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Top 5 Harley-Davidson Sportster Custom Motorcycles

Motorcyclist logo Motorcyclist 2017-08-02 Seth Richards

What makes a sportbike a sportbike? Taking a Harley-Davidson Sportster and making it sportier is both a worthy endeavor and a little crazy. Just because it came out of Milwaukee with little aspirations of sportiness, does that mean turning it into a “sportbike” is ultimately a superficial act or is it the purest expression of customization? You decide! © Photo: Deus Customs What makes a sportbike a sportbike? Taking a Harley-Davidson Sportster and making it sportier is both a worthy endeavor and a little crazy. Just because it came out of Milwaukee with little aspirations of sportiness, does that mean turning it into a “sportbike” is ultimately a superficial act or is it the purest expression of customization? You decide! HD Sportsters reinvented as works of moto art that take the Sportster name literally.

The Harley-DavidsonSportster seems like it’s one of the most ubiquitous bikes on the road. Over six decades, its image has been imprinted on the hearts and minds of gearheads across the globe and the legacy of its American heritage has entered mainstream consciousness. Yet when custom builders see it as an inchoate form and mold it into something completely foreign, they subvert tradition and intention, and showcase undaunted originality of craft and vision. Without going too far in the realm of un-usability, these builds recast the Sportster as, well, sportsters.

Slate Hammer by Rough Crafts

Wrapping café racer bodywork around an American twin seems like dressing a pig in a tutu. In a good way though. Of course, we’re fans of Harley’s XLCR, the “original” HD café racer. © Photo: Bobby Ho Wrapping café racer bodywork around an American twin seems like dressing a pig in a tutu. In a good way though. Of course, we’re fans of Harley’s XLCR, the “original” HD café racer. Rough Crafts applied a blacked-out café aesthetic to what started life as a 2012 Sportster Forty-Eight for a result that, like many of its builds, is both menacing and beautiful at the same time. A modified Dunstall replica fairing up front gives the bike a classic silhouette that flows through the minimalist tail section that houses the oil tank. The fuel tank is straight off the Forty-Eight, but has been reshaped to give the bike a slender profile where it meets the seat. Wrap it up however you like, there’s no escaping the rumble of that 45-degree HD twin.

Rough Crafts applied a blacked-out café aesthetic to what started life as a 2012 Sportster Forty-Eight for a result that, like many of its builds, is both menacing and beautiful at the same time. A modified Dunstall replica fairing up front gives the bike a classic silhouette that flows through the minimalist tail section that houses the oil tank. The fuel tank is straight off the Forty-Eight, but has been reshaped to give the bike a slender profile where it meets the seat. Wrap it up however you like, there’s no escaping the rumble of that 45-degree HD twin. © Photo: Bobby Ho Rough Crafts applied a blacked-out café aesthetic to what started life as a 2012 Sportster Forty-Eight for a result that, like many of its builds, is both menacing and beautiful at the same time. A modified Dunstall replica fairing up front gives the bike a classic silhouette that flows through the minimalist tail section that houses the oil tank. The fuel tank is straight off the Forty-Eight, but has been reshaped to give the bike a slender profile where it meets the seat. Wrap it up however you like, there’s no escaping the rumble of that 45-degree HD twin. Forged aluminum wheels lighten things up. Lyndall rotors are paired with Brembo calipers from a Harley touring rig. © Photo: Bobby Ho Forged aluminum wheels lighten things up. Lyndall rotors are paired with Brembo calipers from a Harley touring rig.

The Hardley by Revival Cycles

Custom stainless steel exhaust features SuperTrapp internals. Inverted front forks from a ZX-14 carry 19” spoked wheels and Maxxis tires. © Photo: Alan Stulberg Custom stainless steel exhaust features SuperTrapp internals. Inverted front forks from a ZX-14 carry 19” spoked wheels and Maxxis tires. Revival Cycles, the Austin, TX-based custom shop behind the Handbuilt Show, started with a 883 Sportster and ended up with this one-off showstopper. The eye-catching, three-piece tank comprises a three-gallon fuel tank on the left, an oil tank in the rear right quarter and an electrical box in the front right corner. The standard 883 was punched out to 1250cc and given a new head off a 1200 Sportster, bringing power up to a respectable 100bhp. It’s hard not to come back to that “tank” though, which is vaguely reminiscent—if not in function than in form—of the aluminum tank/chassis found on the 1930s MGC N3BR (check it out in your Art of the Motorcycle reference book. Or Google it).

