Custom Motorcycle: Harley Super Glide to Shovelhead Bobber

Todd Farler’s always been a motorcycle guy. But it wasn’t until his cousin had a line on a 1975 FXE Shovelhead that he got into Harleys.

On the flip side, his cousin Lonnie Line had always been into Harley-Davidson motorcycles. So when Lonnie learned that a co-worker had a ’75 Harley Super Glide Shovelhead in pretty good shape, just collecting dust in his garage, he put the buzz in his cousin’s ear.

Todd's Harley-Davidson shovelhead bobber in all its splendor.
Todd’s Harley-Davidson shovelhead bobber in all its splendor. – Photo Casey Hawn

The owner originally wanted $5-6,000 for it but dropped the price to $4,000 if they’d seal the deal within two weeks. Todd’s loan application through his credit union was taking too long, so his cousin cashed in some 401K money and covered it until Farler’s loan went through. Nice to have a cousin who’s more “like a brother.”

“It had like a Fat Bob tank on it, had a big king and queen seat, some drag bars, and the narrow glide front end,” Todd says. “I liked it as it was and didn’t plan on doing anything to that bike because it was in such good shape. I felt guilty thinking about turning it into a custom bobber, but about five years ago I lost the rear master cylinder and had to stop real fast at an intersection and laid the bike down. It wasn’t too bad, banged up the front fender, scraped up a bunch of stuff, broke the turn signals off.”

Todd wasn’t as lucky as the bike, suffering several broken bones. During his mending period he realized it was a perfect opportunity to revamp the bike. An aerospace welder by trade, he toyed with the idea of doing a weld-on hardtail, but he didn’t have a lift or the equipment to get the job done properly at home. Luckily, he’s got friends who happen to be bike builders to turn to for guidance, including Donny Loos of Don’s Custom Cycle and Bill Schalk at Tried-n-True Garage.

This Harley Shovelhead bobbers custom headlight looks on point.
This Harley Shovelhead bobbers custom headlight looks on point. – Photo Casey Hawn

But it wasn’t until he developed a friendship with Cole Rogers that his bobber project eventually took shape. “I’d seen Cole’s work over at 138 Cycle Fabrication and really liked his style.” The two had met at shows, and Todd mentioned to Cole that he welded and offered his services but was graciously declined. So Todd got the idea to make a unique business card, welding two razor blades together edge-to-edge and laying “a real nice, pretty bead across them.” He then used a machine at work to stamp his name and phone number into the razor blade.

The next time he saw Cole at a bike show, he gave him one of his new calling cards. Cole’s response: “You did this? Give me a call Monday.”

Next thing you know, Todd’s doing an apprenticeship with him, hanging out at the shop and learning things hands-on. Cole builds his own springer and girder forks so Todd learned how to set those up. “The first frame I did for him ended going over to Schalk at Tried-and-True, and he won Easyriders that year with the Shovelhead frame I welded for him,” Todd says.

Near the end of his apprenticeship, Todd asked Cole if he could build his Shovel on a lift in the back, a request his mentor kindly obliged. Todd demonstrated some of the knowledge he learned from Cole by building his own springer. Admittedly, he did seek help with wiring.

Todd said the most nerve-wracking part of the build was cutting the frame in half to add the hardtail section. “That’s like the point of no return. Once you lay that blade in there and start cutting, that really freaked me out.” At that point he leaned on the reassurance of Cole that he was cutting in the right spot.

His mentor had given him an old junk tank with a crushed-in top for the build. Todd cut about 2-1/2″ out of the center of the tank and rewelded it, also rebuilding the bottom and adding a site tube because “It doesn’t hold a lot of gas. I like riding it, though, but I hate pushing.”

Framing the tank turned out to be a learning experience, as he got a chance to work on the English wheel, something he hadn’t done much before. Todd spent time “hammering the dents out of the tank, cutting the center section out, welding it all back together, and reshaping it a bit on the English wheel. It was neat to see the final product, to take something that was headed for the bin and bend it back into shape.”

The salvaged tank isn’t the only refurbished part on the ’75 Shovel. The oil tank is a 5″/38-caliber cannon shell from his cousin’s Navy ship. Lonnie served aboard the USS New Jersey BB-62 and had some of the cannon shells sitting around his garage that “made a great oil tank. Part of him is built into that bike now,” Todd says.

Todd's home-built retro runner is stripped to the essentials, beautifully.
Todd’s home-built retro runner is stripped to the essentials, beautifully. – Photo Casey Hawn

Amazingly, much work hasn’t been done to the engine.. The odometer read only 15,000 miles when Todd got it, adding “for what that’s worth.” But` after inspecting it, his buddy Loos thinks there’s a good chance it’s a bone-stock ’75 Shovel that’s never been torn apart. While Todd swapped out the carb, velocity stack, and pipes, everything else is the same as how he got it. But he admits it’s due for a build. He’d like to update the carb and go kick-only while he’s having the engine done. The biggest dilemma might be who does the rebuild, as Todd claims he’s torn between two friends.

In addition to the frame he cut and the tank he hammered out, Todd also likes how the bars he made turned out; they’re pullbacks with an internal throttle. When asked how it rides, he says, “Great. The rear tire has enough meat to run it a little low. Those springers Cole has ride really nice. But it is a hardtail and beats you up a little bit.”

Todd finished by saying he’s not looking to be a full-time builder but likes being involved in the scene and being respected as a welder. That said, he’s already got plans running through his head about a fully blown show bike for his next project, the words Invaders and Good Times Reform creeping into the conversation. Until then, he’s got one mean ’75 Shovel springer to run around on what just about any old gearhead would be proud to call his own. RC

Custom Motorcycle: Tom’s 2001 Custom Harley Sportster

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.”

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster
The sun’s hitting this custom Harley Sportster just right

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.”

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster
Tom’s riding the road of inspiration on his custom Harley

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.

2001 Custom painted Harley-Davidson Sportster gas tank
Custom paint and graphics adorn this custom Sportsters gas tank.

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.

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster exhaust
A good look at the ridged tail section and custom motorcycle exhaust.

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

Custom Motorcycle: Barrie’s Harley Shovelhead Custom

Barrie Wispels of the Netherlands sure doesn’t like new-looking bikes. And we’re not just saying that because he built an old-school bobber from this 1968 Shovelhead.

Nor because Barrie first owned a 1978 Super Glide for 10 years before going through a slew of other Shovels and a Dyna—though, it definitely doesn’t hurt. We came up with that opening statement after hearing what Barrie had to say about the bike before it was his. “The last owner had tried to turn it into some kind of modern thing,” Barrie remembers. “To me, it looked like shit.”

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

Turns out, the bike may have looked uneasy on the eyes to more than just Barrie, seeing as it had been on the market for quite some time before Barrie finally purchased it. And the only reason why he did was for the frame and title, so he didn’t have to actually appreciate its aesthetics.

He did, however, want to do the bike justice, something the previous owner hadn’t done … at all. Barrie accomplished this by looking into the past, specifically at old pictures from the 1950s and 1960s. But Barrie didn’t just travel through time for inspiration. He also “traveled” the world. And by that, we mean he looked on eBay.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

His “journey” took him to places as close as his own backyard. Or, to be more precise, to the American Motorcycle Museum in Raalte where he found his handlebar. “It was just hanging in the attic!” he exclaims. For a damaged springer front end—which he heated and beat with a hammer—Barrie “went to” Romania. (He also installed something he described as “balhoofd” bearings, which essentially is a new headset.) For the front wheel and tire, he “trekked” out to Canada. Ironically, the hoop and rubber went on an epic quest of their own. The Canadian owner didn’t want to ship them to Europe, so Barrie had the parts sent to his friend in California who then mailed everything to him.

Because of where Barrie rebuilt the “modern thing,” it certainly qualifies as a home-built bike wrenched by an everyday do-it-yourselfer. Barrie tore it down and put it back together in his 8-1/2′ x 11-1/2′ garage.

So, yes, this is a garage build. But that isn’t to say Barrie didn’t have any professional help. Every Wednesday night, Barrie worked with a good friend and old Harley mechanic, Klaas van de Berg.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

In addition to installing the parts he’d collected from around the world, Barrie sought to bob the Shovel, partly because he’d built numerous choppers and wanted something different. “I also don’t see that many people riding around on original bobbers anymore,” Barrie adds. “Everyone says they’re riding a bobber these days, but I wanted to show them what else a bobber can look like.”

