Bobbing Around: Building a Bespoke Harley Custom. Part 2

Tom Shaw is cracking on with his Bobber Build. Let’s see how things are progressing:

Who Needs Suspension Anyway? Time for a Hardtail!

The first job was stripping the bike down to its bare bones. I always feel bad doing this to a running bike, but I’d also much rather start any project with a fully functioning motorcycle before the work begins. So then at least you know – it ran before, so if you don’t change too much it SHOULD run again.

Getting Down to it

There is not a lot to talk about when it comes to taking a bike to bits, it’s by far the easiest part of any work you do on a bike, but there is a few simple thing that I do now to save me headaches in the future. I take lots of reference photos as I go and label things up. This can be as simple as putting all of the bolts off the front mudguard in a bag and writing “front mudguard” on it, or putting “L” and “R” on parts, depending on which side of the bike they come off. Another useful tip is to use bits of masking tape round wire connectors, and writing some reference on them and the corresponding fixture. I’m left with two piles of parts: stuff to keep and stuff to sell.

Now I Can Really Get Going

Now the frame is stripped bare, I can finally get into some actual customising! After reviewing the different weld on hardtail kits available for 2003 Sportsters, I settled on the TC Bro’s kit from Ohio USA. The main reason I went for this one was that the backbone is a single piece which curves down behind the engine, which I think gives a much more pleasing overall finish than others on the market. It comes with detailed instructions, but I also get on the good ol’ YouTube to watch some installation videos. This helps highlight anything that I may need to watch out for, and helps to familiarise myself with the process as hardtailing is not something I do every week.

When two become one…Have I just quoted The Spice Girls??! 

But, you can only do so much looking and measuring, eventually the time comes to put your money where your mouth is and make a cut. Cross all your fingers and all your toes, check all your measurements three times and fire up the trusty grinder! To help me make the cuts square, I wrapped tape around the frame tubes to give me something to line my eye up against. Once cut, I get the file out and tidy them up a little before checking for squareness with an engineer’s square.

Now for the Tricky Bit!

That was the easy part, the tricky bit is lining the new hard tail up with the cut front frame and getting it all lined up straight and true before putting some welds on it. I spent easily two hours doing this, and I think that it’s time well spent. The engine on the Sportster actually helps quite a lot in this process, as it acts as a sort of jig for mating the two parts of the frame together. It also has a very exact and solid rear engine mount with four bolts in it, so that gives you a really good place to start.

I really hope I’ve got this right!!

I won’t bore you with a detailed description of everything I did in those two hours, but essentially, as with any frame, you are trying to line a few things up. The drive train all needs to be straight, so that you don’t have any twist from your engine, to gearbox, to rear axle. The Sportster is a unit engine making this a lot easier than it was for the Shovelhead. You also want the headstock to be at a 90 degree angle from the line of the drive train. Again, there are some good videos online that go into some detail about this, so have a look if you’re really bored!

This being a British Bobber, there’s only one way you possibly end the day!

One of the joins on this hardtail kit was halfway up the backbone, so another thing I did was hold a straight edge along this to ensure that my frame would be going together at least somewhat straight. Eventually you get to a point where you have measured and checked everything 16 times, re-read the instructions another dozen times, and have to commit. So I got the welder out and started making some tentative tacks. When I had welded up as much as I could with the engine in the frame, I removed the engine one last time to finish off.

Getting There

And there you have it, a hard tailed frame. Still plenty of work left to do on it, but I’ll leave it there for now. Time for a cup of tea.

The vital element of ANY Build


Words and Pictures: Tom Shaw

Part 1 is here:

Bobbing Around: Building a Bespoke Harley Custom. Part 1

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

Can’t wait for Part 2!

Here is part 2!

Bobbing Around: Building a Bespoke Harley Custom. Part 2