The new Harley-Davidson Sportster S signifies the first major redesign in decades for the illustrious Sportster. To celebrate, we’ve been looking back over our favorite Sportster customs from the past few years, sorted by their motors.
Last week we featured our top five Sportster Ironhead builds. This week, we’re focussing on the the motor that powered the Sportster from 1986 until now: the Evolution. As the most prolific and easily obtainable Sporty, it’s been customized a lot—so let us know if we’ve left out your favorite.
Thrive Motorcycle If there’s one custom shop that reminds us time and time again that the Indonesian custom scene is not to be ignored, it’s Thrive Motorcycle in Jakarta. Their rework of this 2000-model Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster has shades of Japanese chopper style in it (something they’ll happily admit), but it’s also entirely unique.
Thrive started with a custom rigid frame from Brodonolo Custom Garage in central Java. Then they spent several months shaping new aluminum bodywork, with an emphasis on streamlined and clean lines. Despite their angular nature, the new parts flow perfectly from top to tail.
Thrive built a new headlight nacelle, fuel tank, seat and oil tank for the Sportster. There’s a vintage yellow lens up front, with a custom-made finned LED taillight hiding between the tail section and the rear tire. The controls consist of a set of mini gullwing bars, with Mooneyes grips, homemade switches and an internal throttle.
The front forks were chopped, and the wheels swapped for a 21” front and 18” rear. There’s no front brake; all you have to slow the bike down are a modified Softail rear brake and a prayer.
From a distance, Thrive’s Sportster looks deceptively simple—but it’s actually dripping with details. The swooping custom exhausts wear a delicately drilled heat shield, with that effect echoed on a small cover on the opposite side of the bike, that also holds the key ignition. Thrive also converted the bike to a chain drive, and made their own skateboard wheel tensioner.
Top marks to Thrive for an effortlessly cool livery too. They dressed the Harley in a silver base coat, with sapphire blue graphics and frame. The motor was vapor blasted, then finished in contrasting black and clear finishes.
The big win here is that Thrive’s Harley looks fast even when standing still. And that’s not something we thought we’d ever say about a Sportster. [More]
One Way Machine It’s easy to see why One Way Machine’s Julian von Oheimb has multiple AMD World Championship podiums under his belt. His Harley customs are understated and elegant—like this 2004-model Sportster, built for a prominent Swiss businessman.
Julian’s forte is actually carbureted Softails; this was his first custom Sportster, and what a debut. He settled on a vintage scrambler aesthetic, and executed it in a far more cohesive way than your average scrambled Sporty.
First on the list was sorting out the Sportster’s stance, so Julian installed new 21F/19R wheels. He converted the bike from a belt to a chain drive too, opting for the maximum chain length to stretch the wheelbase ever so slightly. A set of dirt-worthy tires drives the point home.
Next, the bike was stripped down and the bodywork redone. The front fork sleeves and rear fender were hand-fabricated from sheet metal. The tank’s actually a 1950s Triumph part, but it needed a lot of massaging to fit.
Julian installed a solo saddle from Custom Chrome Europe, with a separate pillion pad from Easyriders in Japan. But that left the Harley’s wiring exposed underneath, so a lot of effort went into re-routing things for a super-sano setup.
Most of what you see here is custom work, with a small complement of off-the-shelf parts. Those include Rough Crafts risers and brake and shifter pegs, Beringer hand controls, and a Motogadget speedo.
The retro-fabulous air cleaner is from LC Fabrications, and the stunningly minimalist exhaust is from Parts Europe.
You can’t fault this Sportster’s silhouette, but the real kicker here is the color scheme. It’s one of the best combinations of black and chrome you’ll find, and a tasteful reminder of just how sharp Julian’s eye is. [More]
Rough Crafts Winston Yeh first established his Rough Crafts brand with ‘Iron Guerrilla‘—a Sportster bobber that spawned an entire range of bolt-on parts and countless requests for the same style. So when a customer commissioned a Sportster cafe racer, it was a chance for the Taiwanese designer to prove just how versatile he is.
The Sportster’s stock lines are a far cry from a cafe racer’s, but in true Rough Crafts fashion, Winston knocked it out the park. Based on a 2012-model H-D Sportster Forty-Eight, ‘Slate Hammer’ is sharp as heck—and it’s also one of the most popular bikes we’ve ever featured.
