There are literally dozens of companies making tuning parts for Harley-Davidson engines. But not many have the experience of S&S Cycle, the outfit set up in the 1950s by George Smith and Stanley Stankos.
S&S are still at the forefront of the Harley tuner scene half a century on. And when they build a custom, they go balls-out. This Sportster, for example, has a 100 cubic inch motor, vestigial racing bodywork and a name to match: ‘Death Tracker.’
“This story begins with a dilapidated 1996 Sportster 883,” says S&S’ David Zemla, who helped out on the build. “It was lying unloved under a blue tarp in a sunny SoCal backyard.”
On a fluke, the S&S Cycle crew picked it up while attending the Born Free show a couple of years ago. “We had big plans for a Hooligan style-build and glorious left-turn slides on the gas, spraying a ten foot rooster tail.”
The 883 engine was assigned to another project, and S&S decided to build a street tracker to celebrate their soon-to-be discontinued SB100, a 100ci (1600cc) monster of an engine.
“Our last road-going build with the SB100 was for the Rusty Butcher, who has a well-documented history of racing, jumping and general full throttle shenanigans,” says David. “He returned after his first ride, hands shaking, swearing the bike was trying to kill him.”
With more than triple the factory Sportster horsepower and a lightning fast power delivery, the SB100 in a relatively small frame is a wicked combination.
The S&S crew has always loved the nickel-plating on vintage trackers, so the Sportster frame was detabbed, stripped, polished and nickel plated by AIH Chrome in Dubuque, Iowa. And then a set of custom billet triple trees was machined to accept Öhlins forks.
“We essentially recreated the front end used on the Indian flat track race machines, and adapted it to a Sporty,” says Jon Montgomery, the in-house builder for S&S.
Matching Öhlins ‘Blackline’ shocks went on at the back, and the build now rolls on Performance Machine wheels lifted off an earlier tracker creation.
“PM calls these ‘Hustlers’ and they nicely recreate their race wheels without the punishment of special disc and sprocket fitments,” says David. The wheels were stripped and coated using the same powder used on S&S engines for a durable, clean look.
The brake rotors are blacked out Lyndall units and the calipers are Brembo, with a radial up front and a two-piston setup in the rear—hung by a laser-cut steel bracket. The factory master cylinder modulates the rear, but a Brembo radial master with custom reservoir handles the front.
The swing arm is a one-off by Chassis Design in California: it keeps the stock length, but allows for adjustable shock positions. It also incorporates billet axle adjusters, because the SB100 engine is capable of stretching the factory units. (Eagle-eyed SoCal skateboarders will also spot the Bones Reds bearing and Spitfire wheel used on the final drive chain.)
The SB100 unit used in Death Tracker is one of the last of its kind to go through the Wisconsin factory. “This 1638cc motor was originally developed in the late 90s and designed for land speed and drag racing applications,” says David. “Very few S&S employees were allowed to ride the development bikes. The first engines would run consistent 10s in the quarter, and 175mph at land speed events.”
The SB100 has a square motor configuration—a four-inch bore and stroke—for high revving and good power. This one is equipped with ‘600’ cams, roller rockers and a modest 10.3:1 compression ratio. “These motors will dyno in the 110 to 120 horsepower range,” says David, “and usually pretty close to that in [pounds feet of] torque.”
The carb is an S&S Super G breathing through a stainless tuned induction intake with dual filters, and the exhaust is an S&S Hooligan high pipe. (Not shown is a fiberglass shield to keep the right leg from getting too hot.) To handle the extra power, the clutch is a tough Barnett Scorpion unit.
The entire wiring harness was built from scratch, and hooked up to a high performance S&S HI-4N ignition. “We wanted everything on this build to be next level—even the fuse box,” says David. “With that in mind, we integrated a Motogadget unit into the bike, along with their dash.”
“It’s a decidedly high-tech approach for an old school bike, but it’s hard to pass up on the irony of an app-driven 1996 Sportster. Yes, you can power it up with your phone…”
The foot controls proved to be a challenge, since the Sportster had forwards. TC Bros came to the rescue with a set of their mid controls and S&S also plugged in Biltwell’s stainless Mushman pegs—to not only match the frame, but also provide a solid footing when trying to hang onto this beast.
The grips are also Biltwell, and Barnett created a cable that tied the Motion Pro throttle housing to the carb. A simple light and signal switch on the left keeps the ProTaper handlebar layout clean.
The bodywork proved to be trickier. “We originally built the bike with the factory tank, but soon realized it was disproportionately large,” David reveals. “A steel unit from Lowbrow Customs now does fuel duty and looks the part. The seat and fiberglass tail are from Saddlemen.”
The paint was originally going to be a Ferrari red, but S&S soon realized that choice came with a difficult price tag—and opted for a Toyota red that is almost exactly the same color.
The lighting was the final decision choice. “Winston at Rough Crafts sent over his micro ION signals,” says David. “Not believing any real light could come from a ½-inch square block, we bench tested them—and are still seeing spots.” (You can see one by the top yoke fork tube clamp in the image below.)
The headlight housing/number plate is a unit that S&S’ own R&D team designed, and then 3D printed on the in-house rapid prototyping machine.
If you’re going to the Mama Tried Show in Milwaukee next month, you’ll be able to see the Death Tracker in the metal. It’ll then do the rounds of the 2022 show season, including Daytona and Sturgis. And after that? “When it’s back home, it’ll be my daily,” says David.
He’s a brave man.