We’ve said it before, and now we’ll say it again: We’re all about inspiring you! — to get into your garage and customize the hell out of your motorcycle.
Inspiration. That’s pretty much why Tom Kelly, of Bentley, Essex, England, started customizing and built this custom Harley Sportster. “My influence was just all the other guys who’ve done this before,” he says. “I guess they have the same feeling as me by doing it. They admire the guys who did it before them.”
It’s even harder to fight this “it” when your old man has been afflicted with the same insatiable thirst to build. For someone who recalls his past as living in his dad’s workshop, you shouldn’t be surprised that it was more or less Tom’s destiny to follow the way of the wrench. “My dad has been building bikes for years,” Tom adds. With that comment alone, it should come as no surprise (again) that while this is Tom’s “first proper build,” customizing is not new to him.
Tom has been almost literally taping bikes together since he was a youngin’, his first build being a “part-Honda, part-Kawasaki” custom, which he made from bits of “what you have when you’re about 6 or 7 years old.” And guess who Tom turned to for parts? Yup. His pops. But not in the conventional way. “I customized the hell out of it in the way of Gaffa [duct] tape seats and bars, which I pinched from my dad’s custom bike.”
But this bike ain’t no Honda or Kawasaki. And there’s nothing close to tape on this sweet thang. It’s a 2001 Harley Sportster 1200C Custom, which Tom bought last year in March. Oh, and did I mention that Tom bought the XL from his dad? I didn’t? Well, he did, and it was completely stock, too (which sure surprised us, seeing as Tom’s dad likes to build). It’s as though the universe was trying to get Tom in the garage.
Since Tom had yet to try his hands at a proper bike build, Tom’s ambitions for his XL were modest … at first. “I had the intention of light customization,” he says. “Tidy up some wiring, shorter rear shocks, single seat. But one thing led to another.” A whole lot of things. In fact, Tom said at one point, “I promise you, everything has been done on this bike twice. I admit that I often change my mind if something doesn’t look 100 percent perfect.” Definitely not light customization now.
While still in “light customization” mode, Tom stuck to his original list by swapping out the stock shocks for Burly Slammers (the fact that there are no Slammers now should tell you something about Tom’s incessant need for perfection, plus, duh, this XL is now a rigid) and fitted a side-mounted plate. But by the time he installed a springer front end, Tom finally admitted what he probably knew all along — he was going to make this a proper job.
And proper in Tom’s book means fabwork. Lots of fabwork. The next thing Tom did was make the rear wheel completely from scratch. And guess who helped him? “The rear wheel was all me and my old man,” he comments. From then on, the mods kept piling on, which included making all of the adjustments, fabricating and mounting “lots of little brackets here and there,” mounting the fenders and tanks, customizing the oil tank, and fabricating the rear brake with a hanger setup. “The back brake was a huge headache,” Tom says. “I also learned that horseshoe oil tanks don’t fit brilliantly on Sportys.” And since Tom is a leatherworker by trade, he naturally had everything to do with how the seat looks now. But even though Tom has done a great deal of the work himself, he made sure to give a shout out to his buddy Knocker, who was there for basically the whole build. “Everything that needed more than two hands, he helped with,” Tom says.
When it comes to the paint, he commissioned Simon, Phill, and Steve from The Paintbox. “They’re probably the nicest guys and conduct their business in the coolest manner,” Tom says. “With some of my ideas and their talent, they did it all for me. It’s without a doubt, the jewel in the crown.”
After the bike was all back together (done so more than once), Tom had the guys from So-Low Choppers hardtail it. “They know their stuff,” Tom says. And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. What’s up with Yakety Yak? Made possible by his good mate and sign writer “Matt the Brush,” as well as another buddy who lent Tom some whitewall tire paint, the name Yakety Yak comes from a certain point in a movie (a film you should’ve all seen by now, according to Tom, and I wholeheartedly agree) when The Coasters’ song by the same name is played. For those of you who are perpetually trapped in your garages, you’ll understand why Tom chose it. He explains: “In the film Stand By Me, the older brothers “Ace and Eyeball Chambers” play mailbox baseball while hanging from the back of their convertible, listening to the song Yakety Yak on the radio. Just that jovial feeling they get from doing what they do is summed up for me by the sound of that song. Riding bikes is jovial to me,” he says with a laugh.
But despite how much he enjoys riding, the bike is, as of this writing, off the road. “I’m making an entirely new oil tank from scratch,” Tom says. “When I do things that I’m not completely happy with, they play on my mind. I knew I could make a better job of the oil tank so I’m doing it already.” The moral of the story is if you love riding as much as Tom does, then you’ll probably love wrenching just as much. Only one way to find out … cue inspiring music! RC