The key here is Slate Hammer’s cleverly constructed bodywork. The typically hunchbacked Sportster tank has been lowered, trimmed, and treated to a pair of knee cutouts and a kink that follows the rear cylinder head. Just in front of it is a replica Dunstall GT fairing from Glass From The Past, with a modified screen.
The tail hump mimics the shape of the tank, and also holds the oil. A stainless steel box underneath the seat holds the electronic bits, with a custom-made Lithium-ion battery housed under the tank. A diamond-quilted leather seat by Back Drop in Japan caps it all off.
To correct the Sportster’s stance, Winston chose a set of 15” shocks from Progressive Suspension. The custom forged aluminum wheels came from San Diego Customs, and the riser-less yokes and dual-caliper fork lowers from The Speed Merchant. Other mods include one-off clip-ons and rear sets, and Performance Machine controls.
The Harley’s motor was blacked-out, and treated to an S&S Cycle Super-E carb conversion, with a finned air cleaner from the Rough Crafts catalog. The exhaust system is a combination of custom headers and a custom-made Spark muffler.
As you’d expect from Rough Crafts, Slate Hammer is wrapped in shades of black and grey. Frequent RC collaborator Air Runner handled the paint, while 2 Abnormal Sides supplied a set of hand-made pushrod collars; a detail that can often be found on Winston’s Harleys.
If Rough Crafts ever released a greatest hits compilation, this would be in it. [More]
Biltwell Inc. We’ve seen many ‘dual-Sporties’ over the years, but few are as purpose-built as this Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster, from the Californian parts and gear company Biltwell Inc. The ‘Frijole 883’ was the personal project of Biltwell founder Bill Bryant, built to run in the NORRA 1000—a 1,300-mile desert race from Ensenada to Cabo.
Bill built the bike with help from Rob ‘Rouser’ Galan and a small, dedicated team. Part of the concept was to keep the bike recognizable as a Sportster—so the guys kept the OEM frame, swingarm, tank and rear fender. The oil tank’s stock too, but it was reinforced.
As you’d expect, the 883 needed a serious suspension upgrade—so the crew pulled in a number of experts to work their magic. The list includes a set of heavily modified Honda CRF250 forks, a custom top tree and steering stem and a GPR stabilizer. The rear features a gusseted and braced swingarm, relocated shock mounts and a set of 17” Elka shocks.
The bike’s loaded with practical touches. The exhaust is tucked in tight, and runs into a modified Supertrapp can. There’s a Rekluse clutch, and a clever shifter mod to replace the heavily exposed stock Sportster shifter. Using a reverse-mounted Honda XR400 shifter, it now goes one up and four down—GP style.
All the hoses and wires were sleeved for protection, and a set of Huenersdorff fuel cans were mounted up to add 1.2 gallons to the bikes overall capacity. The guys tossed a third canister into the Biltwell EXFIL-11 tank bag too.
Bill didn’t want to dive into the motor, because reliability was key. In fact, the team brought backup parts for nearly the entire bike—including, but not limited to, wheels and a complete motor. And the four-man team riding the bike agreed to keep it under the limit to guarantee a finish.
It paid off—the Frijole 883 finished 14th out of 21 bikes in its class. Not bad for a 475 pound Sportster. [More]
Icon 1000 Just like their motorcycle gear, the bikes that roll out of Icon 1000’s Portland HQ are utterly unique and just a little bombastic. ‘Iron Lung’ is based on a 1991 Harley-Davidson XLH883 Sportster, and it’s a surprising twist on the 1970s endurance racer vibe.
Icon started with a well-abused donor, then gave it a 1,200 cc upgrade with a Wiseco big bore kit. It breathes out through a glorious pair of high-mounted SuperTrapp mufflers.
Out front is a set of H-D Wide Glide forks, hooked up to custom triples. The rear shocks are from Progressive Suspension, and the wheels are H-D Fat Boy numbers. They’ve been painted with a slight blue tinge to them, as a homage to vintage magnesium race wheels.
Up top is a custom subframe, with a seat from New Church Moto. There’s a massive endurance-style fairing up front, complete with twin headlights, and the fuel tank’s been split into fuel and oil reservoirs. Icon mounted the battery in the tail hump, and installed rear set controls from Loaded Gun.
Finished in gallons of gold paint, with hand-painted details by Garage 31, this is one Sporty that left a mark. [More]