Bobbing undoubtedly entails shaving, and Barrie did plenty of that to the rear fender, especially after he’d found “a rare” brass 1200 fender tip to install. This required cutting about 7″-10″ off his fender and rounding out the end. “Then we moved the tip over the bike and welded it in the spot that looked right,” Barrie concludes.

To make his bobber more original, Barrie first had to install a larger fuel tank because that’s where he’d later install his handmade cover. Barrie made the cover by first drawing the design on paper and then onto a 3mm metal plate. Next, he cut out the shape with a cutter (which he calls a “slijptol”) and drilled a hole so he could use a nut to connect it to the frame. Finally, Barrie made an incision on the left and right side of the cover so it would fit under the tank mount and so he could take the cover off by just removing the nut.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

But there was something missing: The oil pressure light. Barrie installed it on top of the cover, bending everything until it fit. Currently, the wiring is the only thing that’s missing. But Barrie did that on purpose. The wires are now under the plate and seat, the latter of which was made from old leather.

As for the oil tank, that was done by the previous owner, one of the few things he’d gotten right. The same can’t be said, however, about the aftermarket forward controls that came with the bike. Barrie wanted them stock. “I went to a friend of mine who has a lot of Panhead and Shovel parts,” Barrie begins. “I called him up and said, ‘I’ll send you a surprise package of parts if you send me some Shovelhead controls.’ We did just that, and now everybody’s happy.” Barrie is especially happy since the stock controls work well with some footpegs Klaas fabricated out of metal.

Additionally, Barrie built a license plate side mount, also from scrap metal. While cool, it created a slight problem. He explains: “In Holland, you must have a light that shines on your license plate.” This meant Barrie needed to fabricate a mount for his taillight, which Klaas helped weld.

Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Bobber

At this point, even though his bike was looking less like “shit” and more like gold, Barrie didn’t want his bike to be fool’s gold (i.e., a good-looking bike with low performance). So Twin Service Enschede rebuilt the motor and tranny before installing a new oil pump. Meanwhile, Klaas replaced the ignition and Barrie installed some plugs.

Barrie also added some new gas inlets (or, as he calls them, sproeiers), which led to him rebuilding the S&S Super E carb. “I thought that I might as well go all in at that point,” he says. To the carb, Barrie connected an air filter by fabricating a bracket from, again, some scrap metal. (He also made the lever and Klaas fabbed the exhaust.)

And if you were wondering about all that rust and patina, no, Barrie doesn’t leave his bike out in the rain. He treats his bike quite well. Barrie just likes that look. His friend helped by applying some primer before Barrie spray-painted and roughed it up. “It took me hours with the sandblasting paper to create the look I wanted,” he remembers.

Now everything is almost perfect. Sure, his Harley Shovel may ride smoothly and handle well (since it sits just 8 cm from the ground), but Barrie wants something more. “I hope that one day my son or daughter decides to ride my bike,” he reveals. “That would be the ultimate thing I could ever ask for.”

We’re sure that will happen, Barrie. In fact, we bet both of them will want to ride it because your bobber doesn’t look like shit anymore. RC

Custom Motorcycle: Jon’s Custom 883 Harley Sportster

Jon Davies caught the bug decades ago, developing an appetite for Harley Sportsters in the early ’80s when he bought a 1976 Ironhead.

After milling about on the ’76 for a while, Jon has since ran the gamut of Sportys, riding and owning models from plain, old stockers to full-blown Ness customs. While searching for the next entry into his personal Sportster history, he knew he wanted to do something different when he acquired this ’98 XLH 883. “I wanted to build something different, with the accents on details and modern tech with an old-school design,” he writes. “I wanted to do all the design, fabrication, and wrenching by myself.”

