Bobbing Around: Building a Bespoke Harley Custom. Part 1

Tom Shaw is an accomplished custom bike builder with a track record of producing bespoke creations dripping with style. Join him on his latest build as sprinkles his magic over a 2003 Harley Sportster

Old School Bobber: Old School Blog

A long time ago I used to have a blog and I enjoyed making regular updates on my progress with whatever I was working on at the time. Now it’s all on Instagram and I miss going through my list of favourite blogs and forums, catching up on people’s custom motorbike builds, and I miss being able to look back over the story of my own endeavours. Then Tony asked if I wanted to blog on my new Sportster project, so how could I refuse?

From Acorns do Mighty Oaks Grow. The Starting Point: A 2003 Sportster

Around Christmas I purchased a 2003 Harley Davidson XL1200 sportster with the sole intention of chopping it up and customising it into my own creation. It’s hard to describe what I’m aiming for in terms of the build, but hopefully the pics of my previous projects will give you a good indication of the kind of bike I’m into. Now I hate to use generic descriptive terms for “styles” of bike, and I don’t like to put things in boxes, but I guess you could say I like the looks of classic bikes and American “bobbers” from around the 1940’s and 50’s era.

Yamaha 650 Custom, my previous bike and showing elements of what I am shooting for

Style and Performance?

Why a Sportster? Well, my last build was a 70’s shovelhead that I imported from the States. As you can see from the pictures, I dialled the technology back even further with springer front suspension and mechanical drum brakes. I love that bike, but unfortunately (or not as it may be), that shovelhead engine is actually too good for it. This means you are forced to ride it very gently with an engine which could give you a lot more. While I am not looking for a go fast sports bike, I always feel that it is a shame I cannot ride the bike to its full potential. Sooo… this time I have gone for a more modern bike, that will have disc brakes, hydraulic forks, etc. That will hopefully give me a bit more of the kind of ride I’m looking for. Style AND performance? Maybe not, but hey we should all aim high!

My current mount gives a flavour of my previous work

In The Beginning

When starting a new build, I tend to spend plenty of time on the internet looking at what other people have done with the same bike model and creating a folder full of inspiration pictures. I also like to do a rough sketch (usually on my pad at work!) of what the finished build will look like in my mind’s eye. This is an important step for me, as I believe a build is not only a collection of cool one off custom parts, but also the finished bike as a whole should be a pleasing composition with flowing lines and overall good aesthetics. Still with me…? Good, then let’s talk about what I am actually going to do to this bike.

What am I Actually Planning to do?

First off I will hardtail the frame. I’m not going to get into a big discussion about the pros and cons of no rear suspension, I like the look and so that is what I’m doing. I will also be changing the front wheel to a 16” one and putting matching tyres on front and rear to give it that classic American Harley bobber look. This has farther reaching impacts as I will also have to change the front end to get that wheel in, but I will come to that in due course.

Another major change will be the tank. I’m sorry, I am just not really a fan of the shape of the original Sportster tank. I know that puts me firmly in the minority, but it just doesn’t do it for me so I will be swapping that out. Currently I am thinking of using older style Harley Fatbob spit tanks and chopping them up to suit.

More to Come

I don’t want to bore you too much with listing out every part that I am going to customise on this bike, but it I feel that with this build I really want to push myself in terms of metal fabrication. That is the part I really enjoy when I’m into a custom project: making things out of metal. I’m lucky in that I can TIG weld and have a little hobby lathe, so with that and my angle grinder, there isn’t much I can’t create. I can’t wait to get stuck in!

Words and Pictures: Tom Shaw

Read the other parts in this excellent series: