The bike before you has undoubtedly existed longer as a figment of Daniel Northover’s imagination than an actual rumbling machine sprinkled with a tasteful array of brass.
In fact, Daniel had thought about and “always wanted to build” this bike for so long that he got straight to customizing the day he bought the 883 Sportster in March 2018. Getting it out of his mind, onto the streets, and, consequently, into these pages would have taken Daniel even longer if he didn’t work at Custom Metalworx Southampton. (The “endless hours” spent scouring the internet for brass UNC bolts and washers didn’t hurt either.)
That’s because: One, Metalworx specializes in the TIG-welding of stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium—and, as an employee there for 20 years, Daniel has had two decades of experience doing just that, in addition to fabricating and polishing (skillsets that are quite useful to have if one wishes to pursue an endeavor such as bike building).
Two, Daniel had some pretty lofty goals for his 883 custom sporty project: To build everything he could himself without buying that many off-the-shelf custom parts—and since he doesn’t have a garage or tools, this goal became even loftier still.
Well, Daniel technically does have a vast number of tools, just not at home. As an employee of a strictly two-man operation, the task of personally accruing its entire tool supply fell upon Daniel and his boss, Paul. That’s why Daniel built the bike at work instead of at home, the latter of which would have been, in his words, “frustrating.” At work, Daniel could customize his Sportster during lulls, lunch, and tea (he’s from England). “I have the availability to build my bike every spare minute and the freedom to focus solely on the bike with no distractions,” he says.
But having access to a shop with tools (along with a boss who didn’t mind holding parts when Daniel “tacked” them into place, moving the bike about, machining small brass parts, and offering insight during work hours) was just as much a curse as it was a blessing. “I knew that attention to detail was going to be a massive part of the bike due to the nature of my work,” Daniel explains. “It had to reflect the quality we produce through our company.”
Plus, Daniel is a welder and fabricator at a metal shop, not a mechanic at a bike shop. There’s a big difference. But Carter Harris of Attitude Cycles is. And Daniel happens to be good friends with him. “Carter had seen some of my other work and said he’d help me with anything I wasn’t sure on,” says Daniel, who advantageously took Carter up on this generous offer with the oil, brake lines, wiring, and stripping and rebuilding of the engine, which Daniel stove enameled and polished in addition to cutting down the casings and adding new gaskets. Daniel also removed the headstock gusset and filled the empty space with steel. “This opened up the frame around the engine,” he says.
In return, Daniel provided Carter his welding and polishing expertise. “So, he’d help with an engine on my bike one weekend and then the next weekend, I’d help him weld his exhaust pipes up on his bike,” says Daniel. “With so much time and effort going into the bike, I did not want to cut any corners with the mechanical side.”
There was definitely no corner cutting being done in the fabrication department either. Daniel left things on his XL quite jagged, metaphorically. “I fabricated every nonstandard part myself with mild or stainless steel,” he reveals. And, of course, working at a shop that specializes in TIG welding means that everything on the frame is TIG-welded.
Much of the fabbing came as a result of wanting the bike to sit “parallel to the ground with lots of symmetry.” This entailed hardtailing the frame (which he also cut) and installing a matching rear wheel in the front, which forced him to fabricate his own caliper mounts (the aftermarket calipers wouldn’t fit) and machine the forks (which he also cut) so they would be flush with 6-degree yokes.
Similarly, the addition of a skinnier rear tire required a fabricated and welded rear fender (and playing with the tire pressure to get it “just right”).
Ironically, the add-on that serves as the foundation for the bike’s most defining feature is not something Daniel made, but purchased. More specifically, it’s the brass portion of the K-Tech levers. And, yes, the brass that quickly accumulated onto the bike is actually brass, not “brass.”
“Nothing is plated and 80 percent is custom-machined,” Daniel explains. “Being able to do it all, I knew I could really push the boat out with brass.” But Daniel wasn’t going to send his metaphorical boat out to sea. It would be more of an inshore vessel than offshore. “I think I spent hours staring at the bike, trying to decide if it needed more or less brass but there had to be a cut-off point,” he says.
This impressive display of moderation was part of a much larger effort to exercise restraint. “I didn’t want to build an extreme custom,” Daniel reveals. “I wanted something elegant.” Hence why he chose to install an external tank tube rather than his original plan to detail the tank with a logo and gold pinstriping.
That wasn’t the first or only time Daniel diverged from what he originally wanted. Finding the right handlebars alone took three times. Once, he hid the ignition switches, push button start, and high/low beams on his custom-made oil tank, only to move them to the other side of the bike. “I forgot the pipes would be too hot to reach the switches,” he admits. Daniel later covered the now-empty area in masking tape so he could install a brass plate over where it had been “to make it look like it was planned.”
The oil tank received a lot of abuse in general. At one point, Daniel needed to re-tape and install new fitting because the tank was leaking. There were, however, instances when Daniel stayed true to his original plan, but these successes were wholly contingent on alterations. Like the time he needed an offset sprocket so his converted chain would stop hitting the rear fender and the time he realized the offset sprocket was now pushing the chain into the frame. “I had to make a spacer to get it millimeter perfect in the middle, so it avoided both,” he remembers. “That’s the fun of it, I guess.”
But from the very start, Daniel knew he would juxtapose brass against black. “When money got tight, my wife Lauren surprised me by paying for the paint job, which was massive to me,” he says.
But how much more alloy or metal that could complement this shade is still up for debate. He’s trying not to overindulge, but gold-plated spokes are starting to sound really appealing. At least it’s not more brass, right? RC