An American flat track inspired Harley-Davidson Sportster
Words/photos | Jeremy Hammer | Originally published on RIDEJOURNAL.
We build custom motorcycles under all different circumstances and for our own personal reasons, which is almost always evident in a build through unique touches that represent a style or function suited specifically for us.
Ian Head’s custom built 2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 is no exception to that, in fact, his American Flat Track-inspired machine defines the opening paragraph of this story.
A number of years ago, the British-native was involved in a serious car accident, which resulted in a triple-fusion procedure to be undertaken on his spine and has ultimately limited the range of motion in his neck.
Previously owning a selection of Ironhead Sportsters from the ’70s and ’80s, Ian elected for the modern-day version of the model as the base of his new build, which has been ergonomically tailored to his injury.
“I’ve owned a lot of old Ironhead Sportsters, but they were just so painful to keep on the road and work on,” said Ian. “They cost thousands of dollars [to run] – they were absolute cash buckets. I’ve always had them, but I thought: I’m done with carbs, I’m done with wires catching fire and brakes not working – let’s move to the modern one.
“I’ve always liked the basic model because you can do so much with them. For me, this was a base model that was cheap to buy, bulletproof and good for 150,000 kilometres on the engine.”
One the first modifications that Ian made, along with the assistance of Rogue Motorcycles, was adjusting the ride height by installing new shocks with an increased amount of travel over the standard units. It didn’t come without a few headaches though, as the belt-drive was compromised because of the adjustment.
Rogue was able to rectify the issue utilising a modified loaded arm and skateboard wheel, ensuring an adequate amount of tension would be placed on the belt.
“The height is important for me because of my spine – the higher the better. When Billy and John from Rogue Motorcycle put the shocks on, I said it has to be this height no matter what we do.
“It gave me that school-boy feel from my dirt bike days, but the belt no longer ran true. The shocks drop the subframe, so the belt was all over the place. The ergonomics of the belt has been the most difficult thing to overcome.”
The ergonomics to suit Ian’s injury were at forefront of this build, and everything from previously mentioned ride height, to bars, peg position and the seat were all accounted for and adjusted to suit.
The seat took several times to get right, with Ian eventually deciding on the third incarnation, which features a special progressive foam that assists in reducing vibrations and softening any blows while cruising.
“I have a triple-fusion in my neck, so if I sit on a bike – and I love Cafe Racers – I can’t move my neck back. It took a day or two to get the bars right, the peg setting is good for my hips – ergonomically, the bike has been the hardest thing to design while trying to keep the overall custom look.
“You can really start messing about with the ergonomics and the bike doesn’t ride right, but this rides like a dirt bike – you really ride it like a motocross bike.
“They outsourced the seat, and he didn’t know I had the injuries, so when it came back I said it just won’t work. We got it re-done, it was bigger but it didn’t have the progressive bounce and absorption. It was re-done again, and it’s ended up this thick now. A lot of people say it doesn’t go with the Flat Tracker style, but it has to be.”
Ian and Rogue Motorcycles were able to balance the user-friendly design and aesthetics, sticking to the Flat Track style with a host of modifications.
The stylish rear cowl is recycled from another unknown bike in the shop and has been fitted with a neat LED tail-light, while Billy, who’s renowned for his flawless fabrication abilities and custom exhausts, heavily modified a pipe off a Buell Cyclone for the Tracker, which now produces a note that Ian is significantly pleased with.
“The rear cowl is just something Billy had in the shop – it was a dusty, green and yellow bit of fibreglass really. I liked the shape and asked if we could make it good, he said yeah and made it look a million dollars when it was done.
“Billy cut everything off on the subframe that Harley did, and the fabrication that he has done is really solid. He’s also included a wet-plate under the guard. The exhaust is off a Buell Cyclone, and it didn’t fit initially.
“Billy had to cut and bend it, and because you’ve got the EFI O2 sensors, they all had to be drilled out. I don’t like the sound of the clackity-clack Harleys, so that’s why this has a nice, mellow note – it sounds like a Flat Track bike, and that’s probably what took the most time.”
Despite a desire to fit road-worthy Tracker style tyres, Ian had limited options in his choice of rubber. He eventually went with an enduro style offering, which still compliments the overall look of the Harley.
The business owner was adamant on retaining the traditional Sportster Blue colour, and that was able to be achieved through an artist that was outsourced through Rogue, while added stripes and Rogue branding are neat touches to finish off what is an incredibly unique motorcycle.
“Tyres were a real issue – I couldn’t have knobby tyres because of the vibration and my neck, so these are the closest to an enduro-spec tyre, and it’s the only one to fit this Harley rim. Again, it was three weeks of searching for a tyre, or it was $1000 for a full chain-drive conversion – that gives you options to have whatever wheel and tyre.
“I wanted to keep the paint the same as the original Sportster Blue, and I love Mustangs as well, so that’s why I got the stripes down the centre.
“If you look at American Flat Track as well, a lot of them use this colour with the white stripes. I wanted it to look like someone had got an American Flat Tracker and put it on the road – I think we hit it on the button. I love the Flat Tracker style – there’s not another one in Perth, and probably not in Australia.”