Custom Motorcycle: 1977 Brat-style Harley Ironhead Bobber

Custom Motorcycle: 1977 Brat-style Harley Ironhead Bobber

A Japanese-styled ride with traditional chopper swagger

If you aren’t much of a fan of import bikes, then you definitely have a few things in common with Stefano Poli of Dallas.

They don’t interest him that much either. What he does like, however, are the incredible Harley choppers that keep getting churned out over in Japan. “They’re always coming out with things that are really innovative while staying true to the traditional Harley Ironhead bobber idea,” he says. “Plus, they have an amazing love for details.”

Harley Davidson Ironhead Bobber shift side
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber shift side.

The Japanese make mouth-watering sushi, too, which Stefano actually likes as much as their choppers. Luckily, he’s experienced all of this firsthand, since he’s traveled to Japan a few times. He even attended the Mooneyes motorcycle show last December.

While Japanese choppers are undoubtedly cool, Stefano also appreciates their Brat-style Harley bobbers. In fact, that look inspired his vision for his 1977 Ironhead, which he bought in the summer of 2013. But Stefano first needed to get acquainted with his XLCH before any inspiring could take place, seeing as it had two very important roles to fulfill: it was going to be Stefano’s first true build and his introduction to the world of older Harleys. It was the perfect bike to do so because it fit his budget.

Harley Davidson Brat style Ironhead Bobber
Harley-Davidson Brat-style Ironhead Bobber.

And the best way to connect with your bike is by riding the hell out of it—and trashing the engine. Which he did. On both counts. Since no more riding was to be had, then was as good a time as any to start customizing. Stefano wouldn’t have to do it alone, either. At the time, he shared a three-bay, 700-square-foot garage with three friends, and one of them provided a lot of support. “Mitchell helped me out a lot whenever I found myself hesitating before trying something new,” Stefano says.
There were plenty of reasons why Stefano approached the build with trepidation. He had some customizing experience, but it was all limited to installing sissybars, chopping fenders, and swapping handlebars. At least he had some grinders, cutting wheels, and a welder, in addition to, as Stefano made sure to mention, “a lot of determination.”

Stefano felt that the best way to approach it was to start from the rear section and slowly make his way to the front, a process he’s used on his later builds, a 1959 Panhead and 1960 Pan-Shovel. Keeping in mind that a distinct Brat feature is compactness, Stefano first had to fix a few problems that actually helped embellish that aesthetic.

It all began when he tried installing a narrow-ribbed fender over the back tire. Stefano soon realized, however, that no matter how narrow it may have been, it was still much too wide to fit; Stefano needed to make the bike more compact. So, he decided to shorten the struts that mount both the fender and shocks to the bike. He cut off the part that connects the bike to the fender and left the holes that are used for mounting the shocks.

Installing shorter shocks to the now-shaved struts compacted the Ironhead enough so that the narrow-ribbed fender could now almost fit. Stefano just needed to cut it down to size and fab some bungs so he could anchor the fender to the frame and seat. Now about half of the fender slides under the seat or, in Stefano’s words, the seat “now rolls over the fender.” He stresses, however, that this didn’t alter the distance of the rear wheel from the front sprocket.

Harley Davidson Ironhead Bobber vintage rear brake
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber vintage rear brake.

That was pretty much it for the rear section, except he might try installing an XR-style loop hardtail later on. While in the bike’s midsection, Stefano went through a couple of oil bags and gas tanks. For the latter, he finally settled on a Frisco Wassell-styled piece. However, he wanted to install it closer to the seat. He cut off the stock mounting bracket and welded two threaded bungs on the frame backbone, which he then used to install the tank.

Turns out, the tank and its positioning (in addition to the overall stance of the bike) are what Stefano thinks are the brattiest things about his bike. As for the oil bag, Stefano couldn’t find the right one, so he fabricated one of his own out of mild steel, making it narrower and shorter than stock so it would fit inside the frame rails (and so he could accommodate a small lithium battery). The fabbing was, as he said, standard. “You just make a cardboard box template, cut the metal to match, and then weld it all together,” he explains.

Out front, Stefano stumbled upon a few more challenges, including retro-fitting the hamburger wheel on a 35mm front end, which he’d shaved. “It was not trivial,” Stefano confirms. “The spacing between the legs are just enough to slide the wheel in.” He needed, however, to customize the axle to match the different wheel and legs specs, which involved a “few brackets and other smaller pieces.” For this, he turned to a local machine shop.

Harley Davidson Ironhead Bobber classic style and swagger
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber classic style and swagger.

What he did do himself was add a Japanese-made part to give his Japanese-inspired bike some bratty flair: an Ushio Electric piece with amber glass. He thinks it was originally used as a car fog light. For the paint, Stefano turned to Scott at Chemical Custom Candy. “I asked for the specific set of colors and the panel work on the tank and fender,” Stefano explains. “Scott did the hard work of making it happen, and he nailed it.” And remember the engine Stefano trashed? He got it repaired at Brown Cycles so he could finally try out his first true custom build.

“It’s a fun bike to rip around in town,” he says. Stefano tells us, however, that it’s not a good idea to try jumping curbs. Sounds like an interesting story. We have a feeling that he’ll have a lot more tales after he gets even more acquainted with his Ironhead. Maybe he’ll get to ride it in the Land of the Rising Sun! RC