got on the phone and called and signed up at a motorcycle training facility in their area. She was determined to own and ride this old Shovelhead.
After going through the legal red tape the bike was eventually signed over to Sara. After almost five years of sitting in the shop Sara and Kevin put the key into the ignition and the bike fired right up like it (she) was an everyday rider. The straight pipes sang like only a Shovelhead motor can; the 80-incher was music to Sara’s ears. Sara completed her three-day rider’s training course and from then on she and Kevin rode everyday. Sara was determined and she put 1,500 miles on the odometer in the first month alone.
Winter came and Kevin started to add needed parts and transform the bike into much of what it looks like now. That spring Sara rode a Twin Cam and commented to Kevin, “Should my bike shift this good?” He said, “No, it’s an old four-speed transmission.” Some time went by and Sara finally became one of the riders that goes down. Kevin decided to replace the tranny with a modern, smooth-shifting Rivera Primo six-speed along with an open-belt primary. The first get off was followed by the whiteline boogie where Sara flipped over a few times.
It’s probably becoming clear that Sara is a committed, do-or-die type of person. She still wanted to ride and there was no way to convince her to get a bike that may be smoother or easier to ride. No Evos or Twin Cams for this lady. Sara’s friend Dan Trenholm, the Guru as she calls him, rebuilt the Shovel motor along with doing some headwork and a hotter cam. For better rideability, a less finicky CV carb was added along with a more reliable electronic ignition compared to the stocker.
With the motor purring like she should, Kevin went to work on the rest of the bike. Aside from carefully sourcing parts, there are tons of hours in the messaging of the look. So much of the bike was powdercoated that the thickness (3-4 mm) of the powder needs to be taken into account when assembling. He wanted functional, but head-turning custom at the same time. Kevin paid special attention to the rear end of the bike where a boatload of hidden red LEDs light up when the brakes are hit. Kevin took all of the brackets off the modified saddlebags and fabbed hidden mounts to the bottom of the fender to control vibration. There’s a lot of little trick and subtle elements to this bike.
It’s hard to imagine how much patience, pain, persistence, and love that went into this project. It was essentially a seven-year project that saw both the Motorcycle Medic shop grow, but also Sara as a rider. If only that bike could talk—I have a feeling it’s pretty happy where it is now and just how much it’s wanted. B