Surfing With A Custom Harley Sportster!

It was a battle of epic proportions. Way back in 2016 the best builders from 64 Harley-Davidson dealerships across this great nation were called upon to pick up their wrenches!

The exhaust side of this custom Harley Sportster aptly named "Surfster."
The exhaust side of this custom Harley Sportster aptly named “Surfster.”

Their mission? Duke it out in The Motor Company’s second annual Custom Kings Contest. The rules? Customize a Harley Sportster. If they decided to use any parts from the H-D Parts & Accessories catalog, then all the more power to ’em.
There were six rounds of four head-to-head matchups. And the victors were chosen by you. Man! Democracy is awesome.

One of the contenders in last year’s competition was Paradise Harley-Davidson, located in Tigard, Oregon. As you can see, there’s something unique about this bike that caught our attention. Here’s a hint: it’s on the left side of the Sporty. Yup, it’s that sweet wooden surfboard made by Yana Surfboards in Oregon. We don’t see many of those in Connecticut, even in Stamford where our headquarters is located (near the Atlantic Ocean). The waves here are pretty lame. The best we can do is boogieboard. And even that is boring.

But that’s not the case in Oregon…or most of the West Coast, for that matter. They have places like Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock, and, of course, the Oregon coast, which ended up being a huge inspiration for the Paradise H-D team when coming up with its Sportster’s theme. “There are incredible beaches just an hour away,” says Paradise H-D’s shop foreman Jon Allen. “As you might expect, many of us grew up surfing.”

Clutch side of the custom Harley Sportster, sans board.
Clutch side of the custom Harley Surfster, sans board.

The person who came up with the idea of making an XL with a surfboard was Paradise’s local H-D representative. “He’s an avid outdoor enthusiast,” Jon says. “One of his favorite activities is surfing. He definitely rekindled our build team’s passion for the sport.”

While a gnarly idea, there’s another reason why they chose going off route. “We were in the process of opening The PDX Speed Shop Harley-Davidson in downtown Portland,” Jon continues. “So we wanted to do something unique that appealed to Portland’s young urban market.”

The team that made it all happen consisted of four technicians led by Jon, who was responsible for managing the group to ensure they finished the build on time. Jon had a clear vision for the project and took charge of ordering parts and accessories. After choosing the theme, they felt the Seventy-Two would be the perfect Sportster platform.

While coming up with the idea of making a Sportster with a surfboard might’ve been easy enough, getting the actual board onto the bike was a whole other clean up set to conquer. As Jon says, “it posed a challenge.” By that he means figuring out how to properly install a rack. After sourcing through several parts, which Jon deemed as failed products, he realized that the best way to do this was to modify the exhaust system (a SuperTrapp Scrambler). “We ended up using exhaust tubing that we bent appropriately and then custom-made the brackets,” Jon explains. “Once shaped, we had the rack leather wrapped. We designed quick-release pins that make the rack easy to remove and install.”

The custom Harley Sportster, ready to catch a wave or carve up the canyon.
The custom Harley Surfster, ready to catch a wave or carve up the canyon.

But they didn’t start the build there. The team began by working on the rear section, which involved lacing the 18″ back wheel (and wrapping it in Kenda Trials), hand-cutting the rear fender, and handmaking the struts and rail. The license bracket was also handmade. Other fabricated parts include the front fender (it was raised by 1″) and the headlight’s grill cover. Oh, and the final drive is a chain drive conversion by Paradise as well. But the real crankin’ job was getting the surfboard on there.

That said, the build wasn’t all about building a bike that could hold a surfboard. “Our primary design was to make the motorcycle paint look like a Woodie wagon from the 1950s and ’60s,” says Jon. For those unfamiliar with the term, Woodies were vehicles with wood bodies. In their heyday, these vehicles were usually one of the more expensive ones on the market.

To best capture that style, Paradise H-D turned to Eddie at Bent Metal Kustoms in Hillsboro, Oregon. In fact, Eddie was involved in the first design meeting. “The paint ties in perfectly with Yana’s surfboard,” Jon comments about the final look. And what do you end up calling a Sportster that has a surfboard strapped onto its left side? You mesh the words together. And what do you get? Surfster. That’s awesome.

After one month in the shop, Surfster was finished. Surfster then charged into the Custom Kings Contest and made it in the top 16, which is a high percentile, seeing as there were 64 bikes in total. But remember, Surfster wasn’t built just to face off against the other Sportys. It was also made to be showcased at Paradise’s other location in downtown Portland. So you can bet that after the competition, the bike was put up on display immediately. But it didn’t stay there long.

“One of our customers, Randy Whiteman, was walking by the shop one day,” recalls Jon. “He saw it, loved it, and bought it.” As you can imagine, Randy still loves it, but not just because it has a sick paint job and a surfboard. “It’s smooth and super-comfortable,” Randy says. “Out of every bike I’ve ever been on, this is the most fun to ride.”