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

Bike builds are no exception to the Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Often, these are the questions asked of our featured builders. Jon more than eagerly answered each. He already addressed the who—himself. We also know the what, a 1998 Evo 883 powerplant. But why? “The motivation came from having chronic back problems, which limit my riding and fishing time,” he writes. “A project build allowed me to do as much or as little as I was able, with no time constraints.” As such, the build took Jon about 18 months to complete. But patience is a virtus, and Jon’s canonization candidacy is officially submitted for the Garage Build HOF thanks to this clean build, a project seemingly simple but truly meticulous. Oh, did we leave out where he conducted this build? C’mon, guys.

Jon started the build in earnest, first picking up the Sportster for £2,500 (about $3,200)—England has a great appreciation for the American V-twin, too—and subsequently beginning the designing, the fabricating, and the wrenching. Let’s start with that Evo. He tore it down and rebuilt it using James gaskets and seals along with Gardner Westcott Chrome fasteners. He also vapor-blasted the heads and cylinders (aka barrels. There’s that England thing again!). Conducting all this work proves Jon’s prowess in the garage, and given this kind of skill, expect the rest of the build to reflect that talent.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

With the work on the heart complete, Jon turned his attention to the respiratory system. The carb, which he rebuilt and rejetted, is some of his finest work. Jon says, “I made the CV carb support bracket and intake backplate from scratch to allow the use of a S&S Super B air cleaner, complemented by a stainless remote enricher bracket mounted to the rear rocker box cover.” Well he certainly has his own fabricating down!

From there, the exhaust needed an update. Off with the stockers! He fabbed two 2″ drag pipes for a wholly custom, ridiculously loud 2-into-2 system. These were then ceramic coated in Volcanic Black and fitted with torque cones and machined end caps, quaking into a full-on eruption every time Jon twists the throttle.

So the engine and breathing system were sorted, and that meant Jon needed to get the chassis prepared for the newly captured beast. He set to work on chopping and bobbing, shaving any unwanted brackets and removing the rear struts and sculpting the rear fender. That fender is rubber-mounted to the upper-shock bolts, which are Progressive Suspension’s 11-1/2″ 412 series shocks. He obviously told the front fender to kick rocks and shaved and grooved the fork lowers. The front suspension handles bumps with aplomb, thanks to 2″-lowered Progressive springs.

The latest iteration in Jon’s Sportster lineage rolls on a stock 19″ front wheel that’s been powdercoated and laced with stainless steel spokes. The rear, however, is off a Sportster 48, a 16″ rim that’s also laced with stainless spokes. Rubber meets the road thanks to Firestone ANS tires.
Jon clearly didn’t overlook a thing with this build, nor did he scrimp on spending up for both performance and design. That said, he takes great pride in the amount of fabricating he did himself, including the one-piece handlebar that both provides an aggressive riding posture and runs internal wiring to keep the front end as tidy as possible. “The clean bars are complemented by micro-switches that I positioned in the clutch and brake perches along with the concealed
wiring,” he says.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

He also notes that attention to detail is of the utmost importance. “Everything from the perfectly aligned pipes to the angle of the raised coil, set to match the angle of the front cylinder.”

Assisting in that symmetry is the NOS gas tank from The Harley Shop, plus a plethora of accessories. The pegs, riser, and mirrors are from Biltwell, the grips, heat shields, master cylinder tops, and fuel and oil caps are from Lowbrow Customs, and the seat is from notable custom shop LC Fabrications. Look closely at the petcock, which Jon acquired from Prism Supply. He went to work around the petcock, fabricating a one-off mount for the ignition switch. It’s the small things in life. Take, for example, this side-mounted speedo, for which he also fabricated a mounting plate.

Custom 883 Harley Sportster

This is as impressive a build as we’ve found on the Garage Build website (, and there’s a reason that it was the very first to be featured here on Jon has accomplished a seriously dazzling feat with all the custom work he put into the once-stock Sportster. He affectionately calls the build “McQueen,” thanks in no small part to the reaction it gets from other riders and non-riders alike. “A close friend once said, ‘That looks like something Steve McQueen would ride.’ Hence the name!”

McQueen does indeed look like a bike that the King of Cool would take for a rip around town or even on a dirt track. And for that, Jon deserves hearty congratulations from the staff of Garage Build and its readers. He came, he fabricated, he wrenched, he finished, and he won. RC