Lockdown shouldn't be so blue!
I’ve lost count of the amount of bikes I’ve built for customers over the years but it’s at least 10 years since I built a bike for myself. That was a beefed up sportster and I only got to ride it for a couple of weeks until some fella offered me my ‘Not For Sale’ price… and off she went!
Lockdown hit a lot of people very hard and our business was not immune. Despite having lots booked into the workshop, we were forced to close for almost three months as Covid-19 hit hard.
With the shop closed, I found myself in the unusual position of having a bit of spare time on my hands. Getting to spend that time with my young family was brilliant, and all the odd jobs got completed around the house, but there is only so much kibbling a man can do.
“I found myself in the unusual position of having a bit of spare time...”
In the 3rd week I hatched a plan to take an old beat-up Harley that had been languishing at the back to the shop for a few years, and turn it into my daily ride. Something light, stripped down and fun to ride. I was excited to have the chance to build something for myself. I dug out the 2002 883R which had a tough life, not least in the shop where I’d pilfered many parts over the years to finish other jobs. 30,000 miles had not been kind to the wee XL but I had a workshop and time… I’ll make it work.
Little Blue looking stunning at the waters edge
I started by dropping the engine out and giving it a refresh. Pistons and rings were in good condition but the gaskets and seals were shot, so they were replaced.
The gearbox was sticking and missing gears, not uncommon for a Sportster and when you know what you're at... its an easy fix. Change the detent plate and a silly spring clip that got chewed and the box was back in order.
A lot of time was spent making the bike function correctly. Wiring, brakes, bearings… all the usually neglected bits, were refurbished or replaced.
The back of the frame was cut and whereas I tell everyone I wanted to keep the character of the bike… fact is I wanted to do this build spending as little money as possible, so the frame didn’t go out to get powdercoated and was left in its native state… warts n all.
"I wanted to do this build spending as little money as possible.."
I like the oldschool chop and love how the Japanese have taken that look and added their own twist, so I decided to go for a semi-jap style chopper with a café-racer style rear seat cowl.
I made a seat unit out of an old shop sign (my mums old bridal shop called Something Different... it is now!), and it bolts neatly into the back side of the top shock mounts.
My friend Claudio Nosari, and absolute leather wizard made me a beautifully hand crafted leather saddle to fit the seat unit. The Japanese design, a nod to the far-east inspiration for this build.
I had these old outlaw bars lying in the back of my shed. They needed a fair bit of modification to make them work with the Harley hand controls and internal wiring. Those corners weren’t easy to thread around but I love the position they give you on the bike, so they were dragged kicking and screaming to the party!
I originally planned to just bolt a standard exhaust on and be done with it, but when I did… It looked crap so out came the grinder and with the help of several off-cuts, the creation you see was mocked up.
I sat down with the Tig welder to do a nice job and on the first arc, the gas ran out. This was in the middle of lockdown and everywhere was closed. The only thing I could do is have a go welding it with the Mig which also had no gas, but I did have a roll of flux-cored Mig wire lying around.
I’m not proud of the welding on the exhaust, but the pipes are stuck together and they don’t leak so I guess it’s a good enough job!
"This was the middle of lockdown and everywhere was closed..."
A new mounting bracket was swiftly made, and the clock and ignition coil were relocated to the left side of the bike to give a bit of distance between the front head and the frame.
I also managed to get a reproduction sportster tank which, with some modification was made to work.
A while back I built a Harley scrambler which we painted antique-white with a blue stripe. We had some of that paint left over so I opted for the opposite colours of blue with a white stripe.
The most enjoyable part of the build was doing the orange pinstriping on the tail piece and the tank… a permanent reminder that I need to practice pinstriping more often!
Before... she was unloved but well used
Shinko Whitewalls set it off
I did splash out on a brand new set of Shinko white-wall tyres after restrictions lifted and with a few bits to tidy up, my wee scoot was ready to ride.
Riding it puts a smile on your face, the pipes have quite the bark.
Because the rear pipe is so short you can hear a hollow popping sound which makes it sound like an old knuckle at idle, I’d call that an undocumented feature!
She rides really smooth and the Shinko tyres give a surprising amount of grip.
Comfort wasn’t high on my list of priorities, although it is more comfortable than it looks.
Claudio used some fancy foam in the seat and it really works.
The mid controls mean she feels nimble and light. I’m not cramped by any means, it’s just a really nice relaxed seating position.
Apologies to those customers for making excuses why I wouldn’t be able to collect their bike in the mornings or evenings. Fact is, I’ve been riding wee Blue flat out and couldn’t bring myself to driving the van home for early or late collections… look at it… you couldn’t blame me!
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