There’s something else you might find interesting about Randy. He bought the bike Paradise originally built for the first-ever Custom Kings Contest in 2015. Huh! If Paradise H-D enters this year’s Custom Kings competition, we wonder if Randy will end up buying that one, too. One thing’s for sure. Like Surfster, it’s going to be one choka bike. RC

1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead

You’ve got it seriously made when your career is literally wrenching Harleys all day, every day, day in, day out.

However you want to describe building a custom Harley-Davidson or any custom motorcycle, we don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that every rider reading this would do practically anything to make that happen.

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors
Left side view of this beautiful 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

There’s a reason for the slogan “Ride. Wrench. Repeat.” Because, that’s the life. But all jobs—even working as a motorcycle mechanic—have their downsides. For bike builders, it’s always doing what the owner wants, especially when you don’t want to do what he wants you to do. As they say, the customer is always right (even when he isn’t).

But that wasn’t the case for builder Evan Favaro, owner of Speakeasy Motors in Wallkill, New York, when it came to this particular assignment, a 1976 Harley Shovelhead. “One day, a customer named Mike dropped his Shovel at the shop and told me, ‘I started this project. I have no idea how to weld or how to finish it,’” remembers Evan. “He just bit off more than he could chew.”

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors
Good look at the powerplant in this custom Harley-Davidson Shovel. Photos by Mark Velazquez

Sure, building a bike (almost) completely from scratch can be invigorating, even for a veteran craftsman. But the real plus was that Mike pretty much gave Evan free reign.
And there was a lot of free reigning to do. “Mike had a front end and frame and wheels and motor,” Evan says. “But it was basically a box of parts at the back of his car. It wasn’t even a roller. He had some of the major components. But I had to take it from there.”

Another plus: even though Evan had full creative license, Mike gave him just one guideline. “Mike said, ‘Just make it simple, then you can do whatever you want.’”
Why is this a plus? Turns out, most of the builds that Evan does are, in his words, “quite involved.” By that Evan means bikes with “a lot of sheet metal work,” and choppers and bobbers that are over the top. With descriptions like that, we don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that this bike is pretty close to being one of the simplest builds Evan has ever done. Believe me, I asked. If there was some type of “simplest builds in the world” list, it would be, as Evan said, “definitely up there.”

Much like the overall style of the Shovel, the process, too, was pretty straight forward. “It was fairly simple. I pretty much hacked away at it really,” he explains. As you’ll find out, Evan wasn’t joking when he said “fairly simple.” The word simple came up quite often during our chat with him. Evan described all of the non-hacking mods as such, including the “simple fender struts,” which he custom-made. The Sportster oil tank, which Evan modified and installed under the transmission with the kickstart, was referred to as “a simple fab.” Even the motor, which he rebuilt so it would be “all nice and fresh,” was anything but difficult.

Same can be said of the battery box. But there’s actually a whole lot more to say about the battery box. And what we have to say has nothing to do with how simple its installation was (besides it being mounted on the side of the bike). Ironically, though, we can’t actually say much, except that the bike is named after it, the “Little Black Box.”

Cockpit view of this 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

Back to the bike. Just because building the Shovelhead was easy doesn’t mean Evan “took it easy” when it came to ensuring Mike would get a quality bike. “There’s actually a lot involved in bike builds, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a simple or high-end, complex bike,” Evan says before adding, “especially if you do it right.”

Builds that aren’t done right Evan refers to as “botched jobs.” In many cases, these bikes are botched because the builders didn’t have the proper tools, such as wheel spacers. “Bikes aren’t like cars,” Evan says. “If a wheel on your car comes off, you can just stop. But on a motorcycle, that would be catastrophic.” That’s why this bike is comprised of components from GMA, Paughco, Three Two Choppers, Biltwell, Unity, and BDL, among others.

“With customers, you’re putting their lives in your craftsmanship. It can be a little intimidating,” Evan says. “There’s still a lot involved in making a bike a safe machine.”
While most of the bike is minimalist, there’s nothing minimalist about the paint job. “I left it all up to my painter,” says Evan. “I kind of pointed him in the direction and said, ‘Have some fun and make it look cool.’”

A 1976 Custom Harley-Davidson Shovelhead built by Speakeasy Motors. Photos by Mark Velazquez

As you can see, the painter did just that. But seeing as Mike likes it simple, we were dying to know what he thought of the design. “I think the paint was a little more involved than what he was expecting,” responds Evan. “He was probably just expecting a single color. And we gave him a lot more than that.” But besides the rad palette choice, the bike was exactly what Evan was looking for: something plain and simple. “He loved it. He was speechless. It was everything he wanted,” says Evan. RC

Custom Motorcycle: Harley Super Glide to Shovelhead Bobber

Custom Motorcycles, new bike reviews, DIY motorcycle tech and gear reviews

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: 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