Revival custom triple clamps alter the bike’s geometry for improved handling. Check out the cool handlebar clamp, sparse controls, and the Motogadget speedometer integrated into the electrical housing portion of the tank. © Photo: Alan Stulberg Revival custom triple clamps alter the bike’s geometry for improved handling. Check out the cool handlebar clamp, sparse controls, and the Motogadget speedometer integrated into the electrical housing portion of the tank. Revival built a custom subframe for The Hardley. Vee’d tank draws the eye to the Milwaukee motor. © Photo: Alan Stulberg Revival built a custom subframe for The Hardley. Vee’d tank draws the eye to the Milwaukee motor.

The Bel Air 1200 by Deus Ex Machina

The motor remains, but practically everything else of the original 1200 Sportster has been removed. Check out the chain drive, and right-side up forks from a YZF-R6. © Photo: Deus Customs The motor remains, but practically everything else of the original 1200 Sportster has been removed. Check out the chain drive, and right-side up forks from a YZF-R6. Michael “Woolie” Woolaway’s reputation for shaping metal precedes him. This 1200 Sportster-derived build is another fine example of the craft coming out of his Venice Beach, CA shop. The bike’s shapely bodywork and paintjob were inspired by the ’57 Chevy Bel Air (for which the bike is named) as an ode to vintage Americana. Most impressively, Woolie hand-fabricated all of the bodywork in addition to bending a bespoke oil in frame chrome-moly chassis and stainless steel exhaust system. The motor’s been blueprinted and the heads ported for added performance.

Shapely knee indents allude to the sporting pretensions that are confirmed by the radically changed geometry. © Photo: Deus Customs Shapely knee indents allude to the sporting pretensions that are confirmed by the radically changed geometry. The finned tail references the iconic lines of the Chevy Bel Air. © Photo: Deus Customs The finned tail references the iconic lines of the Chevy Bel Air.

Sportster Custom by Chabott Engineering

The Sportster on the lift at the Chabott engineering workshop. Note: 35mm Ceriani front fork and leading shoe front brake. © Photo: Chabott Engineering The Sportster on the lift at the Chabott engineering workshop. Note: 35mm Ceriani front fork and leading shoe front brake. Shinya Kimura has been building bikes professionally since the early ’90s when he opened his first shop in Japan. Now with his current workshop, Chabott Engineering in Azusa, CA, Kimura continues to develop his trademark metal work, which attracts a lot of attention throughout the industry and beyond. His machines have a raw, visceral appeal that mates perfectly with the Sportster, though he has turned his trade to bikes of all denominations. While the bike has an art gallery quality about it, it doesn’t negate its main function. In fact, its skeletal aesthetic implies that this bike is meant to be ridden hard.

Unpainted finish shows off the beauty of hand-hammered metal. © Photo: Chabott Engineering Unpainted finish shows off the beauty of hand-hammered metal. Kimura takes the Sportster for a spin. He’s as much a rider as he is a builder, having taken part in Cannonball rallies and tested his machines at Bonneville. © Photo: Chabott Engineering Kimura takes the Sportster for a spin. He’s as much a rider as he is a builder, having taken part in Cannonball rallies and tested his machines at Bonneville.

AW16 by Wrenchmonkees

The Copenhagen-based builders keep the low-slung look of the Sportster but add a classic sportbike vibe. © Photo: Wrenchmonkees The Copenhagen-based builders keep the low-slung look of the Sportster but add a classic sportbike vibe. If you’re going to build a fully-faired Harley, it’s going to inspire comparisons to Harley’s XR roadracing machine as piloted by so many racers over the years—from Cal Rayborn to Jay Springsteen. The machine takes its cues from other period bikes, however, including the Yamaha TZ which was the inspiration for the fiberglass fairing that Wrenchmonkees built in-house. The engine is nearly stock but breathes through a trick exhaust from Japanese company Easyriders. Suspension is also slightly modified with a lowering kit and internals from Progressive Suspension.

Aluminum tank from Storz Performance. © Photo: Wrenchmonkees Aluminum tank from Storz Performance. TZ-inspired fairing looks stealthy in blue and black. © Photo: Wrenchmonkees TZ-inspired fairing looks stealthy in blue and black.

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